Big Green Egg fans find it works great as a pizza oven

Eggheads find each other. We are a proud and, let's face it, competitive tribe.

It must have shown on my face. A holiday party was in full swing and we had to yell to be heard. Pinellas County Realtor Phil Hanna was talking about his big smoker and all it could do: a pork shoulder, a brisket, a whole rack of baby backs. I was devoted to mine, obsessed with my smaller version, but it couldn't do a whole rack of baby backs. It's true, I was experiencing Big Green Egg envy.

A couple of weeks later, my Mini Egg had been relegated to the garage and my husband (best one ever) had presented me with a Medium Green Egg. With a 15-inch grid diameter and 177 square inches of cooking area, my new Egg can tackle an 18-pound turkey, six burger patties or four racks of ribs hung vertically.

Big Green what?

The kamado-style ceramic cooker does indeed look like a dimpled, forest-green egg. It burns lump wood charcoal and can grill, smoke or even bake bread or pizza. It has a draft opening on the bottom and a wheel-shaped damper unit at the top that both control air flow — low tech, but it is surprisingly easy to regulate temperature, which you can keep low and slow for smoking, or ratchet up all the way to 650 degrees for a serious searing.

There's a fansite at greeneggers.com and every year there's an "Eggtoberfest" held at the Big Green Egg company headquarters in Tucker, Ga., as well as numerous other "Eggfests" around the country. Eggheads get together to finesse the details of grilling and smoking, to brag about their mad skills and to exchange recipes and tips.

I've been going it alone, reading up here and there, but mostly cracking the Egg empirically, one rack of ribs or grilled chicken at a time. My current preoccupation is pizza, the Egg providing the right amount of heat and smoke and moisture to produce pizzeria-quality pies.

I fill my Egg with charcoal, get a nice hot fire, then close the damper and vent to hold the interior at around 350 degrees.

Sometimes I make my own dough, but recently I've been on a kick of buying Publix pizza dough from the bakery counter, proofing it at home, then dividing each package into two dough balls. I roll them out thin (it's glutinous dough, so you have to muscle it for a while or it snaps back) and brush one side with olive oil. That side goes face-down on the Egg, lid closed, and about eight minutes later I tong it out, brush the other side with olive oil, then add my toppings on the already cooked side. Another eight minutes or so and you have a crisp/chewy, smoky, blister-bubbly pizza.

Tips

• Liquid is not your friend. You want zucchini or mushrooms on your pizza? Saute them first in a dry pan and blot them on a paper towel.

• Tomato sauce, sure. But keep going. A base of fresh ricotta or pesto is a good starting point. Even a puree of roasted red bell pepper and garlic is tasty.

• Not everything goes on the pizza before it bakes. Lemon zest or herbs like fresh basil, or lightly dressed arugula and prosciutto get sprinkled just before service to preserve their liveliness.

• Because you're making 10-inch-or-so pies one at a time, structure a party around it. Guests can mingle and sip, awaiting a slice of the next one. Or they can even get in on some style-your-own artistry from an array of topping bowls. Below are my favorite combos of the moment.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293.

Four Variations on Grilled Pizza

Start with a 1-pound bag of pizza dough from Publix or another grocery store. Divide in half for two pizzas. Each half makes roughly a 10- to 12-inch pizza. Roll out, brush one side with olive oil, and grill oiled-side down over high heat for approximately 8 minutes. Oil the other side, flip over, and put ingredients on the cooked side. Cook for approximately another 8 minutes until cheese is melted and dough is golden and blistered in spots. Slice and serve immediately. (If the bottom seems dark but cheese isn't golden, don't be afraid to finish under the broiler to get it just right.)

Here are some suggestions for toppings:

Summer Vegetable Pizza

Styled after one served at the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley, Calif.

½ cup prepared pesto

1 ear white corn, kernels shaved directly off cob with a big knife

1 small zucchini, sliced thin and sauteed in dry pan

1 cup shredded mozzarella

¾ cup crumbled feta

3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

1 ½ teaspoons lemon or lime zest

½ cup roughly chopped cilantro

Squeeze of lime (optional)

Top pizza with all toppings except zest, cilantro and lime juice. Add those just before serving.

Yukon Gold
and Bacon

Cafe Ponte in Clearwater makes a similar pie, only its has a drizzle of white truffle oil.

¾ cup fresh ricotta

2 small Yukon gold potatoes, boiled, cooled and sliced thin

5 slices bacon, chopped, cooked and drained on paper towel

1 cup shredded mozzarella

¼ cup shredded basil (add to finished pie, or dab with truffle oil instead)

Where Salad
Meets Pizza

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza makes one similar to this, as do several other chains.

1 cup warm tomato sauce

1 basket cherry tomatoes, roasted 30 minutes in 375-degree oven and cooled

1 small sweet onion, caramelized slowly in oil

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella or a mix of fresh moz rounds and shreds

1 ½ cups arugula, lightly dressed with salt, pepper and olive oil

2 slices thin, good-quality prosciutto

Add dressed arugula to pizza once it's cooked, draping prosciutto bits decoratively.

Pistachio, Rosemary and Red Onion

Peter Taylor at Wood-Fired Pizza in Tampa and St. Petersburg does a good one similar to this.

1 cup fresh ricotta

½ cup shelled salted pistachios, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary

Rounds of thinly sliced raw red onion

1 cup shredded mozzarella

If you slice the onion thinly, the Egg cooks it enough to take most of the sharpness away. If you don't like that flavor, precook onion rounds in a dry saute pan.

Big Green Egg fans find it works great as a pizza oven 05/22/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 2:46am]

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