Grilled pizza: Assembly and grilling

grilled pizza

Before I begin, a disclaimer. I have no freakin’ clue how to grill a pizza using a gas grill. I’ve never tried it and aside from the convenience factor, I’m not a fan of gas grills at all, so I’m sorry, but I can’t provide those instructions here.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in making grilled pizza is in creating a technique that produces a good, consistent result. The crust should be crisp and light without drying out or getting overly charred. I’ve burned pizzas before, and I’ve messed around with a too-cold grill, on which the dough took seemingly forever to bake up into a crust.

The original method I tried called for these basic steps, which I’ll treat lightly here just to show why this method didn’t work for me.

  1. Build a two-stage fire, with coals banked to one side of the grill.
  2. Brush oil on the grate on the not-so-hot side of the grill.
  3. Place your shaped dough onto the grill, cover the grill, and bake the crust until it firms up.
  4. Flip the crust so the grilled side is now up. Brush olive oil on the crust and build your pizza, directly on the grill.
  5. Cover the grill and bake the pizza until the cheese melts and begins to brown.
  6. Remove pizza from grill.

Most of these steps are very straightforward, but step 4 usually trips me up, especially “build your pizza, directly on the grill.”

When you do that, your crust is continuing to bake, and you’re working directly next to some very hot coals. You have to work fast to build your pizza a) before your crust burns, and b) before all the hairs on your arm singe off. It’s uncomfortable and it’s frustrating. So frustrating in fact that for a month or so last summer, I just stopped grilling pizza. I was Done. But now I have a better method, and all is right again with the world.

Shaping the dough

Before I share that with you, though, I need to rewind because I didn’t address shaping the dough in my doughy post earlier.

Two hours before you plan to shape the dough, remove the dough from the refrigerator. (If you’re working with frozen dough, be sure to give it ample time to thaw. I like at least a day.) Allow the dough to approach room temperature. After two hours have passed, shape the dough. How you do this is really up to you. Peter Reinhart, in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, describes a technique similar to what you’ve seen in pizza parlors, where you lay the dough across your knuckles and gently stretch it into shape, lightly tossing it into the air as you go. I do that at first, but then frankly, I lay it across a floured surface and use a floured rolling pin to finish.

rolling out the dough

Regardless of technique, what you’re looking for is a thin dough in which the dough is starting to windowpane. If you hold the dough to the light, you should see light shining through the thinnest portions.

As for shape, think rustic. I don’t even attempt to get a round crust. Mine are roughly elliptical, roughly rectangular.

If counter space is at a premium for you, as it is for us, lay a piece of plastic wrap/clingfilm across the shaped dough. Fold the dough up and set aside.

Assembly instructions

First, prepare your pizza-making mise en place:

  1. Using your fingers, shred some fresh mozzarella (or prepare whatever cheese you’re using–gorgonzola, whatever).
  2. Pour some olive oil into a small bowl and place a silicon brush nearby.
  3. Put your tomato sauce, or sliced/crushed fresh tomatoes, into another bowl.
  4. Chiffonade some fresh basil (but leave it inside, in the kitchen).
  5. Have some parmigiano or peccorino cheese handy (but leave that inside, too).

pizza mise

Now, the other two things you’ll need? These are so blindingly obvious that I can’t believe I never thought of it before. In fact, I’m virtually certain Jen thought of this and I smacked my head and said, “Of course!”

The other two things you need are a pizza peel and some cornmeal.

To assemble your pie, unfold the rolled-out dough onto a peel onto which you’ve sprinkled cornmeal. Place your bowls of olive oil, tomato sauce, and cheese onto a platter or tray.

Build a fire. We have a 22-inch Weber One Touch charcoal grill. (And let me repeat, I’ve never grilled a pizza over gas, so I have no idea how to provide those sorts of instructions.) I fill a chimney with lump charcoal of various sizes and use Weber paraffin cubes to light the chimney. After the coals are lit and are beginning to ash over, I dump them onto the far side of the grill, to build a two-stage fire. I place the grate on and lid up the grill until the grate heats, about five minutes. Once the grate is hot, if it’s still schumtzy from a previous cook, I take up a ball of foil in my grilling tongs and scrape down the hot grate. Then I replace the lid and let the grate heat up again.

