When thinking of Italian food, many people conjure up images of boiling pasta, rich tomato sauce, and lots of cheese. While these are not incorrect, the heart of Italian food is based on the grill. Great cuts of meat, poultry, sausage, and pizza are all classic grilled Italian dishes.
Italian Style Steaks
Italians have been raising some of the best beef in the world for generations. Chianina cattle are an ancient breed raised in Tuscany. Legendary Tuscan steaks originate from these cows. This beef is full of flavor and considered some of the best in the world. While Tuscan steaks are nearly impossible to find outside of Tuscany, you can grill a steak in the traditional Italian style. The secret is based on simplicity. Season the steak with a little lemon juice before you grill it. Then serve the steak with a small drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. The lemon juice will add a bright flavor and keep the meat tender while it grills.
Grilled Italian Pizza
One of the most common Italian dishes is pizza. The type of pizza served in Italy is very different from pizza served elsewhere. Italian pizza is more like toasted flatbread, without a lot of toppings. It is usually drizzled with a bit of olive oil, but it is not greasy or covered with multiple toppings. The secret to a great pizza is cooking with intense direct heat. The temperatures required are best achieved from a grill, not an oven. To make your own, start with small, thin crusted pizza. Top it with whatever you like and grill just long enough for the crust to get brown and crunchy, and for the cheese (if you have any) to melt. Keep a close eye on the pizza, as it cooks quickly on a hot grill and can easily turn from crunchy to burned in a matter of minutes. Grilling pizza successfully may take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, it's a versatile cooking method.
Sauced Based Dishes
Rich, thick tomato sauce dishes benefit from the grill just as much as other Italian favorites. The secret is getting the grill flavor into the ingredients while building the dish. Anything from a simple spaghetti dish or a panini can benefit from cooking on the grill. For example, use the grill to roast tomatoes prior to making a sauce or grill vegetables and then put them in the panini. You can even warm and press the panini on your grill. Another idea is to grill sausages and then cook them low and slow in a tomato sauce. This will give you the best of both worlds: the rich flavor of tomatoes with the warm grill flavors from the meat.
Using your grill in unexpected ways will expand your cooking techniques. It also frees up space in the kitchen, so your oven and stovetop can be used for other foods (or not at all). And in warm weather, it's much more comfortable to cook over a hot grill than to cook inside a hot kitchen.