White Clam Pizza

Pizza is one of my favorite things to prepare on the grill. I grilled my first pizza a few summers ago and I was amazed at how easy—and delicious—the end result was. Since then, I’ve made countless versions—pesto with roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella…cherry tomatoes, asiago and black olive tapenade…olive oil,  fresh tomato and ricotta salata—many of which I’ve written about on this blog. But while we were in Connecticut this weekend, the last official one of summer, Johnny wanted to recreate the white clam pizza he had at a nearby bar and grill called SBC. Clam pizza is popular in the New Haven area (there’s even a recipe on Epicurious.com titled New Haven-Style Clam Pizza) and while I’ve had it before, it’s never been my ultimate favorite. But I was game for making our own version. We invited our friends Heather and Jeff over for dinner last night and set to work. I did some research on clam pizza and we decided we’d top our version with olive oil, crumbled bacon, a dozen fresh clams and pecorino romano cheese. Johnny roasted the clams, I fried the bacon and then I rolled out the store-bought dough, brushed it liberally with olive oil, and we laid it on the grill. Once the bottom had sufficiently browned (about 5 minutes or so) we flipped it over and began adding the toppings:

Note: While grilling pizza is super easy, it’s not the kind of thing you can walk away from. You need to watch it carefully to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. Once we added the toppings, we closed the grill and let the pizza finish cooking, about another five minutes or so:

Above is the finished product. And I should note that of the myriad pizzas I’ve rolled out this is the roundest I’ve ever gotten one, a fact I’m most proud of. I only had a bite (Heather and I made a second pizza topped with pesto and roasted red peppers) but it was pretty delightful. The boys easily finished the whole pie, pausing in between bites to reiterate just how good it was. We rounded out the meal with a panzanella salad (which I will blog about later this week) and a salad of grilled summer squash and beets. If we must say farewell to summer, this wasn’t a bad way of doing so.

**Photos by Heather and Jeff Wiese

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Pizza With Figs, Goat Cheese and Walnut Pesto

Whenever I happen upon a fig—wrapped in pancetta, drizzled with honey, or spun into jam—my taste buds are always pleased. Surprisingly, I’ve never actually made anything with figs, and when I saw the black mission variety on sale yesterday at Whole Foods (organic to boot) I decided to change this. As I placed the fresh figs in my basket, I immediately thought of pizza. And goat cheese. Maybe some grilled chicken for protein. Oh and then there’s the walnut pesto that Russo’s makes. My mouth was already watering. But as I walked home, I started thinking that since I’ve been on a pesto kick of late, I could probably try making the walnut paste myself. Which I did later that afternoon. While I tried to keep accurate measurements of my ingredients so I could share them on MBM, that quickly went out the window in favor of my usual “to taste” method. What I can tell you is this: start with 1 cup of walnuts, 1/4 cup of olive oil, a 1/4 cup of flat parsley leaves, a clove of garlic, and a couple of tablespoons of grated romano cheese. Put it all in a food processor, and keep adding ingredients as it purees until the pesto is the taste and consistency you desire. I added more of everything, including another clove of garlic. I also put a tablespoon of lemon juice in at the end. The result was really tasty.

As for the figs, I researched how to prepare them online and, before putting them on the pizza, I sliced them lengthwise and let them marinate in a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. I usually cook my pizzas for 20 minutes, using Whole Foods organic whole wheat crusts, and I added the figs at the 10 minute mark. I also topped the pizza with the pesto, grilled chicken, crumbled goat cheese and fresh mozzarella. It was delightful. One of the best pizzas I’ve ever made. The figs added little bursts of sweetness and melded so nicely with the slight sharpness of the goat cheese and the garlicky, nutty pesto. I highly, highly, recommend adding figs to a pizza. We liked it so much, I’m thinking of making another one tonight!

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.

Pizza Pointers

One of my favorite quick, easy-to-make dinners is pizza. Not only is pizza always a crowd pleaser, but it’s a great way to use up the leftovers in my fridge. You might be thinking homemade pizza and easy are not words that go together, but my secret is that I don’t actually make the dough myself. Truth be told, I don’t even roll out dough that I’ve bought. I could, yes, but really, why bother? We have a ton of amazing pizza places in our neighborhood, so if i want the real deal, I’ll let them do the work. As an alternative, I buy Whole Foods whole wheat pizza crusts (I’ve used the Trader Joe’s version too, but Whole Foods’ crusts are thinner and also come in a package of two, which is great to have on hand in a pinch) and then top them with whatever’s in the refrigerator. Tonight it was fresh mozzarella and walnut pesto that I picked up at Russo’s earlier in the week, marinated mushrooms (also from Russo’s. I don’t know what they steep them in, but oh they are delicious) leftover spinach, and a baked chicken cutlet from Monday’s meal that I cut into strips. I piled it all on and baked the pizza for 20 minutes. I served it with a basic salad of baby romaine, shaved romano and homemade croutons. The result? A delightful dinner in 30 minutes or less.