Lemon Thyme & Ginger

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style. Recipe.

In Spain they call it, a la plancha. Italians refer to it as, a la piastra. In Greece, on a staz. No matter what you call it, it’s a centuries old Mediterranean technique for grilling vegetables, fish and meats. In Spain they use a round metal plate, but in Greece they use a piece of sheet metal placed directly on the grill.  From Italy, a stone or a metal plate creates a hot flat surface over an open flame. Essentially, it is a flat metal or stone griddle, set over a grill grate over an open flame. Mediterranean cooks know how to grill their vegetables because these grilled vegetables never tasted so good.

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style, recipe.

This technique does not produce fancy crisscross grill marks on your grilled vegetables, but what you do get are tender vegetables that retain some bite and have a good sear from the stone or griddle. Ultimately, the more surface area that touches the vegetables, means more flavor on your grilled vegetables from the sear. Another bonus is, no more vegetables falling through the grates and flare ups. Mediterranean style grilled vegetables are sweet, lightly flavored from the fire’s smoke, and seared to perfection.

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style, recipe.

A New Way with Grilled Vegetables

It all started yesterday on an impulse after coming upon the phrase, “… a la piastra,” in one of my cookbooks. It was an “Ah ha” moment for me with the realization of a refrigerator full of vegetables and an old cast iron griddle begging for use.  With my fingers crossed and plans for dinner and a blog post on the horizon, I decided to give “A la piastra” grilling technique a try. It was just meant to be.

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style, recipe.

I do love the flavor of grilled vegetables, but when I grill chicken or meats, I don’t always grill vegetables for a side dish. Mainly, I do not want my whole dinner tasting all the same. Also, depending on how many people we are cooking for, there is just no room on my 22-inch charcoal grill.

Because this was somewhat impulsive, and I was “recipe testing”, I did not cook the vegetables in an organized manner, but fit the different vegetables here and there along with our dinner of stuffed rainbow trout. I was not sure how long the grill would stay hot, so I cooked things together instead of one at a time. Regardless of my cooking organization, I don’t mind a hodgepodge of grilled vegetables because my job was to use up a bunch of vegetables and test out this grilling technique. I call this mission a delicious success, hodgepodge or not. Now, I have a beautiful mess of tasty grilled vegetables ready whenever I want them.

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style, recipe.

Grilled rainbow trout with grilled garlic scapes and grilled lemons

Grilled Vegetables a la Piastra

What I discovered is if you have a cast iron pan or griddle, they create a hot surface to make delicious grilled vegetables, fish and meets. I have yet to test other types of food, but I can’t imagine there is an issue using this technique for shellfish, chicken or steak. Grilling a la piastra or plancha, works particularly well with thin vegetables or sliced vegetables that would normally fall through the spaces on a grill grate. I loved using this technique with thinly sliced zucchini, asparagus, sliced onions, and garlic scapes. Some additional vegetables I want to try are fennel, eggplant and mushrooms.

It is my opinion that grilling bell peppers works better over the open grill grate. They just took longer to get blistered and charred when on the hot surface vs the grill grates. Also corn works better over the open fire and by better, I mean it does not take as long to cook.

Fruit like lemons and oranges grill nicely on a hot plate, but my mind is not made up for peaches. My peach halves stuck to both the grill grate and the cast iron griddle, but this was also the first time I grilled peaches.

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style, recipe.

Grilled toast with ricotta cheese and minced grilled garlic scapes and leeks.

How to Grill Vegetables a la Piastra

First, this technique is best using a charcoal grill, but I believe will work with a gas grill, but you won’t get the smoky flavor. Using either grill you must make a hot fire that will last for a while depending on how much food you are grilling. Get the charcoal good and hot, then place the griddle pan or stone on your grate. Heat up your griddle surface for 15 minutes until the surface gets really hot. Close the lid if you are using a gas grill, keep the lid off if you are using a charcoal grill.

Once the grill is hot, oil the grill grate. Do not oil the hot griddle. It is possible that the oil soaked paper towel could burst into flames from the heat of the pan. Instead, generously coat the vegetables and fish in canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point. Arrange the vegetables on the surface of your “griddle” and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the vegetable.

Depending on the surface area of your plate, you will need to cook the vegetables in shifts. Just to be organized, cook the same vegetables all at the same time. Once done, remove the vegetables off the grill and place them spaced out on a tray or plate. If you pile them up, the vegetables will steam and get soggy.

Once done, let the grill plate cool completely before handling. If possible, use tongs and a scrubby to scrape off any stuck on bits while the surface is still hot. It is easier to clean off the charred bits when the plate is still hot, but not at the expense of getting burned.

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style, recipe.

Equipment for Grilling Vegetables

  • You need a grill, preferably a charcoal grill but a gas one will work fine.
  • Good quality charcoal without lighter fluid and a charcoal chimney to start the coals.
  • BBQ quality oven mitt or glove.
  • A cast iron pan or griddle, pizza stone, baking steel or food grade metal or stone surface that can tolerate temperature up to 700°F (371°C). Some pizza stones can only withstand temperatures up to 500°F (260°C) or lower.
  • Long metal BBQ tongs without plastic tips.
  • A good BBQ spatula.
  • Several trays for putting the grilled vegetables on.
  • A timer is helpful

Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style, recipe.

What to do with all these grilled vegetables?

Serve grilled vegetables with grilled fish, grilled tofu, grilled chicken or steak, or roast chicken.

Assemble a platter of grilled vegetables, olives, cured meats, cheeses and crusty bread. Dine al fresco for a light dinner or a cocktail party.

Serve grilled vegetables as an appetizer made with grilled toasts and ricotta cheese topped with grilled vegetables.

