Grilled pizza and salads mix up mundane summer meals

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

CONCORD, N.H. -- The warmer it is outside, the less willing I am to spend much time or energy inside preparing a meal, even when there are guests to be dazzled.

But that doesn't mean the summer menu has to be limited to soy cold-cut sandwiches or tofu dogs and veggie burgers on the grill. It's easy to pull together a summer meal than can impress without putting you under stress.

A favorite of mine is pizza and flat bread on the grill. Though the summer heat can be great for getting dough to rise, I usually opt for store-bought pizza crust that is packaged as a refrigerated bag of dough.

To prepare the dough, simply leave the bag on the counter for 30 minutes until the dough comes to room temperature and begins to rise. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface.

Pizza on the grill cooks very quickly. It is best to prepare the toppings ahead or use those that require little heating time, such as sliced artichoke hearts (canned), tomato slices, diced bell pepper, mushroom slices and thin slices of onion.

To grill the pizza, place the plain rolled-out dough on a very hot grill. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until crust begins to produce air bubbles and the bottom is seared with grill marks. Use tongs to flip the crust.

Add the toppings, including cheese. Close the grill and cook until the bottom of the crust is cooked and cheese has melted. If the crust is done before the cheese, carefully move the pizza to an upper rack, or open the grill.

For a light lunch alternative that requires almost no time at either the stove or grill, try a refreshing chickpea salad with cilantro, and basil leaves stuffed with goat cheese and pine nuts.

Chickpea Salad

(Preparation 30 minutes active, 4 hours chilling)

3 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes (about 4 medium)

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/2 large cucumber, peeled, quartered and sliced (about 1 cup)

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 cup fresh cilantro

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Salad greens (optional)

Lemon wedges (optional)

In a very large bowl, combine the tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumber, bell pepper, cilantro and onion. Set aside.

To make the dressing, combine the oil, vinegar, salt, garlic and sugar in a bottle or jar with a screw top. Cover the bottle and shake well. Taste and add additional sugar, if desired.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours. Let the salad stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve salad alone or toss with mixed greens. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the salad.

Makes 8 to 10 side salads.

Basil Leaves Stuffed with Chevre and Pine Nuts

(Preparation 25 minutes)

1/2 cup pine nuts

4 ounces soft goat cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

20 large basil leaves (about 3 inches long)

1 medium tomato, finely chopped

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a small, dry skillet, toast the pine nuts over a low flame, shaking the pan occasionally, until golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer pine nuts to a small bowl to cool.

In another small bowl, combine the goat cheese and cream. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Spread 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture on each basil leaf. Sprinkle the leaves with pine nuts, pressing them into the cheese. Scatter the tomato on top.

Pinch each leaf together near the center to form slightly rounded bowls. Drizzle lightly with olive oil before serving.

(Recipe from Food & Wine magazine's "Food & Wine Fast," 2004, $9.99.)

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