Jen, at this point, brings the tray of topping out, along with the peel o’ dough, and places everything onto an outdoor table. I remove the grill lid and oil the cooler side of the grate, using the silicon brush. With the exact motion I use to slide dough onto a pizza stone in the oven, I shimmy the dough onto the oiled grate and lid up the grill. It’s important to stress, this is untopped dough. You’re basically parbaking the crust at this moment.

sliding the crusts onto the grill

(You can see here that I’m making two pizzas; I find that two smaller pies are easier to work with than one larger. It does mean rotating the dough around the grill a little to ensure that each crust bakes evenly.)

Leave the peel handy on the table; you’ll need it again shortly. (You might keep cornmeal on hand if you need to sprinkle more onto the peel.) Check on your crust every minute or so. You’ll know when it’s crisp enough to remove–this usually takes no more than five minutes.

Now, this part is tricky. Using two pairs of tongs (and having a partner standing by with the peel), remove the crust from the grill and place it grilled side up on the peel. Lid up the grill again so the grate reheats.

par-grilled crusts

Build the pizza on the peel, on the table. Don’t overdo the toppings! Less is more with grilled pizza. Lightly brush some oil onto the crust, but not too much. Spoon on tomato sauce in a thin layer. Finally, dot the surface with cheese. Lightly oil the grate again, and then shimmy the pie carefully onto the grill. Lid up.

topped pies

back onto the grill

You want to cook until the cheese starts to bubble; it’s hard to give you a precise time. It depends on your grill, your charcoal, the alignment of Mars, how the Mets are doing, etc. Because you’ve parbaked the crust, you’re far less concerned with what the crust is doing, and more interested in the toppings. Just don’t let the crust burn. If the bit that’s closest to the fire is starting to char, you might use tongs and gently rotate the pie. When the pizza’s done, you’ll need a friend handy again to help you remove the pizza off onto the peel.

Sprinkle basil on, lightly, and grate the parm or peccorino over the top. Slice and enjoy!

grilled pizza

Grilled pizza: Getting saucy

Hey! We’re double-teaming you today. Hope you don’t get sick of us.

I swear you’re all going to think I do nothing but ape Mario Batali, but I have to admit, my sauce recipe, which is Jen’s favorite of all I’ve tried, is also my riff on a Molto Mario joint. Let me tell you something, though: I don’t always sauce my pizzas. Sometimes I just use fresh tomatoes, sliced, and sometimes I use crushed canned tomatoes. It’s just all about the mood I’m in.

This recipe makes about 2 cups/1 pint of sauce, enough sauce for a couple of large-ish rustic pies–I’d say about a foot long and 6-8 inches wide–or four smaller pies, or eight tiny pies, or … well, you get the idea.

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tennis ball-sized onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp. shredded carrot
1-1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
One 28 oz. can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed with your hands*
¼ cup dry red wine
salt, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté onions until soft and golden and then stir in garlic. Cook garlic until soft. Add carrot and thyme and cook until the carrot is soft.

Add tomatoes (along with their juice) and wine. Lower the heat and cook until the sauce is thick, seasoning to taste as you go. It’ll take about half an hour to thicken up appropriately.

*Obviously, you could also buy crushed tomatoes. Or if you’re lucky enough to get sauce tomatoes from your own garden or farmer’s market, use those. Just don’t tell me because I’ll hate you.

Finally, grilled-pizza: the dough

I knew I had put off the grilled pizza write-up long enough already when I was at a rooftop party in downtown Providence Sunday evening, and a writer friend of mine started gently needling me about it. Thanks for the kick in the pants, Jan.

I’m going to do this in installments, if that’s okay. I’ll be including recipes and photos, and if I put it all in one single post, it would just be too damn long, so screw that.

Let’s start with the pizza dough. The crust is a crucial element of a great pizza; it’s the base, so you want it to be good. This dough is my current favorite; it’s easy to make, and I love how it tastes. I want to continue tinkering with it, though, trying to make it more better, but this is the latest.