Make a light pesto dressing with muddled basil leaves, smashed garlic, olive oil and vinegar and dress the grilled vegetables.

Grilled vegetable sandwiches with crusty bread, basil mayo or sriracha mayo, with Gouda or mozzarella cheese (smoked or plain) and grilled vegetables.

Frittata with grilled vegetables.

Where to buy a La Plancha griddle pan?

The Big Green Egg has a la plancha griddle for the Big Green Egg. It could work on other round grills depending on the size of the pan and your grill. (Not an add)

Lodge makes a round carbon steel griddle pan. They also make griddle pans in different sizes, shapes and materials. (Not an add)

Sur la Table has a variety of options with an Emile Henry Flame Charcoal Pizza Stone, Swissmare Raclette Granite Stone, Baking Steel Griddle, Lodge round griddle. Plus many more. (Not an add)

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Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style

Grilling vegetables is so easy when you use a griddle surface on top of a charcoal or gas grill. This grilling surface prevents vegetables from falling through the cracks of the grate or incinerating tender vegetables from sudden flare ups. I had an old cast iron griddle pan that served as a perfect surface on top of my grill, but a 12-inch cast iron skillet or baking steel will work nicely. A stone surface also works if it can withstand temperatures up to 700°F (371°C). My grill pan has a surface area of 16 x 10 inches (40.5 x 25.5 cm). Any food grade metal or stone surface with a surface area of 14 x 11 inches (35.5 x 28 cm) or larger will work nicely as long as it fits on your grill. This is a grilling technique originating from the Mediterranean and possibly first developed in Spain. Serve hot or at room temperature. Grilled vegetables are best eaten the day they are made but will last if kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Course Vegetable Side Dish
Cuisine Mediterranean
Keyword grilled vegetables
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Heating a charcoal grill 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red onion sliced into rings about ¼-inch .5 cm thick
  • 1-2 leeks sliced in half lengthwise, cleaned and root and dark green parts trimmed off
  • 4-6 garlic cloves peel on
  • 2 zucchini sliced lengthwise into ¼- inch .5 cm thick slices
  • 1 yellow squash sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch .5 cm thick slices
  • 12 or more asparagus spears ends trimmed
  • 8 garlic scapes optional
  • 2 lemons cut in half across the width.
  • 1 peach cut in half across the equator optional
  • 2 ears of corn husk and silk threads removed optional
  • 1 fennel bulb stalks removed and sliced in 1/4 -inch (.5 cm) slices (optional)
  • 2-3 TB Canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point
  • Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 loaf French bread sliced on a diagonal optional
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 TB Red wine vinegar
  • 1 large bunch of basil leaves cleaned and stems removed

Instructions

  1. Prepare your grill. If using a gas grill, heat to 450°F (230°C). For a charcoal grill, fill a charcoal chimney to the top with charcoal. Rest the chimney on the charcoal grate. Light the chimney according to manufacture instructions. Heat the charcoal until all the coals are very hot. They will look mostly grey with streaks of black throughout each lump or briquette. Put on an BBQ mitt and carefully empty the hot charcoal onto the grate. Add an additional half chimney’s worth of charcoal and spread out over the hot charcoal. Arrange the charcoal over the bottom of the whole grate, but with one side having more charcoal than the other. Place the top grilling grate on the grill and the grill pan over the side with the most charcoal. Heat until the grill pan and grate are good and hot, about 15 minutes. Close lid if using a gas grill. The grill pan is hot when you flick water on the grill pan and it bubbles up and dances on the surface.
  2. While the grill is heating up, add the zucchini slices, asparagus and scapes in a large bowl and drizzle about 1 TB (15 ml) of oil over the prepared vegetables. Use the remaining oil to baste the remaining vegetables. Arrange the onion slices and leek halves on a sheet pan and baste with oil on both sides. Baste some oil over the cut surface of the cut lemons. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of Kosher salt over the vegetables, except the bell peppers.
  3. When the grill is hot, arrange the bell peppers on the side of the grill without the grill pan. Every few minutes, use long tongs to turn the bell peppers over so the whole pepper gets a good char and is blistered, about 15 minutes. Once the bell peppers get black all over, place them in a medium bowl and tightly cover with foil and plastic wrap. Set aside to allow the peppers to steam in the bowl for at least 15 minutes.
  4. If using corn on the cob, place them on the grill grate with the bell peppers. Start the corn when you start the peppers. Cook the corn turning them periodically to get an even char on all sides, about 8-10 minutes total.
  5. Meanwhile, arrange the onion slices, garlic cloves and leeks on the grill pan. Cook for 2 minutes then turn over on the other side. You want the onions and leeks to get soft with a nice sear on both sides. Once done, remove from the grill and place on a tray. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The garlic is done, when you see some brown spots on the peel and they are soft in the middle.
  6. Place the lemon halves cut side down on the grill or grill pan and cook until a good sear develops on the cut side, about 3-4 minutes.
  7. When there is room on the grill pan, arrange the zucchini and yellow squash slices on the grate and cook about 2-3 minutes per side. You want browned surface on both sides and tender slices of squash with a slight crispness. Place the squash on a tray when done. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
  8. Cook the asparagus and garlic scapes on the grill plate. Turning each asparagus spear and garlic scape over around 3 minutes per side. You want the asparagus and scapes to get soft but still have some bite. When done, place the vegetables on a tray. Lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat.
  9. If you are grilling the fennel add the fennel slices when there is room on the grill pan and cook 3 minutes per side, or until soft but still firm. Place on a tray when done. Sprinkle on Kosher salt and black pepper and toss to coat.
  10. Add the sliced French bread, if using, on the grill and toast until the bread is golden brown. How long it will take will depend on how hot your fire is at this time.
  11. When all the vegetables are cooked, remove the skins off the bell peppers by rubbing your hands over the charred skin and pulling off the skin until it is all clear. Do not run the bell pepper under water, or you will wash away all that delicious flavor you worked so hard to make. Clean hands and remove the core from each pepper and slice into slices.
  12. Remove the garlic peels off each clove. Take 1-2 grilled garlic cloves and rub it over the toasted French bread. Add any remaining cloves to the vegetable platter.
  13. Arrange all the vegetables on a platter in piles. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, and torn basil. Serve hot or at room temperature.
  14. Grilled garlic scapes taste great minced and placed on top of ricotta cheese toasts. Or, mince and add to the olive oil and fresh basil, then sprinkle over the grilled vegetables.
Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style. Mediterranean technique for grilling vegetables. Grilled vegetables develop a great sear when grilled on a stone or metal surface over an open flame.
Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style. Mediterranean technique for grilling vegetables. Grilled vegetables develop a great sear when grilled on a stone or metal surface over an open flame.

