Any Grill in a Storm

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
Honey! It’s drizzling! Batten down the hatches!
So, we’ve braved our way through another hurricane. Frankly, despite the nonstop “news” hyping this storm and scaring everyone to bits, I just couldn’t get all worked up over Isabel. After having just one hurricane hit this area in my lifetime, I think we need to get over ourselves a bit — the Triangle is truly special, but not so sweet that every hurricane wants to meet us.

So, the night before Isabel, we filled up a water jug and recharged a few batteries, and that was it.
Still, our confidence in inaction didn’t stop that nagging thought in the back of my head: If we can see the white of its eye, will I have enough food?
Thus, I spent Thursday morning mentally inventorying my freezer. What would be powerful comfort for powerless times? I came up with tantalizing possibilities.
For starters, we still had the gas grill (and a gas stove). So the first thing to come to mind (it being a baker’s mind) was grilled bread — specifically, pizza grilled alongside some tomatoes and smoked sausage for a topping. And griddle scones. And smooth, refreshing cold soups, since the day after a hurricane always seems almost irritatingly gorgeous — and hot.
In the end, we got lucky. We lost power for about four hours on Thursday; the lights came back just as it was getting too dark to see our supper (pasta, salad, and savory griddle scones). In a way, I was a little disappointed; I’d been looking forward to testing my old Girl Scout skills.
But it won’t stop me from hitting the grill: Hurricane or no, we’re finally in perfect grilling season. Summer foods may cry out for the grill, but even if it’s preferable to heating up my kitchen, I don’t much care for grilling in 95-degree heat and no a/c. Now, though, I’m ready to take the end-of-summer vegetables and fruits and play with fire.
I don’t take a stand on gas vs. charcoal: I love them both, though it’s hard to deny the temptation of anything that needs a quick flick to turn it on. In my pre-kid days, I spent happy hours coaxing my charcoal smoker to produce the perfect smoked chicken. Now, though, I’m pretty pleased with gas and a handful of wood chips — and a few handfuls of easy recipes.
Reading critically acclaimed grilling cookbooks gives me some pleasure. Cooking from them does not, as a rule: too many ingredients that I don’t have on hand, in too many combinations that might taste fabulous to my husband and me, but not to young ones. When I grill, I want to keep it satisfyingly simple.
Which brings me back to grilled pizzas. Homemade pizza can be a tricky thing to make well; it sounds easy enough, but too often you end up with a gummy crust, or toppings that slip-slide right off the dough you’re sliding into the oven. But pizza on the grill, in which you cook one side of the dough before adding the toppings, requires little more than a heavy hand when rolling out the dough, to be sure it’s thin enough.
Don’t be fooled by recipes that suggest there are other ways to do this. I recently tried one well-known chef’s recipe that called for placing the dough rounds on parchment paper and chilling them. The chill, he insisted, would make it easy to then slide the (topped) pizzas off the paper and onto the grill. Mind you, I knew better. It couldn’t be so simple. I knew that a thin dough weighed down by even a light layer of topping would outright refuse to shimmy gracefully onto the grill.
But I tried it anyway. One sorta-calzone later, the remaining pizzas went into the oven, parchment still attached.
Still, this same chef did give me inspiration for the fabulous chocolate pizzas that follow: I’m not using his recipe, but the concept of adding a little cocoa to a basic dough really works. Just to be safe, though, in the name of storm preparedness in these waning days of hurricane season, I think I’d best get out and test it a few more times.

First published in the Independent Weekly, October 1, 2003

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