Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
September, 2007
Regional Report

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Expand your grilling repertoire to include summer harvest favorites like this homemade pizza with fresh tomatoes.

Inspired Grilling

I've fallen in love all over again -- with our gas grill. It's been so hot this summer that I turned to the neglected beast with the hopes of coming up with something better than grilled meat, and I did.

Pizza on the Grill
Did you know that if you toss flattened pizza dough on a hot grill, it will cook up to taste better than any pizza, focaccia, or naan bread you've ever had? I make my dough from scratch since I have a fancy mixer with a dough hook; just a few ingredients, a few minutes of mixing, an hour to rise, and it's ready. But you can buy raw dough fresh from a pizza shop or frozen from the grocery store.

Roll out the dough to any size you want (smaller is easier to handle) and toss it on a hot, lightly oiled grill. Don't worry if it's misshapen; chefs call that "rustic." It will start rising and bubbling up. After a few minutes peek underneath and when you see some browning and nice grill marks, it will be stiff enough to flip with tongs. My first attempt is my favorite so far: Brush olive oil over the top, then scatter some coarse salt and grated parmesan. When the bottom begins to brown, turn off the grill, close the cover, and let the residual heat melt the cheese for a minute or two.

There are so many ways to build on this blank pizza palette. Add any type of sauce, herb, vegetable, or meat you like. Because the dough cooks so quickly, you need to precook the toppings, either in a pan on the grill or on the stove. Try caramelizing onions by cooking a big batch of thinly sliced onions on low heat for an hour or so until they get very soft and sweet. Spread these over the dough, top with sauteed red and green peppers, a few slices of tomato, some basil leaves, and some fresh mozzarella, and if you're like me you'll be in heaven.

Stock Up the Freezer
Use your grill to capture the flavors of summer so you can enjoy them during the upcoming winter. Buy a case of red peppers from your local farmer. Place the peppers on an oiled, preheated grill, turning until all sides are blackened and the flesh begins to soften. Put the hot peppers in a paper grocery bag and let them sit for a few minutes; the steam in the bag will help lift the skins. Remove the peppers, let them cool, and peel off as much of the skin as you can. (Don't worry if some is left on.) Then slice the peppers and use some on your next pizza, and pack some in olive oil to keep in the refrigerator for the upcoming week.

Take the rest of the roasted peppers and saute them with onions and garlic. Put them in a blender or food processor, add some light cream cheese and parmesan, a pinch each of cinnamon and cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth and you'll enjoy one of my favorite pasta or pizza sauces. You can omit the cream cheese but it does give the sauce a nice, smooth consistency and helps it stick to pasta. You can substitute some cooked white beans for the cream cheese for added protein. Freeze any leftover sauce.

You can make purees with other vegetables, too. Try broccoli, carrots, sweet corn, leeks, mushrooms, or a combination. Avoid mixing too many different colored vegetables, however, or your sauce will be an unappetizing gray.

Other Grilling Ideas
Baba ghanouj. Baba ghanouj is a Middle Eastern smoked eggplant dip. Like its cousin hummous, baba ghanouj includes tahini (sesame seed paste), which is available at health food stores. Wash and dry 1 or 1-1/2 pounds of eggplant (one large or several small). Wipe the skin with a film of olive oil and place on a medium hot grill. Turn as needed so the skin chars on all sides and the flesh begins to soften. Then place the eggplants in a pan and bake on the grill or in the oven until they deflate and get very soft.

Let the eggplant cool, then scrape the flesh from the skin and place in a food processor. Add:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 or 3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tahini
juice of one lemon
salt to taste
fresh parsley (optional)

Process until as lumpy or smooth as you like your dips. Drizzle in extra olive oil with the processor running for an especially smooth and rich dip. Serve with pita bread, corn chips, vegetables, or anything else you like to dip.

There's a recipe for tahini-free baba ghanouj -- as well as other recipes and enticing photos -- on this Web page:

Grilled corn. Buy a bushel of sweet corn. If you want to save money, get day-old corn at a bargain price; because the new super-sweet varieties stay sweet for days after picking, you won't be sacrificing flavor. Grill the corn, allow to cool, cut the kernels off the cob, and freeze in plastic freezer bags. Flatten the corn in the freezer bag, rather than leaving it in a big block, and you'll be able to break off chunks without thawing the whole thing. Use all winter to add fresh sweet corn taste to everything from soups and stews to your now-famous grilled pizzas.

For me, a chest freezer is indispensable for preserving the harvest. By purchasing fruits and vegetables in bulk and in season from local farmers, I can save money, support local farms, and eat healthy, homemade foods all winter long.

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