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

If I were to make myself a birthday pizza, Squash blossom pizza would be it. I can’t imagine a prettier and sunnier looking pizza. It has everything I love, fresh edible flowers, soft and decadent cheese, and crispy bread all in one gorgeous pizza. Squash blossoms are a rare treat available only for a about a month in the summer when there is an abundance of male and female flowers on zucchini plants. The male flower is picked, leaving some to continue pollinating the female flowers to grow squash. Luckily my birthday falls during this time allowing me to indulge in one of mother nature’s seasonal gifts. Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

Squash Blossom Pizza

Unless you grow your own vegetables, finding squash blossoms is challenging. It is like going on a scavenger hunt but instead of knocking on the doors of strangers looking for a wire coat hanger to shape into a sculpture, you go from farmer to farmer looking for squash blossoms. Ask your favorite farm stand vender if they have squash blossoms and if they can sell some to you. Also, I recommend getting to the farmers market just as it opens pick out the squash blossoms before it gets too hot, or before they disappear. Fortunately, I was able to arrange to get these squash blossoms from Rochambeau Farm Stand, for which I am very grateful.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza, recipe.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza, recipe.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza, recipe.

For a 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza you will need around 12 squash blossoms. From my experience squash blossoms come in all different sizes so I recommend buying a few extras.

Preparing squash blossoms for this pizza is not difficult. All you need is to trim the stems off each blossom then cut the flower open and remove the stamen. Once the pizza dough is ready, arrange the open blossoms in two concentric circles to cover the pizza. The blossoms curl up somewhat but try to get them as close together as possible. The next time I make this pizza I will cut a few extra blossoms in sections, so I can fill the bare spots and get more blossoms per square inch.

Watch out for bees and other insects hiding inside the closed flowers. Once you cut open the flower, carefully inspect each flower and shake off the little critters.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

Pizza Dough

Use store-bought fresh pizza dough from your favorite pizza parlor or buy the dough from the grocery. I hear Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods has delicious pizza dough for sale. My local family run grocer has good pizza dough as well, so look around they are usually found in the refrigerator aisle.

If you feel up to it, make pizza dough, but keep in mind some recipes require you start the process 4 days in advance. I have not posted a recipe yet, as I am still developing my pizza dough recipe. Developing a pizza dough recipe takes time and lots of practice so until then, I have tested pizza dough recipes from Serious Eats, or the 72 hour pizza dough with whole wheat flour in The Baking Steel Cookbook.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

Cheese for Squash Blossom Pizza

Creamy burrata is recommended for squash blossom pizza. It pairs well with the tomato sauce and the squash blossoms. It is not too rich, and you add it after the pizza is done baking. If you cannot find burrata, look for any soft and creamy type of cheese like good quality fresh whole milk ricotta, goat cheese, or fresh mozzarella. The goat cheese I would add to the pizza after baking, but the ricotta and mozzarella I would arrange on the pizza before I place it in the oven.

A 10-inch pizza is a small pizza, often considered small enough for one serving. In good conscious, I cannot recommend one person eating 4 oz of burrata. It’s just not healthy to eat a quarter pound of cheese no matter how much you love burrata. If you want your pizza as a single serving, please dollop half the amount of cheese over the pie using 2 oz instead of 4.

Birthday Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata, recipe.

 

More pizza recipes Four Cheese Pizza, Pesto Shrimp Pizza

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Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata

This pizza is one of the prettiest pizzas ever. I love the flavor of squash blossoms, a floral scent of summer squash with a slight vegetal note. This pizza reminds me of a sunflower stretching its petals open towards the sun. The burrata gives the pizza a luxurious kiss of creamy bliss. 


Use store-bought pizza dough enough for one 10-inch pizza (about 7.5 oz / 212 g in weight) or make your own pizza dough. Making your own pizza dough takes some advance planning as some recipes takes from 48- 72 hours to mature. 

Makes one 10 inch (25.5 cm) pizza and serves 1-2 people. 

Use a quick, fresh tasting tomato sauce flavored with olive oil. See notes for a recipe. 

This pizza recipe is from Nancy Sliverton's Mozza Cookbook

Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword Pizza Recipe, Squash blossom pizza
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Resting and Preheating Time 1 hour
Total Time 23 minutes
Servings 2 people
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • 10 – 12 fresh squash blossoms
  • 1 fresh pizza dough portion for a 10-inch 25.5 cm pizza
  • 1 TB 15 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing the pizza
  • Kosher Salt
  • ¼ cup 75 ml fresh tomato sauce
  • 4 oz 125 g burrata
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

Prep

  1. Remove the pizza dough from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking. This step allows the pizza dough to relax and come up to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500°F / 260°C /Gas Mark 10 one hour before you want to cook the pizza. If you have a pizza stone, lower the rack at the bottom position and place the stone on the rack. If you have a baking steel, position the rack 6 inches (15 cm) under the broiler (top rack) and place the baking steel on the rack. Or, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Preheat stone or steel in the oven.

