– three things I love to do. Come with!
It’s the Fourth of July, and everyone has the grill going. If you’re in need of barbecue inspiration, here’s a list of (nearly) everything under the sun that can be grilled: 101 Reasons to Light the Grill. NY Times Dining columnist Mark Bittman recommends the simply genius (#89 Cuban pork sandwiches and #97 Pound cake) and the playful stretch (#3 Tofu? #10,11 AND 12 Corn, and #101 Olives for a dirty martini. Really?). Filled with mostly good suggestions, the list does suffer one glaring omission: grilled pizzas. Trust me, these thin-crust charred pizzas will end for good your off-again-on-again abusive relationship with the frozen, grocery store variety. Just try it. You’ll never cook pizza in the oven again.
But won’t the dough melt through the grill? you balk. How is that possible? my friends ask incredulously every time I’ve made pizzas in this way. The key to cooking a pizza on the grill is heat; the grill must be hot hot hot. Think of a wood-fired oven; those babies are glowing red. By keeping the cover on the grill for at least ten minutes before cooking, you’re essentially pre-heating the oven.
The next crucial component is the dough. Pizza dough is easy to make, and can be made well beforehand. Actually, the dough is best if it’s made the night before and allowed to rest overnight in the refrigerator. However, if you don’t decide on dinner plans until the last minute, don’t worry. You can make the dough, let it rest while you prepare your toppings and still be good to go.
This dough recipe comes from my good friend Deborah, a fellow culinary student at Greystone in St. Helena. Though initially hesitant to share her secrets, Deborah eventually caved to my constant pestering after I saw her cook pizzas on the grill at school. The thin crust pizzas crisp up in a few minutes with the barbecue’s high heat, and the char marks on the crust impart a smoky, rustic flavor that neither a pizza stone nor a regular baking sheet can produce.
yield: about 10- 8in. pizzas
4 cups flour (you can substitute up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour if you like) + additional flour for the counter/rolling out process
2 cups warm water
1 oz yeast (1 little packet)
1 tsp sugar
1 TBSP olive oil
salt to taste (I like 1-2 TBSP)
optional: 1/3 cup rough chopped herbs, like marjoram or oregano to give the crust a little color. I had some dried oregano and marjoram in the spice drawer, I just tossed some into the dry flour before adding liquid.
1. Pour warm water and sugar into a small bowl; add yeast. Give the mixture a quick stir and let sit 10 minutes to activate yeast.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt (and herbs, if using). Make a little well in the middle of the flour.
3. Smell the bowl of yeast; it should smell like a bakery at 6 am full of fresh, warm bread. Add the olive oil to the liquid.
4. Pour the liquid into the well in the flour. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
5. The mixture will be a little wet, so add a small handful of flour as you mix it until the dough is manageable. It should ball up and not stick too badly to the sides of the bowl. Once you can handle the dough, sprinkle a large handful of flour on the counter or on a cutting board (put a wet paper towel under the cutting board to hold it in place). Move the ball of dough to the floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes.
I tend to use kneading time as a stress release. Remember your boss who likes to ignore/berate/harass you? Now’s the time to work that out. The more you work the dough, the more you activate the yeast and start the formation of the dough texture that we love so much.
6. Once the dough is elastic, place it back in the mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest in a warm spot in the kitchen for about an hour; it will grow in size. This is desirable. Don’t freak out. Your dough is alive.
7. After an hour, punch the dough down and reshape into a ball. At this point, you can put the dough into a gallon plastic Ziplock bag and leave it overnight in the refrigerator. It will continue to grow in size, but at a much slower pace because of the cooler temperature.
8. If you’re using the dough right away, break it into baseball-sized clumps, and roll out into pizza rounds. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle works. We MacGyver’ed this move at a recent dinner party and it served us just fine. Less-than-perfect circles add to the rustic, homemade quality of these pizzas, so don’t trip too hard on the shapes.
9. Lay each rolled out pizza onto a piece of waxed paper, layering wax paper between each one. Put the tray of stacked dough in the refrigerator until just before you’re going to make the pizzas; the colder the dough, the better it will transfer from the waxed paper to the grill, and the better it will hold its shape.
10. Get down to it. Clean a hot grill with a wire brush. Lay the dough straight onto the grill rack. When the dough cooks half-way through, it will be rigid enough to flip. Turn it over and then spread a thin layer of sauce, leaving a border all around the edges for your crust. Top with cheese (always less than you think you need, too much cheese contributes to saggy pie a la Pizza Hut) and whatever toppings you can imagine.
For sauce, I like Rao’s tomato sauce and Buitoni pesto, both available at most grocery stores. (The ambitious can make their own sauces too; that blog entry is forthcoming. 😉
Since the heat comes from below on a barbecue and the pizza dough cooks so quickly with this technique, I like to cook my toppings beforehand so they only need to warm through. That way, once the cheese is melted, you know the pizza is done. It also helps to have all your toppings ready in bowls; easy access to the toppings is key to inviting guests to create their own.
Some of my favorite toppings are:
Caramelized onions– thinly slice two yellow onions and cook them in a saute pan over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring every so often.
Below: onions at the beginning of the process. Let them cook down until they’re brownish and sweet, seen in the white bowl in the photo here to the right.
Your kitchen will smell good enough to bring the neighbors around, and the onions will develop a deep brown sugar color and taste. A good task to knock out while the dough is rising.
Sauteed mushrooms– slice white mushrooms and saute over medium heat with a tablespoon or two of white wine. When the wine is nearly all cooked off and the mushrooms are soft, reserve them in a small bowl for topping later.
Shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese.
Dollops of goat cheese.
Rounds of fresh Mozzarella.
Roasted garlic-take a whole head of garlic, paper skin still on, and place in an oven-safe pan. Coat with a little olive oil and just leave the pan in a 375F oven for 45 minutes, or until the softened garlic can be squeezed easily from the paper. A little sticky, this roasted garlic paste can be spread right onto the crust or dotted onto the sauce.
Arugula or Spinach.
Thinly sliced tomatoes.
Pepperoni or salami.
Grapes sliced in half (really! An unexpected but welcome sweet note)
Fresh basil leaves.
My favorite combination: caramelized onions, goat cheese and arugula on a pesto pizza. Yes, I love goat cheese on everything but this combination of flavors is sweet, rich, slightly bitter and salty all at once. On the pizza below: tomato sauce, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions and Parmesan cheese. Also a winning mix of flavors.
Unlike burgers or tri-tip steak, which can monopolize the grill and bring out macho fire-monger tendencies, the grilled pizza party encourages all guests to participate in the production of the meal.
Herein lies the beauty of grilling pizzas. Everyone can top their pizza as they see fit. The only requirement is that we gather around the grill and discuss our topping tactics and techniques with a cold beer in hand and the setting sun shining in our faces.
Happy Fourth of July!