Austin author reminds us grilling isn’t just for Saturdays (or burgers)


Paula Disbrowe’s new cookbook is ostensibly about grilling. It is, after all, called “Any Night Grilling,” based on the idea that cooking over a live fire shouldn’t be relegated to the weekend.

But when you get to know Disbrowe, one of Austin’s most celebrated cookbook authors, or read the first pages of the book, you realize it is about the love of her family and that precious dinner hour when everyone comes together, and also about how grilling is a surprisingly efficient way to make that magic, even on weeknights.

In the French Place home she shares with her husband, David Norman, who is the head baker at Easy Tiger and who has his own cookbook coming out next year, they are juggling full-time food jobs while raising two elementary-age children, Flannery and Wyatt. So waiting until 9 p.m. for dinner isn’t an option.

Grilling isn’t just a quick way to get food on the table, however.

“Hearing the pop of the fire, smelling the smoke, everybody relaxes,” Disbrowe says. “You’re outdoors, interacting with the yard. The kids are playing, and I can interact with them. It’s not a steak on Saturday. It’s dinner.”

To write the book, Disbrowe spent a year and a half feeding her family food she cooked in the backyard. She also found herself more at ease to invite friends over to share a meal. Grilling “takes me out of the house and the imperfections I see there and the expectations I put on myself about having people over and having dinner. But by saying, ‘Come on over. We’ll fire up the grill,’ it tilts everything for me.”

Once she got into the routine of firing up the charcoal in a silver chimney starter, she could turn her attention to developing recipes that didn’t require a long marinade, could cook in a short amount of time and would suit families and backyard dinner party hosts alike.

For most of us, that would mean burgers, brats and chicken breasts. For Disbrowe, that’s porchetta-style pork kebabs, rosemary flatbread, grilled mushroom bánh mì or salt-crusted snapper. Some recipes, such as the preparation she calls Truckload of Marinated Vegetables, come together easily and will provide many meals’ worth of prepared ingredients. Other dishes, such as seafood paella with freekeh and lima beans, might require more work on the front end, but the results are impressive enough to host a weekend party.

Radicchio and pears with anchovy breadcrumbs and burrata, or State Park Potatoes — foil packages filled with potatoes, shallots, goat cheese and thinly sliced speck, a smoked cured ham —also reflect Disbrowe’s sophisticated palate, but the grilled corn nachos and green chili cheeseburgers remind you that she’s a working mom with young kids at home, too.

Disbrowe has been developing recipes for more than a decade. Her first book, “Cowgirl Cuisine,” came out in 2007 and told the story of her and David leaving New York to cook on a ranch in the Hill Country. In recent years, she’s teamed up with chefs, including Donald Link and Susan Spicer, to co-write five cookbooks.

Her books with Link won the top cookbook awards in the country: the James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook for “Real Cajun” in 2010 and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Award for Best American Cookbook in 2015 for their follow-up “Down South.”

Disbrowe’s next book, “Thank You for Smoking,” is about a quick method of smoking ingredients on your backyard grill and will come out next year with Ten Speed Press. Norman’s book, “Bread on the Table,” will release in fall 2019 with Random House.

This book, “Food52 Any Night Grilling: 60 Ways to Fire Up Dinner” (Ten Speed Press, $24.99), is Disbrowe’s first solo cookbook since “Cowgirl,” and it is in partnership with Food52, the community-based cooking website founded by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs that now also publishes print cookbooks, sells kitchen gear online and hosts a popular cookbook competition of its own, the Piglet.

It is the opposite of many barbecue books, which often focus on low and slow cooking. When Disbrowe makes chicken wings during a recent lunchtime grilling demo, she places the searing lump charcoal just an inch or two from the meat. With tongs in hand, she turns them quickly, sensing the exact moment the wings need a break from a particularly hot part of the grill.

“It’s like getting used to a ranch horse,” Disbrowe says of getting the timing right of when to flip and when to let them rest. “I had a ranch horse, and I felt really comfortable on that horse, but if I were to jump on another horse, it would take a while to get adjusted. You have to find your comfort level with your grill, which comes with use.”

Her favorite grill is the PK Grill, of which almost all have a “more intuitive” rectangle grate. It’s ideal for what she calls two-zone cooking. “This is the direct heat, and over here is the indirect side,” she says.