You’ll need to plan in advance for this: I like to allow my dough to rise overnight. As baking guru Peter Reinhart writes in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice:

[Overnight fermentation] gives the enzymes time to go to work, pulling out subtle flavors trapped in the starch. The long rest also relaxes the gluten, allowing you to shape the dough easily, minimizing the elastic springiness that so often forces you to squeeze out all the gas.

If the thought of squeezing out the gas makes you giggle like a child, you’re not alone.

My recipe is adapted from Mario Batali’s Italian Grill, and my technique includes instructions for using a Kitchenaid stand mixer to mix and knead the dough.

3 cups all-purpose flour*
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ cup white wine or dry vermouth (at room temp)

*As with all bread baking, you may have to adjust this, depending on humidity level. I normally use King Arthur organic unbleached AP flour, or a roughly 50-50 blend of AP and Kenyon’s stone-ground whole wheat flour. Reinhart, however, recommends you use no more than 10% whole-wheat or rye to substitute for an equal quantity of white flour. This is exactly the kind of thing I want to play with next time around.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in the warmed bowl of a stand mixer. Add salt, sugar, olive oil, wine or vermouth, and half of the flour. Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer. Turn to speed 2 and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix until dough clings to hook and pulls away from sides of bowl. Knead on speed 2 for another 2 minutes.

At this point, you can divide the dough and freeze some of it for later use, or you can prepare it all for tomorrow’s pizza. I take whatever quantity I’m planning to use and put it in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap. I place that in the fridge overnight. (It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.)

On the day I’m making the pizza, I remove the dough from the fridge two hours before making the pizza. I’ll address what comes next when I get to the post on building the pizza.

So close you can almost taste it

stretchy

We are almost there, folks.

crust + coals

I know I’ve been promising a write up of Mike’s grilled pizza for seemingly forever, but I think we can finally say that we’ve almost nailed down the perfect version. The sauce and dough recipes are now exactly where he wants them to be, but there are a few small issues of timing and technique he still wants to work on. Which means that there is going to be a lot of grilled pizza in our immediate future.

Mike's grilled pizza

Which isn’t a bad thing at all.

Sweetie Pie

risen

Mike asked to take on dinner last night, and since my allergies had gotten the best of me, I didn’t argue. Besides, pizza was on the menu, and as you regular readers should know, he turns out some mighty fine ones.

This, however, might have been his best work yet.

the sauce

The base was a combination of little yellow grape tomatoes from Wishing Stone Farm, plus some diced red tomato and green garlic, all melted down in olive oil and spiked with ribbons of basil to form a light, fresh-tasting sauce. In addition to our favorite local mozzarella, there were soft leeks and freshly grated, super-aged gouda, both of which got beautifully golden in the oven.

And the crust on which this wonderful pie was built was SO good that it merits it’s own post… stay tuned.

Who needs delivery when you can get pizza this good at home?

Pie in the Sky

the dough

There must be something in the air, because even before I clicked over to Michael Ruhlman’s blog yesterday, I had pizza on the brain. See, I had these baby artichokes that I picked up on Saturday, and for some reason, the thing I wanted to do most with them was to make an artichoke pizza. But with everything else that was going on over the weekend, I wasn’t able to get my butt in gear and make a batch of dough ahead of time, so I asked Mike if he would do it for me. I forwarded him a few recipes that were close to what I had in mind, and he settled on the Jim Lahey version Deb blogged about last year.

baby artichokes

When I got home from work, the dough was ready to work with, and after our customary break for cocktails and catching up on the day, I started on dinner. First, I trimmed half a dozen baby artichokes, slicing them thin and placing them into a bowl of acidulated water to keep them from browning. I sliced up a ball of uber-fresh Narragansett Creamery mozzarella and set it aside for later. Then I got to work on the saucy component of our pie, which was quite possibly my favorite element of our meal.

