Pizza Pizza! - september 24, 2011

Summer has finally arrived in San Francisco, it's been in the high seventies for the past four days. If we're exceptionally lucky, this heat wave will continue through the weekend. If that's also the case in your town, then I have got the dinner for you!


KidsPizzaDoughA homemade pizza is not something that can be thrown together at the last minute, but this one is surprisingly easy and enjoyable, especially when the weather is good. My family and I make a point of calling over friends and thundering out into the yard anytime the temperature spikes above seventy degrees around here, regardless of what sorts of things we already have planned. And that is just what we did three times this past week, to hone our pizza grilling skills.

Over two week nights and one weekend, after school and swim class and soccer and track (and work), we perfected instructions and tested ingredients. Not only did we figure out how to reliably produce a near perfect, crusty, cheesy delight, but we also discovered that scheduling is equally important. Our advice?  Don't try this one on a school night. Gathering around the grill with friends on a beautiful late summer evening really requires good beer and pink wine, two things that lead to late bed times and slow mornings for all involved. So save your pizza grilling for the weekend.

Grilled Pizza: (adapted from Canal House Cooking: An Italian Summer)

The dough takes less than fifteen minutes to assemble (no kneading needed!), and a total of about three hours to rise, plus some time to roll and pre-cook before pizza assembly can begin. This is enough for dinner for four to six people. A salad is perfect alongside. If you're really ambitious, maybe some grilled peaches or homemade ice cream for dessert.


For the dough:

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting

6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup semolina flour 

1 1/2 teaspoons salt 

cornmeal for dusting (if using a pizza peel)

For the tomato sauce: (If you're short on time just use sliced tomatoes instead. I'm going to try it next)

1 1/2- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup strained tomatoes or tomato purée

4-6 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

For the pizzas:

2 large balls fresh mozzarella or 2 cups grated mozzarella or a combination of both

extra-virgin olive oil

large handful of fresh basil leaves

pepperoni, if you want it

You'll need a charcoal grill. I'm going to guess that a gas grill will probably make a perfectly fine pizza, but one that is really delicious requires a wood fire underneath. Yes, it's bad for the environment, but it tastes good. Just take the kids to school on the bus for a week to offset the damage you've done. So back to the burning - buy some nice charcoal, made from actual wood. Skip the briquettes and lighter-fluid powered varieties. If you're not confident in your grill management skills, check out Everyday Food's photo essay on setting up a charcoal grill . I'll review the steps later in this recipe.

To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a medium sized bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup of the flour and set aside in a warm location for 30-60 minutes. I turn on my oven to its lowest setting for about ten minutes, then turn it off and put my dough mix in there.

After 30-60 minutes it should be pretty bubbly. Stir in 1 1/4 cups warm water and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil into the yeast mixture. Put 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl and set aside. Pulse the remaining 3 cups of flour, semolina flour and salt together in a food processor with the steel blade. Keep the machine running and pour the yeast mixture in through the feed hole, letting it run until a loose ball begins to form. Process the dough for an additional minute after this happens. Put the dough into the oiled bowl and gently form it into a ball, if it isn't already. Roll it around to coat it with oil, cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm spot for about two hours. Your dough should double in size.

For the tomato sauce, Canal House recommends a raw sauce, which is delicious but too runny. I think thinly sliced raw tomato would work well, or you can make the canal house sauce and let it drain in a strainer lined with cheesecloth for a while. We cooked down some leftover tomato soup  by accident one time, and that worked fine too. To make the Canal House sauce:  grate the tomatoes over a box grater into a large bowl and throw away the skin. You'll want two cups of tomato pulp. Add the garlic, strained tomatoes or purée, oil, and some salt and pepper, until it tastes good.

As soon as the sauce is ready, assemble your toppings. Once your dough's two hours are up it's time to light the grill and roll out the dough. My husband likes to roll the dough in the house and then bring it out to the grill already prepared, piled up with sheets of parchment paper in between. I prefer to put a tablecloth out on our picnic table and have the kids roll the dough out (with some assistance) while the grill heats up. Either way,  you'll need a rolling pin, a pizza peel (just wing it with a cutting board or plate if you don't have one) a rolling surface (a cutting board is fine) flour for dusting, cornmeal to dust the peel,  tongs and olive oil for brushing.

To light the grill, crumple a few sheets of newspaper into a the bottom compartment of a chimney starter, place the starter on the bottom grate of the grill, fill the top compartment with charcoal, and light the crumpled paper in a few places. Let the charcoal burn for 20-30 minutes, until the top is ashy white. When it is ready, pour the charcoal out onto the grate and spread it evenly. An even spread is particularly important, so that the pizza crust doesn't burn. 

DadsPizzaDoughTo roll the dough, flour your hands and divide it into four balls. If it seems too sticky just flour the outside of each ball. Spread a bit of flour on your rolling surface, then stretch and roll the dough to make a thin, flat round, about 1/4 of inch thick. Flip the dough frequently to make sure it doesn't stick.

When your dough is rolled out and the grill is ready, sprinkle some cornmeal on your pizza peel and drop the rolled dough on top. Gently slide it off the peel onto the grill, and brush some olive oil onto the top. Watch the bottom carefully, and when it looks cooked and has faint grill lines, about half a minute,  flip it over for another 15 seconds or so. Remove it from the grill and cook the next crust, you'll want to make all four. 

To finish each pizza, dust more cornmeal on the peel, put a pre-cooked crust on top, spoon some tomato sauce onto the crust and smear it around, then add cheese (grated or thin slices of fresh mozzarella) and top with pepperoni or a few basil leaves. Double check to make sure the coals are well spread and the fire is not too hot, then slide the pizza onto the grill. Put the lid back on the grill partially to help keep the top warm and check every minute or so to see if the cheese is melted and to make sure the bottom isn't burning. When the cheese is melted, remove it from the grill, let it set a few minutes and eat right away. 


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