Last night I taught a cooking class to benefit Just Food, the non-profit that is helping New Yorkers build community vegetable gardens, keep backyard bees and chickens, and gain access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. We made a four-course seasonal meal, the highlight of which was grilled pizza.
Helping to prepare the meal was Angela Davis, Just Food’s Community Food Education Program Coordinator. I’ve worked with Angela on many events, including my book release party at Jimmy’s No. 43 — also a fundraiser that Angela helped to plan. Angela looked particularly radiant last night, and as it turns out, she’s getting married this Friday. Mazeltov, Angela!
The class was held at the Bowery Whole Foods Culinary Center, where I get to work with Wai Chu, Culinary Center Educator, and co-author of The Dumpling: A Seasonal Guide, named one of the best books of 2009 by the New York Times. Wai gathers ingredients, helps prepare the menu, rolls dough, whips cream, and does whatever else is needed in order for class to run smoothly.
Last night’s class started with Lemonade made with Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena, with the addition of fresh stevia leaves. The herbs came from Stokes Farm. We followed with my favorite summer recipes from Lucid Food, including Watermelon Gazpacho, Indonesian Corn fritters, and Apricot Shortcake with Lavender Whipped Cream. But the best part of the night was making Grilled Pizza.
I love homemade pizza because you can top it with anything you like, and grilling gives it a meaty flavor. Last night’s toppings included baba ganoush, artichoke hearts, mint pesto, tomatoes, and shredded Gruyère and mozzarella cheese.
If you want to get involved with Just Food, they have volunteer opportunities, and cool events, like their yearly celebration, Let Us Eat Local, on September 21 with guest speaker Joel Salatin, author, and owner of Polyface Farm in Virginia.
Have a great last week of summer, and if you’re near a grill, try grilling pizza!
Grilled Pizza, from Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, Ten Speed Press, 2009
Makes 6 12- to 14-inch pizzas
- 2 tablespoons fresh yeast or 2 teaspoons
- active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon organic white sugar
- 5 cups flour, plus more for kneading
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
- Assorted spreads and toppings
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
1) Crumble the yeast in a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup warm water and the sugar, and stir with your fingers to dissolve the yeast. Set the bowl in a warm place until the yeast starts to foam, about 5 minutes. Put the flour in a large bowl, and stir in 4 teaspoons of salt. Make a hole in the flour and pour in the yeast, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, and the oil. Coat your hands with oil and mix until you have a uniform dough.
2) Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and store in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, 60 to 80 minutes. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each into a ball. Cover with a damp cloth and put them in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes. On a lightly floured board, roll the balls out into flat discs no more than 1/4 inch thick. Stack the discs on a baking sheet between layers of parchment paper and store in the refrigerator until you’re about to grill.
3) Heat the grill to a medium-high temperature, and rub it with an old dish towel dipped in olive oil. Assemble the toppings and position them close to the grill. Brush a disc of dough with olive oil and drop it on the grill, oiled side down. Brush the top with oil and season with salt. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a metal spatula or tongs to gently move different parts of the dough onto the grill’s hot spot. The dough will bubble up as it cooks. Using tongs, peer underneath to check the color.
4) When the bottom looks evenly toasted, flip the dough. Immediately sprinkle on the cheese if using, followed by the other toppings. Close the lid for 30 seconds to melt the cheese. Open the cover and continue grilling until the crust is brown and marked with grill marks, 2 to 3 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and toppings. Serve with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.