Live-Fire Cooking

Article excerpt

HANDS - ON

Michael Chiarello shows us how to build a firepit fast and grill great food. By Margo True

long before he became a celebrity, Michael Chiarello loved cooking over fire. As a boy- with the Emmy-winning TV shows, the family winery, and two restaurants (Bottega, in the Napa Valley, and San Francisco's Coqueta) still ahead of himhe helped his Italian grandparents light the woodstove every morning at their ranch near Mt. Shasta, California. "It wasn't just starting a fire; it was a ritual," he says. "It's where I learned to cook."

As he grew older, he cooked in a woodburning oven outside too, with his nonna, aunts, and mother. A fire's need to be fed and stoked appealed to him: "There's a relationship in tending it," he says. And it could be easy to create. "When my uncle would go mushroom hunting with us, he'd bring four bricks and a grate, set up a firepit, and grill the mushrooms." In Chiarello's new book, Live Fire (Chronicle Books), and here with us, he drew on those memories to spin a whole menu from a homemade firepit.

Set your food on the fire, don't throw it. That's how people burn themselves

ASPARAGUS INSALATA PIADINE

MAKES 2 (9 IN.) PIZZAS / 1 V» HOURS, PLUS AT LEAST 1 ½ HOURS FOR FIRE

Chiarello describes piadina, an EmiliaRomagna specialty, as "crisp warm dough with a highly flavored sauce and a cool salad." To make it on a gas grill, set a pizza stone on the cooking grate over high heat for at least 20 minutes. No matter your method, says Chiarello, "don't wait for your guests to sit down. You gotta make 'em and eat 'em."

SALAD

2 heads garlic

About ¼ tsp. coarse sea salt, preferably gray

About 1/8 tsp. pepper

About 2 ½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp. sherry vinegar

3 cups loosely packed arugula

½ cup spring onions, sliced thin, bulbs and pale green parts only (about 6 onions)

2 chilled firm Meyer lemons, sliced very thin and seeds removed

PESTO

Kosher salt

¾ lb. asparagus, each spear about pencil-size, tough ends snapped off

1 ½ tbsp. toasted pine nuts

½ cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil

2 tsp. minced garlic

2 pinches coarse sea salt, preferably gray

Pepper

About ó tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

6 tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese

2 balls pizza dough (5 to ó oz. each), homemade (recipe on sunset.com/firepit menu) or storebought

¾ oz. pecorino cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (to yield about ¼ cup)

1. Build a fire and let burn to ashy chunks (see "The DIY Firepit," page 92).

2. Preheat oven to 400°. Cut tops off heads of garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap in foil and roast in oven for 1 hour. Let cool, then squeeze cloves from skin. (For Chiarello's ash-roasted garlic recipe, go to sunset.com/firepitmenu.)

3. Meanwhile, make pesto: Boil a large pot of water on the stove and salt generously with kosher salt. Boil asparagus about 3 minutes, or until tender; drain and spread out to cool.

4. Cut asparagus into thirds and save tips for salad. In a food processor, pulse together asparagus stalks, pine nuts, basil, garlic, sea salt, and pepper to taste. With machine running, drizzle in 6 tbsp. oil. Add parmesan in batches, pulsing after each batch (pesto should be thick). If cheese begins to clump, add water, 1 tsp. at a time, until it loosens. Cover with plastic wrap, smoothing it against surface of pesto.

5. Finish salad: In a small bowl, whisk 2V2 tbsp. oil, vinegar, ? tsp. sea salt, and Ve tsp. pepper; set aside. Put asparagus tips, arugula, spring onions, roasted garlic cloves, and lemons in a large bowl.

6. On a floured surface, dust balls of dough with flour. Working with 1 ball at a time and keeping others covered, roll or stretch until 9 to 10 inches across. "If you have trouble rolling them out, let them reit 30 seconds to relax," says Chiarello. Draping the middle of the dough over the backs of both hands, lay it gently on grate. …