Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Grilled Pizza

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My air conditioner blows.  And I don’t mean that in a good way. When it’s hot outside, it’s hot inside, even while the decrepit thing grinds away, feebly blowing cool-ish air in our general direction.  I wish it would just give up the ghost and allow us to avoid the ambiguity of deciding whether or not to replace a unit that, strictly speaking, works.  Maybe I’ll get lucky this summer…on a day when it isn’t 106 outdoors and 87 (and climbing) indoors.

In the meantime, I do what I can to rest my oven during the hottest part of the day.  That’s no small accommodation: You know I love my oven and all the goodies that issue from it.  My handy, hunky husband has suggested that he should just build me an outdoor brick oven, and anyone who knows him–and/or anyone who has seen the various wooden structures springing up in our backyard or heard the power tools whirring above the sound of the crickets, deep into the night–won’t doubt that he very well may do it.  But this summer, he’s busy.  He’s installing new flooring in our house, building a treehouse for the kids, and planning an outdoor shower, complete with hot & cold water, a drainage system to funnel greywater to the garden, and an elaborate cedar enclosure, the structure of which has yet to be determined.  (I only wish it were possible to construct a new air conditioning unit out of cedar and sheer ingenuity!)

In the meantime, we’ve got to eat–especially since all that constructing and contrapting really works up an appetite!  Fortunately, I have a few assets to enlist in this battle: a competent grill, a fair amount of culinary inventiveness, and a warm kitchen–which, to put a happy spin on a sweaty situation, makes for a fast-rising ball of dough.  Combine those three and you have grilled pizzas just waiting to happen.  I should probably also add to my list of assets a big pot of basil growing like crazy on the patio, three steps from the grill:

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My “technique,” on the other hand, is not an asset.  I lack the wrist skills to slide the thin disks onto and off of a hot grill or oven without tearing or folding them in the process.  Fortunately, I know a work-around, so stay tuned.  If you’re feeling adventuresome (or tired of being sweaty and cooped up in your kitchen), give these summer pizzas a try…

Grilled pizzas

Step 1: Prepare your dough

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I made a sourdough using…

1 cup of starter

1/2 cup warmish water

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of sugar

~2 cups of all-purpose unbleached flour.

Whisk the starter with the water and then use a big wooden spoon to incorporate the dry ingredients.  Start with 1 1/2 cups of flour and then add in another 1/2 cup if you need it to encourage the dough to form a ball.  You can use your muscles, your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, or just your hands to bring it all together. Then coat it with olive oil and let it rise.  In my warm kitchen, it takes only a couple of hours.  If you want to fix it in the morning, just pop it in the fridge for the day to slow the rise and then get it out before step 2.

(No sourdough?  Use 1 cup of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 2 1/2 to 3 cups of flour. Same procedure.)

Step 2: Divide the dough into three parts

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Let them rise on a very floury surface, covered with a tea towel, for about an hour. (Maybe 2 hours if your dough has been refrigerated or if you are working in a kitchen that isn’t summery warm.)

Step 3: Heat your grill to about 400 degrees, and get all of your toppings ready.  That means chopping up plenty of whatever you want to go on your pizzas and grating your cheeses.  You will not have time to chop or grate once they start cooking, so don’t plan to multitask.  On a hot grill, your pizzas will move along quickly.  I had a hard time taking pictures they’re so quick.  Be prepared!

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Step 4: Spread one well-oiled ball of your dough onto a pizza-sized pan.  (This is the step that is key to making successful grilled pizzas, when you aren’t a dough-slinging expert.)  You can use a rolling pin or just your hands, but be sure your dough is coated with oil, so that it won’t stick to the pan.  You’re going to need it to cooperate with you very shortly.  Now put the pan directly onto the grill.

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Step 5: Let the dough set up on the pizza pan for just 2-3 minutes, until it is firm enough to move around without tearing.  Then move the dough to the grill grates to char on the bottom.  Use a second pizza stone, baking pan, or cookie sheet that will fit your grill to get a second dough ball ready.  You’ll have room for a second one in just a minute. The objective is to repeat the process with all three dough balls, in a staggered fashion.  (You probably won’t have room on your grill for all three at once anyway.) I told you that you wouldn’t have time to chop and grate once things got going, didn’t I?

Step 6: Flip your dough so that the other side can char.  Now go ahead and top your pizza.  Go lightly here.  If you put too much stuff on top, it’s impossible to get the cheese melted before the crust burns.  Leave it on the grill grates for just a couple of minutes, and then move it back to the pizza pan where it started.  This will keep the bottom from burning.  (By the way, when I tell you to move the pizzas around, you can use any tool you like.  A pizza peel works great, but a spatula and a hot mitt do the trick, too!)

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Step 7: Put your second disk of pizza dough on your second baking sheet onto the grill next to the first one, where your first pizza is beginning to look pretty dang tasty.  After this dough has set, you’ll need to remove the pan from beneath it in order to have room to char it.  (Unless you have a monster grill, in which case, you can figure out your own system, you lucky dog.) Char it, flip it, top it, and then slide it back onto the pan and put the pan back on the grill.

Step 8: When your first pizza is done, you’ll have room for the third one.  If your pizzas don’t get melted enough on top to suit you (all that opening and closing the grill can be bad for melting cheese) pop them under your broiler for just a minute.  I assure you that the dough will be plenty baked, so all you need to do is finish off the melt.

I was nervous the first time I made this because the crust was pretty charred in some spots, and I figured the kids would all snarl and declare the black spots to be burnt and inedible.  But they loved the charred crust.  They actually preferred the black zones to the unblackened ones: go figure!

In any case, be fearless.  Thin crust, a hot grill, and a sense of adventure is all you really need to make something that looks and tastes like it came from the brick oven in at your favorite up-scale pizzeria…or the one my hunky husband is imagining in my backyard.

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