Just under a year ago I was trawling through food blogs, as you do, bookmarking recipes and researching new foods, when I stumbled across Russell and his lovely little blog Chasing Delicious, based in Texas. It was a brilliant name and the more I read Russell’s stunning prose, gazed upon his beautiful photography and laughed heartily at his wit, the more I came to realise that his blog name was entirely apt for his being.
Over time Russell and I have become great friends (though we missed each other when I was in Texas, sadly), I’m even a contributor now for the new format of Chasing Delicious. He is charming, gorgeous and downright hilarious, and I’m absolutely thrilled that he offered to write me a guest post today, as well as incredibly honoured that this is the first one he’s ever written. And you know what? Russell being the way he is couldn’t just give you one recipe, no, he’s given you two different variations of his grilled pizza with room for more! That’s just the kinda chap he is! So, I’ll leave you in Russell’s more than capable hands – thank you, my dear!
The bright glare of the eager morning sun begins to break through the curtains in my small, cozy hotel room highlighting the hundreds of years of blemishes and scars the walls hold dear. The busy sounds of shops opening and tourists gallivanting about on the narrow, foreign street below seep in with the burgeoning sun. I resist the urge to join the masses. I’m on vacation. I can afford to sleep in. The curtains, now failing at keeping the sun from my room, simply diffuse the bright morning light bathing me and the ancient room in an idyllic glow. The smells of cured meats and baking breads begin to waft in to my room perched not far above a collection of delicious shops. Each wave redolent of delicious perfection tempts and tantalizes my virgin nose. Suddenly a smell so very familiar and comfortable dances its way to me. I am enveloped in the beautiful aromas of bread, strong scents of melted cheeses and the just slightly pungent, acidic fragrance of a perfected-over-the-generations tomato sauce.
I can no longer resist. I leap from my not-so-comfortable hotel bed and throw on whatever clothes happen to be on top of the pile so delicately stashed in my suitcase. I run to my brother’s room seeking a partner for my culinary journey and to my astonishment the king of sleeping in is already awake and sporting the same eager, excited face as I. Clearly he has smelled the pizza as well. We run to the stairwell, leaping down three steps at a time taking little care to hide our anticipation. Our gallop comes to an abrupt stop as we reach the open hotel doors, beyond them is the pristine, perfect-in-all-ways, better-than-a-post-card venetian street. Our looks of excitement change to pure flabbergast. We are two foodies obsessed with pastas, pizzas and soccer, and we’re in the motherland. With little more than a thought we merge into the human traffic flowing down the narrow streets weaving our way in and out, up and down, through and past one small street after the other. Our noses do the work. We simply glide along waiting for the smell of perfection to bring us to our first pizza shop.
I can remember that first little pizza shop sitting on a dead end street in the bottom of a nearly-dilapidated, centuries-old building perched right on the side of a narrow canal. It was our hidden gem that no other tourist could seem to find. The only other people there were a few locals chatting away in a beautiful language I knew little of. As gondolas float by and the murmur of excited vacationers fill the distant air my brother and I settle right next to the chef and the only man working at the small pizzeria. We gorge on one pizza after the other trying our favorites and those flavors we could never have even imagined. For my brother and I, this was pure heaven. We spent the rest of our trip in Italy hopping from one pizzeria to the next. Whether we were in Venice, or Florence, Rome or the Tuscan country side, pizza was in our greedy, hungry hands constantly.
Ever since that trip I have dedicated myself to creating the perfect pizza, worthy of a place next to the large, thin discs lining the pizzeria shops and my heart. Yes, I have had delicious pizza in New York, Chicago and San Francisco even but none seem to achieve the simple perfection of an Italian pizza. None seem to cherish the roots of the pizza itself, a thin vessel of bread meant to highlight a combination of delicious, fresh toppings. Over the years and from one location to another, each place has adopted their own variation. I can’t fault anyone for choosing one way over another but I can look on with a hesitant eye as people stick a fork into a two inch tall “pizza” that is little more than a savory pie of unnecessary proportions typical of american gluttony. This got me thinking though. I decided to put my narrow-minded pursuit of the perfect pizza aside for a moment and try something new. I decided to grill pizza. Being a Texas boy, I figured if Texas were to refine and hone it’s own pizza style, surely it would be done on the grill. What came of this tangent is my new favorite way to cook pizza. I have fallen in love with this thin, marvelous dish all over again.
Here I’ve shared two simple, three ingredient pizzas (minus the ingredients for the crust). Both pizzas are sauceless and only one pizza requires cooking the ingredients ahead of time. When grilling pizza you’ll want to make sure and get your grill as hot as possible, then lower the heat on the side you’ll be cooking the pizzas (if using charcoals I suggest moving the hot coals to one side or around the outside and if you’re using propane I suggest leaving one side on high and the side you’ll cook on, on low). If you cook over direct, high heat the pizza dough will brown quickly and it can burn easily. Cooking over low or indirect heat will give you a little more time as it is a more forgiving cooking temperature. Also, be sure to prepare the dough well in advance as it could require up to two hours to rise.
SPINACH, SHALLOT & FETA GRILLED PIZZA
1/2 Pizza Dough Recipe (recipe below)
1 cup baby spinach
2 shallots, sliced thinly
4 oz feta cheese
1. Roll out the dough and oil one side liberally with olive oil. Place the oiled side down on the grill grates. Cook 5 to 10 minutes with the lid closed until the bottom is golden brown.
2. Oil the top of the dough liberally and flip the dough over. Add more olive oil then stack the spinach, feta cheese and shallots on top. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes with the grill closed until the bottom is golden brown and the cheese is beginning to brown.
3. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the top and serve immediately.
BROCCOLINI, FENNEL & GOAT’S CHEESE GRILLED PIZZA
1/2 Pizza Dough Recipe (recipe below)
1 bunch broccolini
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
4 ounces goat cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Wrap the fennel slices in foil and place on the grill. Place the broccolini whole on the grill as well and cook both 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked but still crispy/crunchy.
2. Roll out the dough and oil one side liberally with olive oil. Place the oiled side down on the grill grates. Cook 5 to 10 minutes with the lid closed until the bottom is golden brown.
3. Oil the top of the dough liberally and flip the dough over. Add more olive oil then stack the ingredients placing the cheese on top. Grind pepper over the pizza and cook for 5 to 10 minutes with the grill closed until the bottom is golden brown and the cheese begins to melt.
4. Serve immediately.
PIZZA DOUGH RECIPES
(Makes x2 10″ pizzas)
1 packet dry active yeast
2 tsps sugar
1 cup warm water (between 110 – 115 degrees F (40 – 45 degrees C))
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups bread flour (all purpose (plain) will work fine)
2 tsps salt
1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Add the olive oil and mix in well.
2. Add the flour and salt and mix until a dough forms. Knead the dough for 7 to 10 minutes. The dough should be elastic and resist tearing or springing back quickly.
3. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm location for 1 to 2 hours until the dough has doubled in volume.
4. Once doubled in volume, press down the dough lightly and divide into two even chunks. Let the two dough balls rest 10 minutes covered.
5. Roll out each piece of dough on a lightly floured surface to make a 10 inch circle just before putting it on the grill.
The best part of pizza like this is how easy it is to change them up. Use whatever you’ve got in your kitchen or in your herb and vegetable garden to create a pizza custom tailored just for your liking. Enjoy!
And last but not least, this is the video that made me completely fall in love with him (sorry Russell, I had to share!):
Until next time, peace and love.