She prefers lump charcoal, not charcoal briquettes, and always uses a chimney starter with any paper she can find balled up under the bottom. Once the paper catches fire, the lump charcoal will start to ignite, and after about 15 minutes, as soon as the flames start to escape the top, Disbrowe dumps the charcoal in the bed of the grill, not in the center but on the right side.

Once you start firing up the grill on weeknights, you’ll come to appreciate every degree of heat the charcoal emits, she says. Nearly every time Disbrowe cooks on her grill, she takes advantage of the lingering heat after the big burn to grill tomatoes for a smoky lentil tomato soup, eggplant for baba ganoush or kale leaves for a homemade ranch dip.

Served in a high-end restaurant, these dishes might feel fancy or unattainable, but when served on a plastic table draped with a tablecloth, in a yard that’s shaggy with spring growth, with a Julia Child rose in bloom nearby, it feels like a cozy family dinner, even if you aren’t family.

“This isn’t the (Hotel) San Jose, but you can do enough on a porch or in a yard,” she says. “It’s about the bigger picture.”

Party Wings With Cholula Butter

I wasn’t a wing enthusiast until I cooked them on the grill — then I was hooked. The high heat renders the fat, crisping the skin and making them taste both rich and improbably light (unlike the gut-bomb sports bar variety). Of course, wings are the quintessential party snack, something spicy and messy to entertain you while you’re sipping cocktails and swapping one-liners. They can also be the attraction, join other small plates or provide a hearty snack for friends waiting on something with a longer cooking time, like a smoked whole turkey or brisket. A two-zone fire is essential here because it provides nice heat for an initial char, as well as a moderate zone to cook the meat through without scorching the skin. I use drumettes because they’re meaty and easier to eat and Cholula for the hot sauce. It’s a smoky Mexican hot sauce that’s delicious on eggs, tacos and just about everything.

— Paula Disbrowe

3 pounds chicken wing drumettes

Olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup Cholula hot sauce

3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

Place the drumettes in a large bowl, drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat, generously season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

Build a medium-high fire or heat a gas grill to high, and prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking, with the hot coals or burners on one side for direct heat, leaving the other side cooler for indirect heat. Carefully wipe the preheated grill grates with a lightly oiled paper towel. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel again.

While the grill heats, in a separate bowl, stir together the Cholula, parsley, butter, lemon juice and garlic.

Grill the drumettes over direct heat, flipping and rotating as needed for even cooking, until nicely charred on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Move the drumettes to indirect heat, close the grill, and continue to cook, turning the drumettes often (and closing the grill lid in between), until cooked through and the juices run clear (if you’re uncertain, cut into one to check), 20 to 25 minutes.

Place the hot drumettes in the bowl with the Cholula butter, toss vigorously until well-coated and serve immediately. Serves 4.

— From “Food52 Any Night Grilling: 60 Ways to Fire Up Dinner” by Paula Disbrowe (Ten Speed Press, $24.99)

Pizza Dough and Inspired Pies

I played with several doughs before falling for this one, a variation on the stellar crust that Nancy Silverton created for Mozza in Los Angeles. Made from a combination of flours with just a touch of sweetness, it’s easy to work with and bakes into a chewy, crackly crust with plenty of character. I prefer to make the dough the night before and allow it to rise overnight in the fridge, because a longer, slower fermentation develops complex flavor. With the long overnight bulk ferment, you don’t need to proof the dough at room temperature before grilling (bonus: Colder dough is easier to wrangle).

An hour before grilling, I fire up the grill, divide the dough into six rounds, and allow them to rest while I prep the toppings and make a salad. Before you start the pizza train (meaning drape the first crust over the grates), make sure that all hands are on deck and toppings are ready to roll. Grilled pizzas aren’t complicated, but they come together quickly, so the process is infinitely smoother if you’re super organized. Once those details are in place, you’re free to uncork a bottle of wine, focus on achieving perfectly charred crust and enjoy the process, which is a lot of fun.

If you prefer to use a stone, you’ll want to preheat it after you spread out your coals (or while you’re preheating a gas grill) and stretch each crust just before assembly. Then place the round of dough on a peel dusted with flour or cornmeal, add toppings, gently slide the pizza onto the stone, close the grill and cook until the crust is blistered and crisp and the cheese has melted, 4 to 6 minutes.