sorrel pesto

Into the food processor went two garlic cloves, a couple of spoonfuls of toasted pine nuts, one bag of young sorrel leaves from Ledge Ends Produce, and a couple of pinches of sea salt. I pulsed this into a coarse, chunky mixture, then, with the motor running, drizzled in some olive oil. I added the pesto to a small bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, then stirred it to combine. I tasted it for seasoning and… well, the pesto almost didn’t make it past this point of the evening, because it was so darn good. Bright, lemony, beautifully green, I want to make this pesto for as long as this sorrel is available. I want to spread it on sandwiches, toss it with pasta, spoon it over grilled fish…

smeared

ready to bake

But back to the pizza. We had two balls of dough, one of which I stretched out into a square-ish round, and I slathered some of that pesto all over it. I added a layer of cheese, the sliced artichokes, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of sea salt. This went into our preheated oven (onto a pizza stone) for about 35-40 minutes at the highest heat setting (Broil, for us). Then I pulled the pizza out, grated on a little more parm, dotted the remaining sorrel pesto over the top, and let it rest for a few minutes before cutting it up to serve.

Dinner:  April 20, 2009

The crust was heavenly, the artichokes tender and crisp at the edges, the cheese as creamy and gooey as ever, but it was the sorrel pesto that really made this pizza sing.

The (Deep) Dish

So remember last month when you were all clamoring for Mike’s cast iron skillet pizza recipe? Here it is in all its glory, brought to you by the man himself. Enjoy!

Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

NOTE: The original recipe says this makes two 9-inch pizzas. We have a used a modification of this recipe several times in a 12-inch iron skillet and have finally decided that it’s too much dough, even for a 12-incher. When next we make this, we’ll reduce the flour from 4 cups to 3, and we’ll reduce the amounts of other ingredients accordingly. When we do, we’ll post the revised recipe. For now, though, our original version:

Crust:

1 package (1/4-ounce) active yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (about 110°F)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for oiling the bowl and skillet, divided

Toppings:

1 recipe Mike’s Pizza Sauce
1 lb. hot Italian sausage
1/2 to 1 ball fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the yeast, sugar and water and let stand 5 minutes until foamy. Add the butter, flour and salt and combine well, using the paddle attachment. Knead, using a dough hook, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and crawls up the dough hook. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water if dough is dry and not coming together. If dough is too wet, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour. Remove the dough from the bowl. Grease the bowl with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover and let the dough rise until it doubles in bulk, about an hour. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Shape the dough into two balls, cover and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

(This recipe calls for letting the dough rise at room temp for about an hour. For this latest pizza, however, we made the dough a day before and allowed it to rise overnight. Heidi Swanson has a great explanation of this process, if you want to know more. We did find that it makes a better crust.)

Heat a cast-iron skillet on the stove top over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil; crumble 1 pound of Italian sausage into the skillet and brown. Remove the sausage to a plate lined with paper towels. Do not remove the oil and fat from the iron skillet. (If your sausage is on the fatty side, you might remove some of the fat, but be sure to leave the skillet well greased.)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Pat or roll dough into a circle and transfer it to the skillet. Press dough down into bottom of skillets and up the sides. Drizzle a little olive oil over the crust then layer the sauce, sausage and mozzarella. Bake on bottom rack of oven for 30 minutes. Start checking the pizza for doneness; you’ll want the pizza crust to be golden brown, and the toppings to be just starting to brown. Remove pizza from oven and top with grated parm and basil.

Mike’s Pizza Sauce:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
Half of a 28 oz. can of imported San Marzano tomatoes (tomatoes and juice)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Add olive oil to a small saucepan and warm over medium heat. Chop garlic and add to the pan, sautéing until golden and fragrant. Add the tomatoes with their juice, crushing lightly. Add salt, oregano and chile flakes, stirring well. Make a hot spot in the bottom of the pan and add tomato paste, allowing it to caramelize a bit before stirring through. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens.

Work in Progress: Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

Dinner:  January 24, 2008

While I’ve been fiddling around with my meatless chili recipe, Mike has done some tinkering of his own. This is the latest version of his “wintertime” pizza made in our trusty cast iron skillet. With its thick, buttery crust, this pizza is a completely different beast than the grilled pizza he makes in the warmer months of the year, but it is just as delicious.