It’s getting too hot to have the oven fight with the air conditioner. Now is a good time to crank up the grill and expand your repertoire beyond burgers and brats. Grilling pizza doesn’t take much effort or prior planning; in most cases you can utilize what you find at the market and combine with what’s already in the fridge.
I’ll give you an easy recipe for pizza dough. There are alternatives to making your own dough. Uprise Bakery makes a great whole-wheat par-baked pizza crust that costs more than the individual ingredients for the dough but will cut out the dough-proofing time and the par baking. Another alternative is taking a quick trip by one of the two (soon-to-be three) Shakespeare’s locations to buy pre-made pizza dough. I prefer buying the wheat dough, but you can buy white as well. Whether the dough is made or purchased, one important step is par cooking the dough on each side. Use either very moderate direct heat or indirect heat on the grill; if you have a pizza stone you can even toss that on and use it almost like an oven.
Sauce or No Sauce
Who wrote the rule that your pizza needs to have a sauce? Italian pizzas don’t even have it. Add high moisture vegetables such as tomatoes. A healthy dose of olive oil can serve the same purpose (I like it first thing on the crust and last thing on top of the ingredients). Olive oil can help retain some moisture in the dough and other ingredients while adding some flavor and texture contrast to the pizza.
If you do have sauce, who says it has to be tomato? Pesto is delicious; so is a white sauce such as Alfredo. Turn the pizza from savory into sweet with apple sauce.
If you are not worried about creating a “traditional” pizza, you can go pretty crazy here. The tricky part is making sure the flavors go together. “In season” and “in region” are easy ways to pick ingredients for a pizza. Chances are if ingredients are growing in a particular region and are ripe at the same time, they will pair well together. This is not to say that there are not unusual flavor combinations that go together perfectly — they just might take some trial and error. The first thing you need to ask is: Does this ingredient need to be par cooked? Most things that go on the top of a pizza are going to cook as the pizza cooks (mushrooms, tomatoes, basil and cheese) but some items may need a little help by being grilled, roasted, blanched or sautéed beforehand (asparagus, artichoke hearts, winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower). Consider size and structure and make the appropriate decision. The second thing to keep in mind is seasoning — salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, pepper flakes or whatever else you desire.
Go to a farmers market, talk to a farmer, and then play around a little. Some classic pairings are: tomato, basil, olive oil, fresh mozzarella, anchovies, sausage, mushrooms, arugula, baby kale, mustard greens, chilies, garlic, prosciutto, coppa and pepperoni. Some more modern twists are pineapple, apricots, asparagus and honey.
I do love cheese, but it does not have to be on every pizza. If it is on pizza, it does not always have to be the cheapest white shredded cheese you can find. Buy some Taleggio, Ricotta, mascarpone, Pyrenees or other cheese that you can buy from a real person at a counter. The pizza does not have to be smothered with it; a few scattered pieces or slices will suffice.
Cooking the Pizza
This recipe and method will work on the grill or in the oven.
The Grill: If you are going to cook directly on the grates of the grill, you can do it one of two ways. Indirect heat means that the fire or heat source will not be right under the pizza, so with this method you really need to have a lid or cover for the grill (this turns your grill into an oven of sorts). I find it best to par cook both sides of the dough (see recipe below). Let it cool, and then assemble your pizza. With direct heat (some grills may be so small, that is the only option you have), use very moderate or low heat. Start with a small pile of coals or wood, let them develop a gray ash, and then spread them out evenly on the grill.
If you think the heat is too high, use the tongs or a shovel to remove some coals and reserve them in a safe container until you are ready to return them to the fire. Once your pizza is assembled, place it on the grill and cover. Depending on the thickness of the dough and the amount of ingredients, the pizza should take 12 to 15 minutes. You know the pizza is done when the dough has cooked into a crust and become rigid, the cheese has melted and some toppings have started to brown.
The Oven: You can use this same basic recipe to cook in the oven. It may take a little longer without the intense heat of the fire. You don’t need any special equipment. A pizza stone is nice, but you can use the same method as the grill and par cook the dough on a sheet pan, let it cool, assemble the pizza, and then place it directly on the rack to cook. The end result will be similar, just without the fiery taste.
Makes about three 9-inch pizzas
1 packet of instant dry yeast (¼ ounce)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6–10 ounces warm water, as needed
1–2 tablespoons olive oil
Mix yeast, flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add about 6 ounces of the warm water. Slowly stir the water into the flour until it forms a mass, start to knead by hand in the bowl, and add more water if needed. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured working surface and knead for 5 to 6 minutes until it becomes smooth (alternatively, use a mixer with a dough hook).
Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Place in a warm place (on top of the refrigerator, cabinet, next to the oven) for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Punch down the dough and divide into thirds. With a rolling pin (a stone mortar, beer bottle or aluminum can works well in a pinch) roll the rough to about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Although uniformity may be nice, it is not essential. Poke or dock the dough with a fork repeatedly throughout the crust to help the crust rise and cook evenly.
Place the empty crust onto the grill and cook the base side for 2 to 3 minutes (rotate 180 degrees about halfway through) until the bottom has just started to develop a little color. Flip to the top side and cook another 30 seconds to a minute for a slightly lighter color than the base. Remove the crust from the grill, allow the crust to cool, and assemble your pizza.
Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center.