Sunday 17 February 2013

Grilled Flatbreads

People have been eating flatbread that's been cooked over fire since the times of the ancient Egyptians. That's for good reason too. It's delicious! Did you know that you can cook a pizza on your barbecue grill? It's even quicker than cooking pizza in the oven. This is the same method for flatbread and pizza dough. You may choose to add toppings to the bread or simply cook plain and pair with a stew or yogurt sauce. Cooking the dough on the barbecue cooks them fast so they don't dry out. The crust of the bread gets kissed with grill marks and an incredible smokey flavour permeates the bread. In this demonstration, I'll show you how to make flatbreads with toppings, similar to pizza. 

My friend, Michael, and I had been planning this for a few days. I asked him what he wanted me to make and he suggested pizza with a twist. It didn't take long to come up with barbecued pizza. Barbecuing in the middle of winter can be a game of Russian roulette here in Canada. When the day to barbecue arrived, it snowed all afternoon and most of the evening.

Unfavourable BBQ weather

Do you think that stopped us? Of course not. The show must go on. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time I've been outside barbecuing in this or worse. I suppose it even added a bit of rustic, barbarian charm to the whole ancient flatbread experience. Anyway, if you try this (and I sincerely think you owe it to yourself to do so), I hope the weather is nicer for you.

Be sure to clean your grill every time before you use it. Just give the grill a good scrape to remove any residue from the previous time it was used. This step is especially important when you're about to grill fragile dough. 

A handy tool to have for this is a pizza peel. That's one of those shovel-like tools used to shimmy pizzas into a wood burning oven and carefully remove them. I don't have such a peel. We just made small, individual sized flatbreads. So we used a dinner plate and a slotted spatula. Whether you are using a plate or a peel, be sure to sprinkle a generous amount of cornmeal between the surface and the pizza. This will keep the dough from sticking to it and it should slide off quite easily.   

You will need raw dough for this application. You can scroll down to the next entry for a great and easy dough recipe. Otherwise, you can just buy a frozen pizza dough from the market and let it thaw completely before using. 

You can use a variety of sauces on these from regular/flavoured olive oil, tomato sauce, pesto, tapenade (olive paste) or even barbecue sauce depending on the flavour profile of your toppings. We made one sauce with olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh lemon zest and fresh garlic that we crushed into a paste. In my mortar and pestle, I crushed one garlic clove, one walnut, 10 fresh basil leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper and some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano for a quick, rustic pesto. 

Heat up one half of the barbecue grill. You want a low heat, one where the flames will not touch the grill, only dance beneath it. Carefully place a round of dough onto the warm side of the grill. Keep an eye on it. The time it will take to cook depends entirely on the size and thickness of your dough, your barbecue and the weather. These took me about 2-3 minutes before I needed to flip them. You'll know they're ready to flip when the dough has puffed up a bit and the bottom side crisps just enough to be able to be flipped. 

Then carefully flip the dough onto the cooler half of the grill, grilled side up. Now is the time to brush on a bit of oil or sauce and place the toppings. 

Then move the flatbread back over to the warm side of the grill to cook the other side (it will take about the same amount of time as the previous side). Because this only take a few minutes to complete, any toppings that require a more thorough cooking must be prepared in advance. For example, any raw meat should already be cooked and leafy greens like spinach should be wilted in advance as well. If you decide to use a cheese that melts, use the melted cheese as an indicator of when to remove them. If you think that bottom of the crust will burn before the cheese has melted, either place the flatbread back on the cooler half of the grill and close the lid or place them on an upper shelf of the barbecue, if yours has one. This option is great if you're making several pizzas because you can get on with the other ones while it finishes cooking.

That's all there is to it. Easy, right? These were incredible and would make for a terrific summer party theme. You can use any ingredients you want for your flatbread pizza. Here is a look at the four varieties we put together...

A Greek inspired flatbread with feta, green pepper, red onion, cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives. We used the garlic-lemon zest, olive oil sauce here.

Black mission figs, crispy speck, fresh parsley and mozzarella over olive oil, topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Speck is a kind of prosciutto from South-East Germany that's been smoked with juniper berries after being cured.

Crispy speck, wilted spinach, sautéed cremini mushrooms and mozzarella with basil pesto. Topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Sautéed cremini mushrooms, red chillies, fresh basil and mozzarella with basil pesto. Topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Be sure to enjoy with a nice glass of wine or a cold beer. I hope you give these a try. They are simply amazing and will impress anyone you make these for. Remember to check out my simple pizza dough recipe below. Fresh, homemade dough lent a whole lot to this technique. You can even add spices, herbs and/or zest to your dough to enhance the flavour profile of your choice. This is one of the most delicious and versatile techniques ever shared on this blog.

Be happy, be bold and stay fed.


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