— Paula Disbrowe

6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole wheat or rye flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

2 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon barley malt syrup

Toppings of choice

Combine both flours, the kosher salt, yeast, water, olive oil and barley malt syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix at low speed for about 8 minutes, until the dough begins to form a ball and pull away from the bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a rustic square about 1/4-inch thick. Stretch and fold a flap from 1 corner into the middle, followed by the opposite corner, pushing them into the dough, then repeat with the 2 remaining corners. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and let rest for another 30 minutes. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold again, as you did the first time. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

About 1 hour before grilling (or the morning before you plan to cook) remove the dough from the fridge and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 6 even-ish rounds. Tuck the edges of each round of dough under itself to form a tight ball. Place the rounds on a greased baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 12 hours) to allow the gluten to relax.

While you rest the dough, prepare your toppings and create a pizza station that includes everything you’ll need to finish the pies. About 45 minutes before grilling, prepare a charcoal grill for one-zone cooking and build a high fire, or heat a gas grill to high, until the temperature reaches about 600 degrees. Carefully wipe the preheated grill grates with a lightly oiled paper towel. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel again.

When the dough is ready, generously flour your work surface with all-purpose flour and place one round of dough in the center. Dust the dough lightly with flour. Using your fingertips, gently tap the center of the dough to flatten it slightly. Pick up the dough, ball both fists, and with your fists facing your body, place the top edge of the dough on your fists so the round stretches downward against the backs of your hands, away from them. Move the circle of dough around your fists like the hands of a clock so the dough continues to stretch downward into a circle.

When the dough has stretched to about 10 inches in diameter, drape it over the preheated grill grates (quickly reshape the pizza if it has lost its shape) and grill 1 to 2 minutes uncovered (cover if using a gas grill), or until the bottom side is crisp and marked. Remove the crust from the grill and place it, ungrilled side down, onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds (closing the grill and allowing it to reheat to 450 degrees to 500 degrees between pies). Then, when you’re ready to assemble the pies, top the grilled side of each crust pizza with the desired toppings and return to the grill. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, covered, or until the toppings are cooked and the cheese is melted.

When the pizza is done, slide tongs and/or a big spatula under the crust and transfer it to a cutting board. Let the pizza cool for a couple of minutes, then use a chef’s knife or pizza cutter to cut into wedges as desired. Makes six 10-inch pizzas.

— From “Food52 Any Night Grilling: 60 Ways to Fire Up Dinner” by Paula Disbrowe (Ten Speed Press, $24.99)

Broccoli Spears With Crispy Cheese Crust

Like roasting, a grill enhances the vegetable’s natural sweetness and creates salty, crunchy browned bits that add an entirely different layer of appeal. When charred by the heat of a grill, brassicas like broccoli — particularly big, meaty stalks — offer a satisfying range of flavors and textures that warrant top billing. I prefer to grill large spears of broccoli because they’re easier to wrangle and fun to eat with a knife and fork, but you can use broccolini or large florets of Romanesco broccoli instead. After they’re branded with an initial char, the spears are transferred to a cast-iron skillet, covered with a blanket of grated Parmesan (or another aged cheese) and finished in a closed grill. The ambient heat melts the cheese and creates a crispy crust reminiscent of frico, the lacy Parmesan crackers. Salsa verde, pickled mustard seeds or sumac yogurt sauce would be delicious additions to the plate.

— Paula Disbrowe

2 heads broccoli

Olive oil, for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or chopped dried arbol chili (stemmed and seeded), plus more as desired for heat

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Parmesan, Asiago, aged cheddar or Gouda

Lemon wedges

Build a medium-high fire or heat a gas grill to high, and prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking, with the hot coals or burners on one side for direct heat, leaving the other side cooler for indirect heat. Carefully wipe the preheated grates with a lightly oiled paper towel. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel again. Preheat a cast-iron skillet for 10 minutes before cooking.

While the grill heats, use a paring knife to trim the bottom inch or 2 from the broccoli stems and peel the stems. Slice the broccoli heads into long spears (the florets should be attached to a long portion of stem). Place any florets that break loose in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the spears with olive oil and season with salt, black pepper and chili.

Grill the broccoli over direct heat until evenly charred, 4 to 6 minutes per side, moving to indirect heat as needed to prevent the stalks from burning. Grill any small broccoli florets that break loose in the preheated cast-iron skillet, tossing often, until browned and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the spears to the cast-iron skillet and place on the grill grate over direct heat. Sprinkle with the cheese, close the grill and cook until the cheese is melted and the broccoli is crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges. Serves 2 to 4.

— From “Food52 Any Night Grilling: 60 Ways to Fire Up Dinner” by Paula Disbrowe (Ten Speed Press, $24.99)



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