Things have been kind of wacky around here lately. Wacky as in it’s March 20th and the temperature is supposed to reach 80 degrees today…and tomorrow…and the next day! We’ve been experiencing out of the ordinary weather all winter, but in the last week things suddenly changed from slightly warmer and dryer than average to weather that here in Vermont doesn’t usually happen until June- if we’re lucky. This past Sunday a record was broken in Burlington for the highest temperature ever recorded- 79 degrees. The previous record was 66 degrees. That’s 13 degrees warmer! (yes, I know you can do math but I just had to point out the enormous jump in temps) Chances are that these beautiful summer days in the middle of March won’t last much longer. Next week the temperatures will probably drop back down to normal, and in all likelihood it will snow at least one more time before winter is truly over. For now though, there’s nothing to do but enjoy the gift that we’ve been given. Spending time sitting on the porch, raking the yard, walking the dog in a t-shirt, sleeping with the window open, breaking out my flip flops and of course, one of my favorite summer activities…grilling!
I like to grill everything, and I do. Meats, vegetables, shish kabobs, sandwiches, pizzas…you name it and I will grill it. I know, I know, a women (gasp) who like to grill. For some strange reason grilling is often considered a man’s job. Does anyone else think this is weird, and kind of wrong? There are men who couldn’t make a pot of pasta to save their lives yet give them a slab of meat and a hot grill and they will cook it up like they’re the head chef at a 5 star restaurant. And there are women who can whip up anything in the kitchen but wouldn’t dream of firing up the grill. What’s up with that? If I’m being honest it’s the latter that annoys me the most. What are you too lady-like for the grill? Is it too dirty for you? Are you scared of the fire? I just don’t get it. I’m proud to admit that in this household my husband it secure enough in his manliness to leave the grilling to me. And I in turn am confident enough in my feminine side to know I can use the grill, and use it well. So come on ladies, it’s time to get grilling!
On to the recipe. The key to a successful grilled pizza is having all the ingredients ready to go before you even turn the grill on. This of course includes the dough if you are making it yourself, but also any toppings that may need to be cooked.
Grilled pizza happens very fast and the topping are really only on the grill long enough to melt the cheese so anything you don’t want to eat raw needs a quick cook before hand. For this pizza I went with a kind of wintery mix of sweet potatoes, onions, kale and a smoky fresh mozzarella. This is my nod to the fact that it still is only March and things like fresh tomatoes and basil are still very far away from being in season. The sweet potatoes and onions are tossed with a little olive oil, salt and fresh pepper before they are briefly roasted in the oven. If you have a good grill basket you can do this step on the grill. I chose not to because I wanted the potatoes sliced thin and I have a bad habit of burning them on the grill when they are cut this thin.
Another tip for grilled pizza is to keep it small. Don’t try to make a huge pizza that takes up the entire grill because when it comes time to flip it things will get tricky real fast. Also, you want one side of the grill searing hot so you can achieve a crispy grilled crust and the other side low heat for melting the cheese. If your pizza is too big you won’t be able to slide the cooked crust over to the cool side for cheese melting. The result will be a burnt crust and cold cheese. If you can’t tell, this has happened to me more than once. Now I always make two small pizzas and cook the second crust while the first one is on the cheese melting side. Oh, one last tip- grilled pizza doesn’t have to be round. The best shape is the one that fits your grill best. For me that is a kind of rectangular oval with wavy edges. Here is small pizza number one. Se how the crust is starting to bubble in the middle- yummm!
And here it is flipped over and cooking on the second side. Look at those beautiful grill marks.
Now I slide it over to the cool side and load up the toppings, close the lid to let the cheese melt.
The finished product. Crisp crust, melted smoky cheese, roasted sweets and onions, and crunchy kale with just a sprinkle of fresh rosemary. Now this is how a real woman uses a grill.