  3. If you have neither stone or steel, place a baking sheet pan upside down on top of the bottom rack, similar to the baking stone, and preheat. 

    If you do not have a pizza peel,  reserve a sheet pan to the side of your work space and cover with a sheet of parchment paper. Once the dough is shaped, you will assemble the pizza on the sheet pan instead of a peel.

Prepare the squash blossoms

  1. Trim off the stems of each squash blossom and discard. Open each blossom by cutting down the side of each blossom with kitchen scissors then and cut away the stamen. Discard the stamens. Set aside.

Shape the dough

  1. When you are ready to cook the pizza, assemble all the equipment and ingredients you need for the pizza. The peel, extra flour and some corn meal for the peel, and all pizza ingredients. Arrange them on either side of your work space, giving you plenty of space to shape and assemble the pizza, but  still within arm’s reach.

  2. Lightly flour your work surface and pizza peel, if using. Tip your pizza dough in the center of the floured work surface. Press down on the center of the dough ball and flatten to form a disk. Press near the edge of the dough with your fingertips, creating a rim border about 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick around the pizza dough.

  3. Hold your hands in a loose fist and drape the disk over the tops of your fists. Holding your fist in front of your body stretch out the dough and allow it to drape down over your hands. Move the pizza dough around in a circle to evenly shape the pizza dough. Stretch the dough from the outer rim with your thumbs, and from the weight of the dough draping over your fists.
  4. When your dough stretches to a 10-inch diameter (25.5 cm) pizza, place it on your floured pizza peel or prepared sheet pan. Shake the pizza peel back and forth to see if the pizza dough will slide off the peel. If it sticks carefully add more flour or corn meal over the pizza peel by lifting up the edges of the pizza and dust the pizza peel. Do this around the pizza until the dough slides easily.

Assemble the pizza

  1. Quickly assemble the pizza. Spoon the tomato sauce in the center of the pizza and spread it evenly over the surface leaving a one-inch (2.5 cm) border. Starting at the inside edge of your border, arrange the squash blossoms in an even and circular pattern around the pizza in two concentric circles. The exterior side of the blossom faces up. The tips of the flowers in the inner circle will overlap the stem end of the flowers in the outer circle. Place two blossoms over the center of the circle with the stem ends touching each other. 

  2. Shake the pizza peel to see if it is loose and will slide. If the pizza is sticking, carefully lift up the edges and dust with flour or corn meal until it easily slides.

  3. Slide the pizza off the peel and position on the stone, steel or sheet pan. If you are not using a peel, place the sheet pan holding the pizza on top of your baking steel, stone, or upside down sheet pan. 

    To slide the pizza off the peel, position the pizza peel towards the back of the stone or steel. Give the peel a definitive shake, pulling your peel towards you. You want the pizza to slide off the peel with one good shake so don’t be timid about pulling the pizza peel towards you. One good jolt helps the pizza slide off and retain its shape. Pull the peel out of the oven then close the door and bake.

  4. Bake in the oven until the crust is golden and crispy anywhere from 8-12 minutes depending on your oven. Lift up the pizza with a large spatula and inspect the bottom crust. That should be golden as well.  If you are using a Baking steel it may take less time. Use the time as guidelines because individual conditions vary. Half way through baking, Use a large BBQ spatula to rotate the pizza from front to back to ensure even cooking. 

  5. When done, remove the pizza from the oven and slice into quarters with a large and sharp chef knife or pizza cutter. Cut the burrata into 4 even sections and place in the middle of each pizza wedge. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. If you have good quality finishing extra virgin olive oil, use it here with a few grounds of fresh black pepper.

  6. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Nancy Silverton’s specifies a Passata di Pomodoro sauce for this pizza. It is made with 2- 28 oz (794 g) cans of whole plum tomatoes, a shy tablespoon of sugar, a shy tablespoon of Kosher salt, and ¼ cup (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil. The skins and seeds are removed from the tomatoes using a food mill, “passed through” as the name indicates. I do not have a food mill, so I just puréed the tomatoes and can liquid with an immersion blender after I removed the seeds. FYI, the brand SM whole plum tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes from California) have the skins already removed. Heat up the olive oil in a large pot and carefully add the tomato purée and the remaining ingredients. Simmer until it thickens. About 30 minutes.

Squash blossom pizza with burrata. A delightful pizza recipe made with squash blossoms and burrata. Squash Blossom Pizza with Burrata is a special treat in the early summer when the blossoms are available.

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Four the Love of Cheese Pizza

Four Cheese Pizza recipe.

Out of curiosity I wanted to know just how much pizza Americans eat. The information is a couple of years old, but according to an article in Food Network Dish, Americans eat over 6,000 slices of pizza over the course of their lifetime (Reiter, Amy FN Dish, News, 2015). 6,000 slices of pizza is difficult to imagine, but for some odd reason I thought it was more, Yet the other surprise is, according to The Pizza Joint, a pizza trivia website, pepperoni is America’s favorite pizza. I would have put money down that the Americans favorite pizza is cheese pizza, especially with extra cheese.

