A Fourth of July Feast

I’ve always loved the 4th of July. When I was younger, we used to have huge family picnics at our house. My aunts, uncles and cousins would come over for a day of swimming, games and lots of eating. Once it got dark, we’d all gather on the front steps of my house and watch the fireworks that my neighbors and cousins were letting off in our cul de sac. (Probably not the safest thing to do, but it was definitely fun to watch.) My husband knows how many happy memories I have of the 4th, and two years ago, he added to them by proposing to me over the holiday weekend in the backyard of the house I grew up in. And over the last several years, I’ve started having my own 4th of July parties in Connecticut with friends and family. This year, Johnny and I hosted his brother, Justin, and his wife, Lauren, as well as his cousin, Jenny, and her husband, Bob. Armed with Elizabeth Karmel’s grilling tomes—which she was kind enough to send me after I interviewed her recently—Johnny and I decided we would grill as much as possible. (Since we don’t have a grill in the city, we take full advantage of the one at my father’s house whenever possible.) This year, in addition to chicken, burgers, clams and corn, we also made several pizzas. I started grilling pizzas a few years ago and I can’t believe I didn’t do so sooner. They’re so easy to make—especially if you buy the dough—and cook up really quickly. Let the dough sit out for an hour or so before rolling it out into a pizza shape. (Mine are always a bit oblong, and never symmetrical, but this doesn’t seem to affect their taste.) Brush both sides with olive oil and then place on the grill over direct heat and close the grill. Let it cook for about 3-4 minutes and then check it. (They burn super easily, so as soon as it’s lightly browned, flip it.) Add whatever toppings you want, turn the center burner off (for indirect heat)  and then close the grill and let the pizza cook until the bottom is browned and the cheese is melted. I did a version of our pesto, roasted peppers, chicken pizza and I also debuted a new pizza:

This one had an olive tapenade that I made using Elizabeth Karmel’s recipe (it’s at the end of this post), cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, grated fontina, pecorino romano and basil. I also found a recipe in her book, Pizza On the Grill, for a berry pizza, which I served as dessert on the 4th:

I didn’t have all of the ingredients for this one, so I just added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the dough while I was kneading it, then brushed it with canola oil. Once both sides were grilled, I removed it from the heat and spread it with one cup of ricotta cheese that I had added 2 tbsp of sugar and a 1/2 tsp of vanilla to. I then topped it with strawberries and blueberries and drizzled it with honey. It was a huge hit!

Though we did make pizzas all three nights we were in Connecticut, there was plenty of other food as well. I made the barley salad again, as well as a rotini pasta salad with spinach, ricotta, and golden raisins that I found in Real Simple several years ago.

I was tired of turkey burgers, and when a recipe for beef and bulgur burgers landed in my inbox last week as part of Whole Foods Market’s newsletter, I decided I’d make those too. They have cinnamon and allspice in them which gives them a delightful aroma and taste. Next time I may use less bulgur as they were a bit crumbly once they were on the grill, which made them harder to flip:

And finally, since my brother-in-law is a big fan of mixed berry desserts, I found a recipe for mixed berry spoon cake in my Food & Wine cookbook, so I prepared that as well. Justin gave it his seal of approval. It’s especially good warm, though eating it cold for breakfast this morning was tasty too:

It was a fantastic weekend full of good weather, good company and good food. What more can you ask for? Below, I’ve listed all of the recipes I used. Email me with your favorite 4th of July dishes!

Black Olive Tapenade

2 cups kalamata olives, drained and pitted

Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup lightly packed Italian parsley leaves

2 tablespoon olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Rotini with Spinach, Ricotta, and Golden Raisins

1/2 pound rotini (or fusilli or bow-tie pasta)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach—thawed, drained and squeezed of excess moisture

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup whole or part-skim ricotta

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Cook the pasta to the label directions. Drain and return to pot. Add the olive oil, spinach, scallions, raisins and basil and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta and balsamic vinegar; stir. Add to the pasta mixture and toss lightly. Top with the Parmesan and pine nuts if desired.

Note: I usually make this dish with a full pound of pasta, but I don’t increase all of the ingredients. I usually add a little more olive oil (especially if I’m serving it the next day) and sometimes I add more ricotta if it looks a bit dry. I’ve made it with and without the pine nuts. The pine nuts are a nice touch, but not necessary if you don’t have them. But don’t skip the raisins. They add a hint of sweetness that really makes the dish.

Beef and Bulgur Burgers

2 cups water
1 cup bulgur wheat
Canola oil
1 1/4 pounds (95-percent) lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion, plus sliced onion for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
6 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted
Green or red leaf lettuce
2 tomatoes, sliced

Bring water to a boil in a small pot over medium high heat. Add bulgur, cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until water is almost absorbed and bulgur is just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover pot, fluff bulgur with a fork and set aside until cooled. In a large bowl, mix together beef, bulgur, parsley, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and chopped onion. Form mixture into 6 patties and season all over with salt and pepper. Grill patties, flipping once, until deep golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Filling

4 pints strawberries (2 pounds), hulled and quartered

2 pints blackberries (12 ounces)

2 pints raspberries (12 ounces)

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

In a bowl, toss the berries with the sugar and cornstarch and let stand for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar, lemon zest, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and vanilla. Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients until evenly moistened, then whisk in the melted butter until smooth. Spread the filling in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spoon the batter on top, leaving small gaps. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and a toothpick inserted into the topping comes out clean. Let cool for 1 hour before serving.

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