Sweet Potato, Smoked Mozzarella + Kale Grilled Pizza
inspired by Two Peas & Their Pod
For the crust (or you can buy premade dough)
1 cup warm (not hot)m water
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 package yeast
1/2 tablespoon honey or sugar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups kale, coarsely chopped
8 ounces fresh smoked mozzarella
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1. Make the crust. In a large bowl combine the warm water, yeast and honey or sugar. Whisk and set aside for 10 minutes or until foamy. Add the olive oil, salt and bread flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Place the dough onto a well floured surface and knead for about 10 minuets incorporating in the 1 cup of whole wheat flour a little at a time. The dough with be soft, elastic and slightly sticky. Put it in a bowl and brushed with a bit of oil and drizzle a little more on top. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise until doubled in size, one to one and half hours.
*Make ahead tip: After the dough is done rising you can punch it down, divide it in 2, roll it into balls and refrigerate in a sealed plastic bag until the next day.
2. Prepare the toppings. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Combine the sweet potato and onion on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast, stirring once halfway through for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
3. When the dough is done rising preheat the grill. If you have 4 burners turn 2 on medium high and 2 on low. If you have only 2 burners turn one on medium-high and one on low.
4. Punch down the dough and place it on the counter. Cut it in half and place one half back in the bowl covered by the towel so it doesn’t dry out. Take the other half and stretch it into the shape you desire (it’s best to make a shape that fits your grill). Thick or thin crust is up to you, but a thin crust will develop more bubbles and lovely charred grill marks. Place the dough on a baking sheet and repeat with the second half.
5. Before you start grilling the crust make sure everything you will need (toppings, olive oil, salt, tongs) are close by because once you start cooking there is little time to run back and forth to the kitchen. Brush the top of one crust with olive oil and place it oil side down on the hot side of the grill. The best method it to put one side down first and stretch the rest out over the grates. Don’t worry if it becomes misshapen. Believe me, your moth won’t mind. Let the crust cook for 2-4 minutes with the lid closed, occasionally lifting the dough with the tongs to check for burning.
6. When it looks nice and golden brown on the bottom brush the top with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and flip it over. Place the toppings on the pizza and then slide over to the cooler side of the grill. About 2 minutes is all you need to cook the second side of the crust. If you think its will take you longer than that to arrange the toppings be sure to move it to the cooler side of the grill. Now you can place the second dough on the hot side of the grill and repeat the process. By the time the second pizza needs to move over to the cool side the first one will be ready to take off the grill. Slice and serve immediately.
I could eat sweet potatoes everyday. I could eat them baked, mashed, boiled, or fried. I could eat them drizzled with honey, topped with sausage, or baked into bread. As far as I am concerned sweet potatoes are the perfect food. They’re healthy, they’re tasty, and they can be prepared in an infinite number of ways. My default sweet potato recipe is to cube them, toss with some olive oil, salt, cayenne, a pinch of rosemary and roast until soft in the middle and crisp on the outside. These sweet potato croquettes are kind of like a more sophisticated, more refined, version of this dish. Soft, pillowy mashed spuds are mixed with goodies like scallions and ground almonds then rolled into balls and dipped in crunchy panko crumbs. The best part? There’s cheese! Traditionally potato croquettes are fried. I considered taking this route, I really did. I figured if there was was ever a time to eat fried foods, the week of the Super Bowl was it. In the end though, I couldn’t do it. Partly because I felt guilty about the prospect of vilifying these healthy little potato balls by subjecting them to a hot oil bath, but mostly because it just seemed like too much work. And too much mess, and too much potential for failure, and burning myself. So I baked them instead…and they were wonderful!
Sweet Potato and Almond Croquettes
Makes about 16 two-inch balls
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons scallion, minced
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1. Place the cubed sweet potatoes in a medium pot. Fill with enough water so the potatoes are almost submerged and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and partially cover. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
2. Remove from heat, drain and place in a large bowl. Mash the potatoes using a potato masher until smooth. Add butter, scallions, cheese, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if needed. Pulse the almonds in the food processor until they are finely ground. Add to the potato mixture along with the flour and egg. Stir until the egg is completely mixed into the other ingredients. Place in the fridge for about half and hour to cool (or if you’re impatient like me stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes). You know the potato mixture is cold enough when you can form it into a ball.
3. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Place the panko in a wide shallow bowl. Form the chilled potato mixture into balls and roll in the panko. I found that the best method for a nice crispy crust was to roll it once pressing the panko into the potato and then roll again to coat the outside.
4. Place the potato balls on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and bake for 30 minutes. The outside will be lightly brown and crispy. Serve warm.
Did you know that sweet potatoes are considered one of nature’s most superior forms of vitamin A, that there also exists a purple-flesh version, and that in Benton, Kentucky this lucky spud is celebrated annually during an event called the Tater Day festival? Yeah, I didn’t know any of this either (thank you Wikipedia for feeding my love of random food facts). What I do know is that sweet potatoes are DELICIOUS – especially when combined with maple syrup, sausage, and pie crust! I found this recipe about a month ago on a really cool blog called The Tomato Tart. As soon as I saw the name of the recipe I knew I had to make it.
I love maple, I love sweet potato, and I love anything in mini form. There’s something so wonderful about a little mini morsel that you can just pop in your mouth, no silverware, no plate, no guilt. Well, a little guilt if you’re like me and allow the mini status to justify eating as many as a you want- I mean they are mini, so its okay…right? Luckily, I’ve developed a defense mechanism against my mini addiction. It’s called a party! Or more specifically in this case, a brunch. I mentioned last week that we were having a group of friends over for a holiday brunch and that I was trying to narrow down my recipe selections. While a bunch of the contenders were passed over for various reasons- not kid-friendly, takes too long to make, would have to make 3 batches to feed everyone – this recipe seemed to be the prefect fit. And it was a hit! Everyone loved them, even including some of the kids. The best part was that since I made this magnificent mini dish for a crowd, I only ate just one!
I had the best intentions to take photos of all the wonderful dishes from our brunch so that I could share them with you here. Unfortunately, I was so busy visiting with friends and making pomegranate mimosas that I completely forgot to take a single picture! Oh well. I will tell you that we had an amazing and tasty array of dishes. From the fruit and yogurt parfait to the garlic and cheese filled fingerling potatoes, it was a wonderful spread of good food and even better company.
Having this brunch so early in December was the perfect motivation for me to get all of my holiday decorating done. Over the past few years I have really pared down my decorations and now I am left with only my most favorite. Since I got lost in pomegranate mimosa land and forgot to take food pictures, I thought it might be fun to share some of my Christmas decorations with you instead.
Hope you enjoyed- now on to the recipe!
Mini Maple Sweet Potato Pies
Inspired by Tomato Tart
3 medium size sweet potatoes
8 ounces sausage
½ onion, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 fresh sage leaf
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried mustard
¼ cups oats
¼ cup almonds
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
2 portions of pie crust- get the recipe Here, or make your life easy and buy the Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust that you just need to unroll and cut into circles
- Preheat the oven to 375º. Bake the sweet potatoes for 50-60 minutes or until soft all the way through.
- While the potatoes are cooking, crumble and brown the sausage along with the onion. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Roll the pie crust out and cut into 4-inch circles. Tuck the dough circles into 20 standard size muffin tins. Freeze the dough for 15 minutes. Remove the dough from the freezer, pierce the bottom of each muffin tin a few times with a fork and bake in a 375º oven for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- When the potatoes are done let them cool for about 10 minutes until you can safely handle them. Peel the skin from the potatoes and mash in a large bowl. Add the eggs, maple syrup, sage, salt, and mustard. Use an immersion blender or handheld mixer the whip the potato mixture until smooth and fluffy.
- Fill each muffin tin ¾ full with the sweet potato mixture. Top with the sausage, dividing it equally among the muffins.
- In a food processor (or just using a good old-fashioned knife and cutting board) pulverize the oats, almonds and brown sugar into a rough mix. Add a dash of salt and few grinds of pepper.
- Sprinkle the oat mixture on top of the sausage.
- Bake the pies for 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.