Four Cheese Pizza

In our household, if I bought pepperoni, my sons would devour every crumb of pepperoni pizza, so I should not be surprised at that statistic. Their next favorite is cheese pizza, especially our homemade Four Cheese Pizza. Globs of melted cheese oozing off pizza slices appeals to everyone’s inner cravings. I can just see the scramble to grab the first slice of cheese pizza hot out of the oven with the strings of melted cheese stretching away from the pizza pie. Ah, don’t you just want to scoop up all those stings of melted cheese and layer it on top of your slice?

Four Cheese Pizza recipe

I made this recipe with a blend of mozzarella cheese, Italian Fontina cheese, Asiago Cheese, and Romano Cheese. It is a nice blend of creamy good melting cheeses with harder sharp tasting cheeses for contrast. The mozzarella and fontina cheese get mixed together, then sprinkle a layer of grated Asiago over the top so it stands out. Once the pizza is done baking, I sprinkle finely grated Romano cheese over the top and watch it melt as it hits the hot cheesy surface.

The reason I add the Romano cheese after the pizza is done, is to prevent the Romano cheese from burning. Those crispy burnt layers of cheese taste great in a lasagna, but people like crispy pizza crust, not crispy cheese with their slice.

Four Cheese Pizza recipe.

Putting it together

Just like my post for Pesto Shrimp Pizza, I did not include a pizza dough recipe. If you want to try your hand at making pizza dough, try Jim Lahey’s No Kneed Pizza Dough. Or, try this pizza dough recipe from The Kitchn.  I have yet to test this recipe so please let me know how you like it.

The down side to making pizza dough is, it requires advance planning in order for it to get done in time. Yet there is a reasonable alternative, buy a store made pizza dough. This makes Friday night pizza more doable.

The cheese pizza recipe has a quick tomato sauce with lots of garlic and fresh basil. It is easy to make while you are waiting for the oven to preheat and the dough to come up to room temperature. All that is left to do is grate the cheese. For more detailed information about making pizza and special equipment please read my post for Pesto Shrimp Pizza, (linked above).

An extra cheese pizza lovers delight. Four cheese pizza recipe made with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, Italian fontina cheese, Asiago, and grated Romano cheese.

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Four Cheese Pizza

A delicious cheese pizza made with a blend of mozzarella, Italian Fontina, Asiago, and Romano cheeses. The mozzarella and Fontina cheeses have a creamy base and are good melting cheeses, while the Asiago and Romano cheese provide a sharp contrast and make all the cheeses pop. 

Garnish with fresh basil and red pepper flakes. 

Makes one 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza. For a larger pizza adjust the ingredient proportions as needed.  

Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine Italian, Italian American
Keyword Cheese pizza, Four cheese Pizza
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Preheating time 1 hour
Total Time 31 minutes
Servings 2 people
Author Ginger

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 14.5 oz (411 g) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp of granulated sugar
  • 6 leaves basil chiffonade sliced

Cheese Pizza

  • 1 7 oz (200 g) Pizza Dough
  • 3 TB (45 ml) Tomato Sauce
  • 3 oz (75 g) grated low moisture mozzarella
  • 2 oz (50 g) grated Italian Fontina cheese
  • 1 oz (25 g) grated Asiago cheese
  • ½ oz (15 g) grated Romano cheese
  • Fresh Basil leaves for garnish

Instructions

Prep

  1. One hour before you want to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500°F 250°C/ Gas mark 8
  2. If you are using a pizza steel or stone, place it on a rack according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  3. Place the pizza dough on the counter and rest for one hour before baking.
  4. Mix together the grated mozzarella and Fontina cheese and set aside. Keep the Asiago and Romano cheeses separate. 

Make the tomato sauce

  1. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and remove the core over the strainer. Place the tomato halves into another bowl. Press out the juices from the seeds and core pieces in the strainer. Pour the tomato juice in the bowl with the tomatoes and blend with an immersion blender or add to a blender. Process until smooth.
  2. In a 2 quart sauce pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil and heat until shy of smoking. Add the minced garlic to the sauce pan, aiming away from the hot spot in your pan. Cook for a minute then add the puréed tomatoes. Turn down the heat to medium low and simmer for one two minutes. Add the salt sugar and half the basil then simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the remaining fresh basil. This can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for two days.

Assemble the pizza

  1. When it is time to bake your pizza, sprinkle some flour over a pizza peel and set aside. Or, place a piece of parchment paper over a rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold a 10-inch (25.5 cm) pizza. Lightly spay with cooking oil on the parchment paper. 

  2. Flour your work surface and your hands and pour the pizza dough onto your surface. Press down on the dough with your fingertips and shape into a circle. Drape the dough over the tops of both hands, shaped in a loose fist. Let gravity and your thumbs stretch out the pizza dough to a 10-inch (25.5 cm) circle. Use your thumbs to stretch out the edge and rotate the dough around. Do not pull out from the center of the dough.

  3. Place the dough on the prepared pizza peel or sheet pan. Check to make sure the pizza is not sticking to the peel by shaking the peel back and forth. If it is sticking add more flour to the peel. If you have any holes, patch them up so the topping does not ooze out while baking.
  4. Spread the tomato sauce in an even layer over the pizza dough, leaving an inch border around the pizza. Check to make sure the pizza is not sticking to the peel. Sprinkle all the cheeses, except the Romano cheese, over the tomato sauce in an even layer. Shake the peel back and forth to make sure it is not sticking to the peel.

  5. Bring the pizza on the peel over to the oven and aim toward the back of the baking stone or steel. (If you are using a sheet pan, just place it on the rack and bake). Slide the peel towards you and shake off the pizza so it slides onto the baking stone or steel.

