By Jean Redstone
Food is more than mere nutrition, especially in summer. Now is when food comes into its own as downright fun. Think outlandish ice cream sundaes; fizzy, flavorful cocktails; creative, colorful fruit compotes. Most of all, think of the barbie!
One of the happiest trends in food today is the versatile and forgiving flatbread. Mostly a new take on the thin-crust pizza, the flatbread idea scales down to appetizer or up to dinner with simple ingredients paired in new ways. Basically, it’s toasted bread with toppings and pretty much anything goes.
You can make your own bread dough (usually a pizza dough) or use any ready-made bread – try Indian naan, whole-grain or regular pita, tortilla rounds or flavored bread loaves cut into medium-thick slices. The only requirement is that the bread hold up to toasting and hosting a pile of generally juicy add-ons.
Now let’s give it a new twist by taking the flatbread to the barbecue and introducing that enticing smokiness and charred crispiness. Both the bread and many toppings can be grilled, as shown by the easy-to-prepare, sure-to-please recipes below.
The traditional taste, adapted from bonappetit.com
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tbls red wine vinegar
6 Tbls olive oil, divided
¾ lb. assorted small tomatoes (such as cherry, golden, or green), halved; quartered if large
Freshly ground black pepper
8 slices ¾”-thick country-style bread like Italian, French or soda bread
1 C (loosely packed) coarsely chopped, mixed tender herbs (try basil, parsley, small dill sprigs, and/or chives). If fresh herbs unavailable, mix several dried herbs, to make 1/3 to 1/2 C
10 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese
Finely chop garlic, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then mash with the side of a knife to a fine paste. Transfer to a medium bowl and whisk in vinegar and 2 Tbsp.olive oil. Add tomatoes; season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Let sit, tossing occasionally, at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the grill for medium-high heat. Brush both sides of bread with remaining 4 Tbsp. oil and grill until lightly charred, about 2 minutes per side.
Just before serving, toss herbs with tomato mixture. Spread ricotta on the grilled toast and top with tomato mixture; cut toast in half. Makes 8 servings.
Tip: You can make tomato mixture (without herbs) 12 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Add herbs to tomatoes and mix just before spreading over toast and ricotta. Also, if you want finger-lickin’ juicier topping, use very ripe tomatoes.
Piquant and zesty and easy
1 Tbls olive oil, plus more for grilling
1 bunch broccoli (about 1 lb), heads halved
Salt and pepper
4 large naan or pita bread slices
6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 medium red or white onion, sliced into medium-thick rounds
1/3 C grated Parmesan (1 1/2 oz)
1/2 tsp red-pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 C fresh basil leaves, torn
Heat a grill to medium; then clean and lightly oil the hot grill. Brush broccoli halves and onion rounds with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, covered, until lightly charred and tender, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut broccoli into small florets, and discard stalks. Cut onion rounds in half or quarters, if needed to fit bread.
\Working in batches if necessary, grill bread sections until undersides begin to char, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip and immediately top with mozzarella, broccoli, Parmesan, and red-pepper flakes if using. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until cheese melts, 3 to 5 minutes. Top with basil and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings depending on size of slices.
Note: This recipe works for cauliflower, too. Or mix the two veggies for a change-up.
Something different from the barbie
Medium-thick slices of rustic-style bread, OR pita or naan bread
3 Tbls olive oil
1 1/2 C diced fresh pineapple (from about 1/2 pineapple)
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-to-2-inch pieces
1/4 lb deli-sliced ham
3/4 C shredded white cheddar cheese (about 3 oz)
3/4 C shredded muenster cheese (about 3 oz)
Preheat a grill to medium. Brush both sides of bread generously with olive oil. Grill until lightly charred, turning once. Place a metal cooling rack upside down on the grill perpendicular to the grill grates (or use a grill basket); brush the rack with the remaining olive oil.
Working in batches, grill the pineapple, scallions and ham, turning as needed, until lightly charred, 5 to 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate as each batch is done. Cut the ham slices in half, if desired. Using tongs, remove the cooling rack from the grill.
Top the toasted bread evenly with the cheese, ham, scallions and pineapple. Continue grilling until the cheese melts, about 1 or 2 more minutes. (If the crust is browning too quickly, slide the flatbread to the outer edge of the grill.) Transfer to a cutting board and cut into desired pieces. Serve warm.