I’m from New York and my husband is from Chicago which should mean we don’t speak the same language when it comes to pizza, but we do. That’s because we don’t debate thin crust vs. deep dish we take our pizza discussions straight out to the grill. Grilled pizza seems to be something everyone can agree on.
I first learned about grilling pizza from Lou Ekus about 20 years ago. Lou can grill or smoke just about anything – pig, peach or pizza. He and his wife Leslie were the owners of Holy Smokes, our favorite BBQ restaurant which was located in a deconsecrated church in Hatfield where the wait was often long but always worth every bite (unfortunately the restaurant burned to the ground five years ago). Grilling pizza was simple Lou explained, you simply divide the grill in two. The coal side was for cooking the pizza dough and the non-coal side for melting the cheese.
My friend Allison gave me a fool-proof pizza dough recipe that I’ve adapted slightly. Add a big salad and plenty of nibbles because people have to take turns and you have a fantastic DIY dinner. Last night the kids invited their friends Richard and Clay over and here are some of the results:
Clay had come out to the cape with us a few weeks ago so we knew there would be some post-cooking addition of hot sauce (his consumption of hot sauce and soy sauce are legendary) to whatever pizza he built. Luckily for Clay our neighbor Joyce had just sent over a jar of her home-made hot sauce.
Clay’s older brother Richard turned out to be a man of contrasts. Shredded mozzarella and fresh mozzarella, red sauce and pesto, pepperoni and chicken sausage.
Russell tried peppers for the first time, which surprised me. Pizza as a conveyance for unloved foods? Hmmmm….. That is however one of the things I most love most about a DIY dinner – people can be as picky or not about what they make and eat and it’s not a big deal. It also works because you can accommodate a variety of dietary needs with little fuss. In our family we have cheese eaters and non-cheese eaters so there is always regular mozzarella and soy mozzarella. Last night the cheese eaters actually hit the trifecta with shredded mozzarella, fresh locally made mozzarella, as well as fresh goat cheese.
Isabelle listened to Russell’s advice of “add lots of sauce” and created a very juicy pizza.
It was stretching it to make DIY pizzas on one grill for six people. Fortunately we had a giant salad and plenty of fruit to nibble on as we waited our turn. Isabelle made the dough for us, but you could also buy it as many grocery stores carry decent pizza dough in their prepared food or freezer sections. The rest requires little prep, mostly putting things in bowls for people to choose from. Here’s what I put out last night:
Garlic Chicken Sausage
You could add just about anything you like or have at hand. Need some inspiration? Take a peek at one of our favorite pizzeria’s list of toppings (scroll to the bottom).
1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (you can use slightly less if you make the dough well in advance and give it plenty of time to rise)
1 Tablespoon honey
1 pound flour – I mix white with whole wheat, plus extra for kneading
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 teaspoons salt
Put honey in warm water and sprinkle yeast over it to proof. Mix flour, salt, and olive oil together. When the yeast has proofed (gotten all foam-y) dump into the flour mix and combine. When you have a mass of shaggy dough take out and start kneading. Keep going for about ten minutes. Oil the bowl you mixed the dough in, roll the dough ball to coat lightly with oil, and cover with a tea towel. Let rise until double.
To make pizzas punch dough down and grab a fist size piece. Roll out thinly. Grill on one side. You will know it’s cooked when you see crazy bubbles all over the top. We call it moon bread, though if it looked like the surface of the moon there would be craters not bubbles. Then you can do one of two things. If there are just a few of you and you can arrange to have all the toppings next to the grill you can flip the half-cooked dough to the non-coal side of the grill and add your toppings right there. Cover until the cheese has melted and the other side of the dough has cooked. If you have a bigger crowd you may want to cook the dough on both sides then place it on a cookie sheet* and give it to people to top as they wish. When the toppings are complete slide it back onto the grill (non-coal side), cover and cook until cheese has melted.
For the four of us I usually make a single batch of dough. I double it as we invite more people over. You can always freeze the dough or use any that is leftover to make calzones for the next day’s lunch. To make a calzone roll out the dough a smidge thicker than for pizza and top half with sauce, cheese, and anything else you might want to stuff inside. Make sure to leave a 1/2″ edge to the dough that doesn’t get any sauce on it. Fold the dough in half and squeeze the seam shut. Let rise for 15 minutes or so. Bake in a 400ºF oven for 17-26 minutes (depending on how much stuff you put in there) or until the dough is brown and looking cooked. Calzones are a perfect lunch to eat on the go because they are self-contained.
* A cookie sheets really are better than jelly roll pans like the one above since you can slide a pizza off a cookie sheet, but you need to negotiate the lip of a jelly roll pan.
P.S. One time our DIY meal was so successful we ran out of dough (embarrassing) and ended up using some tortillas instead. All things are possible when faced with a hungry crowd asking for more. The lesson learned was you can never have too much dough.