  6. Bake for 6 minutes, or until the pizza is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. Half way through baking, turn the pizza from front to back for even baking.
  7. Remove the pizza from the oven by using a spatula to slide it onto a pizza peel. Slide the pizza onto a cutting board or pizza pan. Sprinkle the Romano cheese and remaining fresh basil leaves over the pizza and serve immediately.

Four Cheese Pizza. An extra cheese pizza lovers delight. Four cheese pizza recipe made with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, Italian fontina cheese, Asiago, and grated Romano cheese.

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Summer Backyard BBQ Menu Ideas

Summer Backyard BBQ Menu with recipe links.

There is nothing like getting together with friends and family for a day into night BBQ. The warmer temperatures and longer days just invite people to relax and hang outside. I put together a delicious BBQ Menu designed for ease of preparation,  seasonal produce, diet flexibility, and just good eats. When preparing a BBQ menu, the first thing to evaluate is know your guests’ dietary restrictions, if any. Don’t put any of your guests in the position where they must bring their own food. A courteous host will design a menu around their inspiration and friends and family food restrictions. In my case no matter if I am entertaining friends or family, I always need food for vegetarian, sometimes vegan, and gluten free diets. The whole menu does not have to include all the restrictions, but having at least one selection per course for any specialized diet is greatly appreciated.

Food allergies are taken more seriously than when I was growing up and there are times when people have so many food allergies and restrictions they opt to bring their own food. No one wants to put anyone out or feel like they are needing a special meal just for them. As a courtesy describe your menu to your friend or family member and inform them of your menu. If you are making something they can eat, let them know.

Summer BBQ Menu

Beer   Wine   Raspberry Hibiscus Margarita

Appetizers

Muhammarra   Grilled Shrimp Cocktail   Pickled Deviled Eggs

Main Course

Grilled Sherry Marinated Flank Steak

Cold Sesame Noodles

Grilled Asparagus

3 Bean Salad

Dessert

Double Coconut Pie

Gluten Free Strawberry Tart

Fudgy Brownies with Sea Salt and Caramel

 

Raspberry Hibiscus Margarita with Jalapeno, recipe.

BBQ Menu: Drinks

Serving a selection of wine and beer and non-alcoholic beverages is all anyone expects at a backyard party. However, these days people are very particular about the type of wine and beer they like to drink. Most likely your guests will bring a beverage they like and willing to share.

For beer, offer a variety like a lager, IPA, and Saison. This variety should cover most people’s taste preference. You know you guests best, if the only beer your guests drink is Corona, then that is all you need. For me, I am surrounded beer aficionados, so the more diverse selection the happier they are.

My summer wine selection usually includes, red, white and rosé wines. Here again, people are particular about what wine they like to drink and based on my experience two types of white wines are necessary. There are two distinct white wine camps, those who only drink chardonnay and those who do not drink Chardonnay period. A choice of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio will round out the white wine selection nicely. Another option is offer White Bordeaux. It is a dry white wine and should appeal to both white wine camps.

For red wine, Merlot pairs nicely with the steak and is not as heavy as a Cabernet Sauvignon. Additionally, I found during the summer a lighter, dry red wine like Cotes de Rhone is another all-purpose red wine choice.

The great peace keeper is Rosé. Both red and white wine drinkers enjoy a dry rosé. So, if you do not have the white or red wine they prefer, rosé to the rescue. It is a refreshing wine and perfect for summer.

For fun, offer a signature cocktail like Raspberry Hibiscus Margarita with Jalapeno. You get two drinks in one with this recipe. The raspberry hibiscus juice is excellent in a cocktail and a non-alcoholic beverage mixed with seltzer or ginger ale.

BBQ Menu: The Beginning

No BBQ menu is complete without a good selection of appetizers. Chances are, your guests will arrive hungry anticipating a night of eating and drinking. Appetizers give people something to do other than drink, plus they set the mood of your party. Also, it is my experience people love appetizers or nibbly foods, sometimes more than the main dinner selection. Some people like to help and pass around a tray of appetizers because it gets them connected to everyone at the party.

Three recipes, Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Bacon, Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Walnuts and Pomegranate, Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots

BBQ Menu: Appetizers

Depending on the amount of people determines how many appetizers you need. For a party with 8 people, I usually have three appetizers. Having more than 2 appetizer selections gives people choices for their meal, it looks welcoming and people feel like they are going to be well fed. When there is a small selection of food, people feel self-conscious about eating, because no one wants to be the guy who eats more than their fair share, and like I mentioned earlier people are usually hungry as soon as they arrive to a BBQ. Even if you have a larger party, 3 appetizers are a nice selection but make enough of each for two appetizer stations.

Variety is the name of the game. People love chips and dip of any variety. Serve with a vegetable crudité, and chips and crackers. All my dips published in this blog are some of my favorites and picking one is like choosing which of your children is your favorite. They are all my favorite. For a small party, I would select one dip, for a larger party I make two or three dips depending on the other appetizers.

 

Muhammarra is a delicious roasted red pepper dip from Syria. It is a vegan dip, but not gluten free. You can easily eliminate the crackers and add more walnuts for a gluten free option. Next to guacamole, Muhammarra is one of my favorites.

No one can resist shrimp cocktail and this roasted shrimp cocktail with Sriracha horseradish cocktail sauce is a definite crowd pleaser.  As long as you got your grill going, grill the shrimp over indirect heat instead of roasting them.

If it is not super hot outside people love Deviled Eggs and the Cornichon Pickle Deviled Eggs will pair nicely with the rest of the menu.

