Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rustic pizza, kissed by fire.

Grilled pizza Margherita. © Ryan Schierling
You're craving pizza on a hot day, but the idea of cranking your oven up to tip-top temperature in the middle of the summer is simply insane. Grilled pizza to the rescue! I'm not talking about opening a box of frozen pizza and tossing it on the grill, here – I suppose that would work, but we can do far better than that. If you're up for a little tactile pleasure and a smoky hot mess of rustic and delicious, then have I got a pizza plan for you!

Grilled pizza certainly isn't an original idea – it is basically bread over fire, and flat breads have been cooked over open flame in some form or other since the beginning of time. Admittedly, though, on my first attempt it felt like a pretty bold move to put the dough directly on the grill grate. Even Ryan was a little quizzical at the notion.

I've baked pizza from scratch for years, sliding pies large and small onto a great big baking stone that had a permanent address in the oven. So, not using a pan isn't exactly ground-breaking for me. I had heard of baking pizzas on the grill, but it had only been in the context of throwing one's pizza stone on a very large grill and going from there as usual. I decided that smaller personal-sized pizzas would work more easily on our 22" Weber and figured it was pretty likely that just stretching it across the grate would do just fine, so long as the dough had enough oil on the surface. I was excited when it worked out so well.

Pizza dough might seem complicated, but it really isn't. Sure, you could do something more specialized like make sourdough pizza using your own starter, or make your dough the night before and give it a super-slow rise in the fridge, but the reality is that if you have an hour to prep your toppings and cook up a little sauce, you have plenty of time to make a perfectly delicious pizza from scratch.

My 'go to' recipe for pizza dough? Full credit to KitchenAid. It's the one that came with the spiral-bound recipe book accompanying our KitchenAid stand mixer; in fact, it sits on the bookshelf open to that very page. Yes, I do give it a little twist to my personal taste, but it has been a faithful friend almost since the beginning.

I've included the original recipe below, but basically it's just a quick spin of sufficiently warm water, yeast, salt and olive oil with flour added until the mixture forms a cohesive ball in the mixer. I like to include a little bit of instant masa (corn flour) or rye flour for extra flavor in the dough. (You could even add a tablespoon of fresh herbs or shredded parmesan cheese if you were looking for a slightly different flavor profile.) Oil the mixing bowl generously and leave the ball of soft dough in it, covered, at room temperature for about an hour. At this point it should be well-risen and ready to gently knuckle down before heading to the grill.

If I'm using this dough in the oven, I'm not quite so generous with the olive oil, but when grilling I bring a wee bowl of oil to dip my fingers in, if needed. Just reach in and grab a small handful of dough, flatten from the middle outward and then work around the edges, gently stretching to a 6-8 inch disc. If you're anything like me, it will have a thin spot or two, even a hole, and probably be some odd oblong shape by the time it hits the grill – which is where it is headed, directly onto the hot grate from your slippery hands.

Now, a note or two about the grill itself, because it does require a conscientious set up. You need two temperatures to properly cook these. High, direct heat for the initial cooking of the dough on each side and a lower, indirect heat for when you have added the toppings and need to give them time to bake, letting the cheese get melty. Fortunately for me, Ryan had a pretty good grasp of this dynamic while initially assessing the situation.

Achieving a hotter/cooler grill scenario can be accomplished in several ways … 1) Have a direct heat/indirect heat setup on the grill itself, working with only a few small pizzas at a time and putting the lid on when they've been moved to the cooler side. 2) Use two grills… one hot (500º F) and one not so hot (300º F). The benefit of this is that you can keep a pretty steady flow of pizzas moving and will be able to top each one at your leisure. 3) Well, this is cheating a little grill-wise, but if you're making a lot of these for a big group, I suggest par-baking them (even a day ahead) in a 450-degree oven for about 7-8 minutes and just having them all ready to be topped before hitting the grill for baking. You'll still get the all great flavor the coals impart but it will seriously reduce the time and surface area limitations posed by split-heat cooking.

With toppings you are really only limited by your imagination, but I'm going to give you my personal recommendation here anyway. Keep it simple with a classic pizza Margherita. Fresh mozzarella is a must, thinly sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and I really love a hit of parmesan right off the microplane grater and a pinch of kosher salt.

The sauce is equally simple. Sauté some finely chopped garlic and onion in olive oil, add a can of quality crushed tomatoes and some chopped fresh oregano and/or basil. Give it a good simmer to blend the flavors and season it with salt, pepper and a bit of sugar until it sings. When it's time to make pizzas, I just take that pan right outside with me.

The prep is, quite frankly, minimal enough that you can even enjoy a nice glass of chianti while you leisurely assemble your ingredients.

Crusty Pizza Dough (KitchenAid)

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105º F to 115º F)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-1/2 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use up to 1/4 c. corn flour as a portion of this)

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed bowl. Add salt, olive oil, and 2-1/2 cups flour. Attach bowl and dough hook. Turn to Speed 2 and mix 1 minute.

Continue on Speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl.  Knead on Speed 2 for 2 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch dough down.

Brush 14-inch pizza pan with oil; sprinkle with cornmeal. Press dough across bottom of pan, forming a collar around edge to hold filling. Top with desire fillings. Bake 450º F for 15 to 20 minutes.

Yield: One 14-inch pizza (or 7-9 strange, little oddly-shaped personal pizzas).

1 comment:

  1. I read this and with all its helpful bbq tips and saucy hints and sweet KitchenAid...aid, I just cannot WAIT to get my hands back on a Webber! Thank you for giving me something to daydream about while here in NO MANS BBQ LAND(read:France).


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