The original plan had been to have hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill for the party. My niece is partial to plain food and not much of a vegetable eater, so in deference to her I was going to keep the menu really simple. But then I weighed the cost of doing hamburgers with all the fixings and embellishments against the cost of doing a lot of pizzas on the grill. The pizzas won. We would be ten adults for dinner. That would mean at least ten ¼ pound burgers, with buns, a package of hot dogs, with buns, a side of potato salad, probably baked beans, and the sliced tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese, etc. that go with burgers. At about $3.00 a pound, the burger meat would be at least $10.00. Add the price of the hot dogs, the munchies before dinner, the dessert and everything else, I think I could estimate the food for ten adults would come to about $3.50 per person. I know that sounds very modest and with friends and family, it’s even nicer to be more generous. But with our tight budget, even given that we could do this as a potluck, I thought pizzas might be more fun anyway—in addition to being more economical.
We’ve had pizza parties before. I’ve put out a variety of toppings and individual pizza balls for everyone to form and top for themselves. A lot of fun and a bit of bedlam. This would be different. I would make them to order and cook them on the grill. We would have ten pizza balls for ten pizzas, with some plain with a red sauce and cheese and pepperoni; a couple of them could be white with sausage, cheese, pine nuts, figs, whatever. There could be some with goat cheese and bits of tomato and pepperoncini. Made to order, we could be inventive and slice them all up for everybody to taste each and try something new. When I figured the comparative cost, this was really a no-brainer. All I needed to buy to add to what I already had on hand would be the Italian sausage—which happened to be on sale. Including the cost of the flour and all the different condiments and the appetizer munchies, I could do this for about $1.50 per person. Not bad.
This was going to be the last family gathering before my baby sister moved off to Illinois to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren, so it was a celebration and an opportunity to wish her well and good journey. Joe and I anticipated a lovely evening on the patio since the weather has finally turned summer-like. He prepared the fire pits, mowed the lawn, hosed down the patio and we were set. Except that it rained all afternoon and into the evening. Undaunted (after all, this is the Pacific Northwest), we went ahead with our plans.
Peach Tart with blackberries
The day before the party and before my sister and her daughter arrived to stay with us, I made a peach and blackberry tart and set it aside.
The morning of the party, I made a quick tomatillo salsa verde and saved the juice and put it in the fridge to flavor up. That afternoon, my bread machine made ten pizza balls while we went to the dog park, even though it was drizzling by now. When we got home, I quickly browned the sausage and caramelized an onion. Everyone was coming at around 5:00 for an early evening since this was a work night, so now it was time to start putting everything out in preparation.
Tomatillo salsa juice, lime and drink with juice, lime and tonic water
We experimented with a refreshing drink until we got it right, using the juice from the salsa verde as a base. I know that sounds really weird but we decided it was pretty good.
This was going to be so easy! No side dishes, no salad, no fancy appetizers; just chips and the salsas, pizzas and the peach tart—a little heavy on the carbs, but so much fun.
One of the finished pizzas, sliced and ready to serve
As it turns out, the lefties in this family group work really well together. Betty, as I’ve said before, is good at anticipating what needs to be done and is right there to do her efficient best, and we don’t get in each other’s way since we’re both left-handed. Dawn is also left-handed and creatively inventive in the kitchen. It was easy to share the pizza-making and I enjoyed some of the stuff she came up with to top some of the pizzas.
Betty cut and served the pizzas that I brought in to her from the grill while Dawn and I went ahead preparing the next one.
Close-up, tomatoes, goat cheese, sausage, pepperoncini, ready for the grill
We ended up only using eight of the ten balls, and I still have a whole cooked one left over so I think everyone had plenty to eat!
Very fresh tomatillo salsa
Tomatillo Salsa Verde
5 large tomatillos
½ sweet onion
1 large jalapeno pepper
2 cloves garlic (mine were small and fresh from the garden, so they were mild)
1 small bunch cilantro
Cut tomatillos in half, onion, and jalapeno in quarters, and removes seeds and membrane from jalapeno. Put all ingredients in food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Strain in sieve, saving liquid for later.
Mix in bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and juice of one lime. Let flavors blend at least one hour in refrigerator. Will keep and up to two days. Serve with pita chips for scooping.
Refreshing non-alcoholic drink
Salsa Verde and Tonic
Fill tall glass ½ to ¾ with ice. Pour about ¼ cup saved salsa verde liquid over ice. Fill glass with tonic water. Squeeze a piece of lime into glass and drop it in. Stir to combine. Drink up!
Follow directions on your breadmaker. Form each ball to be about the size of your fist. Flour generously and save in a sandwich ziplock until ready to use.
Shape dough into 12” to 14” rounds and place on floured pizza paddle. Top with whatever ingredients suit your fancy.
Slide onto preheated stone sprinkled with cornmeal on 450˚ outdoor gas grill. Heat only outer burners and have stone in center.
Cover grill and cook 7 minutes or until done.
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ sticks cold, unsalted butter
¼ to ½ cup ice cold water
5 big peaches, peeled and sliced
½ cup blackberries to sprinkle over peaches
¼ cup sugar
½ stick cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Calvados
½ cup plum jam
Place dry ingredients in bowl of food processor. Add butter in small slices. Pulse until pastry forms pea-sized balls. With motor running, add water until dough breaks away from sides and shapes into a ball. Don’t over-process. Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into ball. Refrigerate at least an hour.
Roll out dough on floured board to fit large cookie sheet. Roll out parchment paper over dough and turn out onto cookie sheet. Turn up the edges of the pastry all around. Bake in preheated 400˚ oven for about 10 minutes.
Arrange sliced peaches in diagonal rows on pastry. Arrange blackberries over peaches (not too many because the juices will run too much). Sprinkle with sugar. With a cheese grater, grate the butter over the peaches.
Bake in preheated 400˚ oven for about 30 minutes, until crust is golden. Let cool.
Heat jam and Calvados in saucepan and brush over peaches to make a glaze.
When we did our pizzas for this party, we had a full array of possible ingredients on the counter, ready to grab and toss onto the dough rounds. These can be whatever you like, after you have painted the dough with red pizza sauce, pesto or garlic/herb olive oil. Toss on some of the following possibilities:
Ground Italian sausage, hot or mild, Pepperoni slices, sliced mushrooms, pine nuts, diced figs, herbs de Provence, red pepper flakes, sliced pepperoncini, sliced tomatoes, caramelized onions (or raw, as you choose), grilled chicken pieces, mozzarella cheese, fresh or grated, goat cheese, feta cheese.
To my way of thinking, it’s the toppings that make the whole pizza experience so much fun for a crowd. Most of all, be inventive, and be creative. It’s all food so it’s all good!