Summer Vegetable Steak Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing Recipe

BBQ Menu: Main Course

I went traditional with this BBQ menu and selected a meat entrée because this flank steak is easy to prepare and cooks up quickly.  My recipe for Grilled Sherry Marinated Flank Steak is an oldie but goodie and one I use regularly. The marinade is also delicious for pork tenderloin. The photographs may need updating but the steak has a sweet, salty and smoky flavor that is timeless. With grilled sherry marinated flank steak, you can make all sorts of crowd pleasing main entrées. Serve it as is, make into a steak salad, or make tacos or steak fajitas. Additionally, any leftovers make the best steak sandwich.

Very few people don’t like grilled asparagus and it pairs well with this flank steak. On several occasions I discovered grilled asparagus is the only prepare some people will eat asparagus. As long as you got the grill going, you might as well grill up some vegetables. You can serve the grilled asparagus as is or have an orange mayonnaise dressing on the side. If you have vegetarians at your party be considerate and grill the asparagus before you grill the flank steak.

I often find a green salad is not the most popular food item at buffets and barbecues. My theory is people pile their plates with the main food selection with the best intention of returning for salad. But chances are they go back for seconds and forgo the salad. However, no one will miss the leafy green salad as long as there a couple of vegetable dish selections. For a leafy green salad substitute, I enjoy this 3 Bean Salad, made with two types of string beans, kidney beans and a lemon ginger vinaigrette.  Not only is it a delicious salad, it provides some protein for vegan and vegetarian guests.

For an unexpected side dish, serve Cold Sesame Noodles instead of potato salad. Cold sesame noodles also give your vegetarian guests some more protein with the 3 bean salad. If you need a gluten free side dish, make the cold sesame noodles with your favorite gluten free pasta, or Quinoa Salad with Avocado and Dried Fruit.

Nectarine and Blueberry Galette recipe

BBQ Menu: Dessert

For a small party one dessert is plenty, but if you are having more than 8 guests, then offer a selection of desserts. I prefer desserts that can easily be made in advance and maintain their vibrant appearance and taste. Unless I make a sheet cake, like Pioneer Woman’s, Best chocolate Sheet Cake, I do not bake cakes for barbecues. Pies, cookies, brownies, crisps, or make your own ice cream sundaes are perfect for a summer BBQ menu. An excellent pie, and gluten free to boot, is Double Coconut Pie or, Gluten free Strawberry Tart made with pistachio cookie crust. The strawberry tart taste best when it is assembled right before serving, but that does not take too much time.

Nothing beats these fudgy brownies with sea salt and caramel, and they can easily fit in to make your own brownie sundaes. Just add the caramel sauce after you top off with the ice cream. But if you want a cold and refreshing dessert, Lemon Mousse or Yogurt Panna Cotta are excellent options for a small backyard parties.

Party Success

All these recipes were published to feed an average size family, yet they can easily scale up to feed any number of number of people. If I am only serving one main entrée selection, I figure on 6 oz (175 g) per person for the main entrée. A 6 oz (175 g) serving is a normal sized dinner portion. If you have a lot of food in your buffet and a second entrée, figure on 4 oz (150 g) of meat or fish per person. A half cup (125 ml) per person is a good portion size for any salad, vegetable or grain side dish.

The key to a fun and relaxed backyard BBQ is don’t fret it. Do as much as you can in advance and let people help when offered. Once the appetizers are made, the only food you need to time is the flank steak, everything else can be made in advance. Keep any cold food chilled before serving. There is nothing on the vegetables dishes you need to worry about going bad, except if you serve the orange mayonnaise.

Summer parties are less formal, and people enjoy making a dish to share. The main point of your get together is just that, a gathering of friends and family for a relaxing evening of good food, and fun. There is nothing wrong with asking people to help. Know your talents and limits, if dessert is not your forte, ask friends to bring dessert or buy it. Or, maybe you love making dessert but can’t swing the appetizers or salad, ask for help. Honestly, most people enjoy bringing a contribution because it makes them feel they are part of the party’s success. As much as you do not want to be alone in the kitchen, your guests want to visit with you as well, so ask for help when you need it.

Here is to a summer full of lots of parties and barbecues. Enjoy!

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Spring Spinach Frittata with Ricotta

Spring spinach frittata with ricotta and recipe

Are you a sweet or savory breakfast person? If you are like me, someone who finds it difficult to choose between the two, frittatas are a wonderful choice and a healthy(ish) alternative to quiche. Because frittatas lack an all butter pastry crust, heavy cream and extra cheese, they are not as rich as quiche, Plus they are much easier to make. What this means is, you can serve up a savory frittata as a main course and include all the pastries or coffee cake you crave. Sweet and savory satisfaction without the guilt, (kind-of). I created this spinach frittata with the dual purpose of making something elegant and savory to serve for breakfast or brunch that also leaves room for something sweet, like The Best Damn Lemon Cake or Apple Muffin with Lemon Glaze.

Ricotta and Spinach Frittata and recipe.

Spinach Frittata Inspiration

My spinach frittata recipe combines two ideas from my favorite egg dishes. The first idea is from Deborah Madison’s  cookbook, In My Kitchen.  She adds saffron to her Swiss Chard Flan recipe, giving the custard an exotic floral nuance that I love. Saffron compliments custards and leafy green vegetables nicely, so I decided to use it instead of freshly grated nutmeg for some extra elegance in the frittata. I love saffron and don’t mind spending the extra money to buy it. However, if you rather not use saffron, add some freshly grated nutmeg directly into the egg mixture. Fresh basil or mint provides a brighter and fresher tasting substitution for saffron, and it pairs very nicely with the spinach frittata.

The second idea is the addition of fresh ricotta, whipped smooth and spooned on top of the spinach frittata. The first time I tasted a ricotta topped frittata is when I made Joshua McFadden’s Red Pepper, Potato, Prosciutto Frittata with Ricotta from his cookbook, Six Seasons. The ricotta transformed an ordinary western omelet into a very special occasion. The ricotta gets soft and warm baked with the frittata and you want every bite filled with this light creaminess. I totally got hooked on ricotta topped frittatas and now want to add ricotta cheese to just about everything.

It pays to buy the freshly made ricotta cheese, there is a big difference in taste. Usually you can find good quality ricotta near the deli department at your grocery. Or make a small batch of ricotta cheese. It takes a lot less time than you think and tastes like real milk.

Julienne Leeks

Making a frittata is fairly straight forward and quick. The only challenging part in this recipe is to julienne the leeks. For a change I decided to julienne slice the white and light green parts of the leek instead of cutting them into circles or half-moons.  It doesn’t really matter how they are prepared as long as they are thoroughly cleaned and cooked till soft and translucent. The julienned leek disappears into the spinach and eggs but adds lovely sweet onion background flavor.

To julienne the leeks, cut the leek in half lengthwise then clean between the layers. Then cut across the leek dividing it into chunks the size of your desired length, mine where about an inch and a half (3.5 cm). Then slice the portioned leeks, lengthwise in very thin strips, mine were about 1/16-1/8 of an inch (about 2-3 mm).  Because you won’t see the leeks you do not have to worry about being precise like you would for julienned carrots in a vegetable sauté, so don’t fret about it.

Check out this video for a live example of how to julienne leeks. In this video he discards the root end of the leek. I do not discard it and julienne cut the root as best I can.

Spinach Frittata

Coming up with a name for this spinach frittata was challenging. With all the special ingredients, it could easily have a name that takes longer to say then it does to cook. Yet the mood of this frittata is all about spring and representing new life and the warming of the earth and air. Fresh farm eggs give the vegetables its foundation with a salty bite of Romano cheese. Young spring spinach and leeks provide a sense of newness to the frittata which in turn is gets grounded from the floral but earthy notes from the stamens of spring crocuses, otherwise known as saffron. Warm, creamy fresh ricotta tie all the flavors together for a sunny “Good morning” greeting. All that goodness is invigorating but not filling leaving plenty of room for pastries or dessert.

Frittatas are delicious for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or a light supper. For a spectacular Mother’s Day brunch (or any brunch), serve the spinach frittata with your favorite sides like sausage, bacon, green salad, fruit salad and your favorite pastries.

Ricotta Spinach Frittata with recipe.

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Ricotta Spinach Frittata

An elegant frittata recipe for the times when you want a special breakfast or brunch that is also easy to make. It is a lighter and healthier substitute for quiche.  

Course Breakfast, Brunch, Light Supper, Lunch, Vegetarian
Cuisine Italian American
Keyword Frittata, Spinach Frittata
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4
Author Ginger

Ingredients

  • 1 pinch of saffron 1 TB boiling water
  • 6 eggs
  • ¼ cup 24 g finely grated real Romano cheese
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1-2 TB olive oil
  • 1 leek about 6 oz (187 g) Pale green and white parts only
  • 5 oz 142 g spinach cleaned, and stems removed
  • ½ cup 117 g real ricotta cheese

Instructions

Prepare your ingredients

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C / Gas Mark 6 and place the oven rack in the middle of the oven.

  2. Place a pinch of saffron in a small bowl and add 1 TB of just shy of boiling water to the saffron. Set aside and let the saffron steep.

  3. In a medium size bowl, mix the eggs together with a fork until there are no egg whites visible in the mix. Add the Romano cheese and mix again until combined. Set aside.

  4. Thoroughly clean and julienne slice the white and pale green parts of the leek, about an inch and a half in length and about 1/16 of an inch wide. See blog post for a video demonstration. 

  5. In a small bowl, whip the ricotta with a pinch of Kosher salt and a few grounds of black pepper until smooth. A fork works nicely for this job. Set aside. 

  6. Place an 8-inch (20cm) skillet, preferably a non-stick skillet with an oven-proof handle, on a burner and turn the heat to medium-high. Pour in the olive oil and heat up. Add the sliced leeks and turn down the heat to medium then sauté until soft, but not browned, about 5-7 minutes. Add the prepared spinach, in batches, and cook down until completely wilted and soft, about 5 minutes. 

  7. Meanwhile, pour the saffron and water to the eggs, making sure you get every last drop and all saffron threads, and whisk together with a fork.

Make the Frittata

  1. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet with the spinach and leeks. Tilt the pan to make sure the egg mixture is evenly distributed across the whole skillet. Turn the heat to medium and let the eggs cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes.

  2. Run a thin rubber spatula around the edge of the frittata to loosen the eggs. Pull the eggs toward the center with the spatula creating pockets for uncooked runny eggs to fill up. Repeat this step going around the circumference of the frittata. Continue to gently cook the frittata until there is a thin liquid layer on top of the frittata. 

  3. Drop spoonfuls of whipped ricotta cheese around the frittata, about 6-8 spoonfuls. Place the skillet in the oven and cook until it is solid all the way through, about 6 minutes. You may need to place the frittata under the broiler to brown the top. It is not necessary, only if you want browning on the top. If you do, watch the frittata carefully because it should only take a few minutes.  

  4. Remove from the oven and run the frittata around the edge of the skillet, then slide the frittata  on to a serving plate. 

  5. Frittata is best eaten warm the same day it is made. 

< div style =”display:none;”>Ricotta Spinach Frittata. Spring spinach frittata recipe with leeks, saffron and ricotta. An elegant frittata recipe and a great healthy substitute for quiche. Perfect for any meal of the day.,

© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

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