Pizza: If at first you don’t succeed…

We have Tom’s twin brother and his wife and a few good friends coming to dinner this week, so we were discussing menu options. I’d already prepared a double batch of Nutty Parmesan Shortbreads (May 5, 2011 post) dough. Tom had requested a good old-fashioned pineapple upside down cake, one of the twins’ favorite desserts.

The challenge before us was what to serve in between. We’ve been having perfect summer weather — warm, dry, and sunny. The grill, therefore, was a must.

“Why not grill individual pizzas? We can eat on the deck, and everyone can make their own. I’ve been wanting to try grilled pizza.” That was my suggestion.

Tom’s response: “We may want to stick to something we already know how to make. Let’s do a trial run before we try them with company.”

I had to admit he had a valid point; this was something I’d always wanted to do but hadn’t actually done yet. I did a quick search to make sure I knew the process. Grilled pizzas, like stir-fries, are the 50-yard-dashes of the culinary world. You need to have every ingredient ready and close at hand before you fire up the grill (or stove), since the actual cooking is lightning-fast.

It was early enough in the day, so I got out the flour and yeast and whipped up a batch of pizza dough (actually, the rustic bread dough). We grated cheeses, sliced onions and olives, sautéed a few cups of spinach, thawed the pesto, pepperoni and pizza sauce that live in the freezer.

Once the grill was ready, I rolled out three good-sized pizza crusts and brushed them with olive oil. We brought out all our toppings, grabbed tongs and a spatula, and gathered ‘round the hot coals, excited, hopeful, and very hungry.

Here’s the thing. If you make greedily large pizzas, a foot-in-diameter pizzas, the whole process falls apart. The dough is just too floppy to transfer smoothly. In less than a minute, we had misshapen wads of burned-on-the-bottom, silly-putty-on-the-top dough. Truly hideous, inedible piles of dough.

Luckily, I had, hidden in the back of the fridge, a secret stash of that pre-made pizza dough in a can. I quickly rolled it out and cut it into several six-inch mini-pizzas. We brushed them with oil and lifted them gingerly onto the grates by hand. Success! In less than two minutes, they were crisp and striped with grill marks on the bottom. We brushed the tops with oil, flipped the dough, and set the land speed record adding the toppings. After one minute, we moved them to the top, cooler rack of the grill, closed the lid, and let the cheese melt into gooey goodness.

We tend toward extravagance when making our own pizzas, but restraint in the topping department is essential with the grilled versions. They cook so darned fast it’s necessary to keep things as simple as you can bear.

The crusts are crisp yet retain a bit of chewiness, and had the exactly right amount of smoky char. We all agreed that they were some of the best pizzas we’d ever had. That, and the original attempt was one of the most spectacular cooking fails I’ve ever experienced.

We’re making grilled steak with salad for the guests tomorrow, by the way. I think one more round of practice is called for before we foist the pizzas on company, fabulous as they were.

Grilled Pizzas
makes 6 SMALL pizzas (about 6” in diameter)

1 recipe Rustic Bread dough (or your favorite pizza dough, or a can of dough as an emergency)
Toppings of your choice. We used:
1 cup pizza sauce
½ cup pesto (Luke and I like a little of each)
about 3 dozen slices pepperoni (we actually prefer turkey pepperoni)
½ onion, sliced (for Tom)
½ cup sliced calamata olives (for me and Luke)
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan (for me)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar (for Tom and Luke)
3 cups fresh spinach, sautéed just until barely wilted in a few teaspoons olive oil
1/3 cup olive oil, for brushing crusts

Prepare a grill and wait until it’s medium-hot. While you’re waiting, get all of your toppings ready and right next to the grill. Also have the oil in a bowl with a pastry brush. If you have a Weber-style, wire rack grill, you may need to cook the crusts on a sheet of aluminum foil, or on the type of grill pan designed for veggies. Our grill has cast-iron grates with small spaces between the bars, so the dough didn’t fall into the fire.

Roll out your dough and cut or form into 5 or 6 small, fairly thin circles (or any shape you want). Brush with oil and gently transfer them, oiled side down, to the grill. Don’t leave the grill for any reason. These guys cook crazy-fast. Immediately brush the tops with more oil. After 1 minute, start peeking at the undersides.

When the undersides are crisp and striped with grill marks, flip the crusts and immediately add the toppings. (This is why you need to limit the ingredients — there’s no time to be elaborate here.) Peek again at the undersides. If  the bottoms are done but the cheese is not melted, move the pizzas to a cooler part of the grill for a few minutes.

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About Rivertree kitchen

I am a freelance editor with a specialty in cookbook editing. I've written two small cookbooks (50 Best Sundaes and 50 Best Cookies) and am currently finishing a collection of my own recipes from soup (Sweet Potato-Pear) to nuts (Spicy Almonds). Despite my immersion in recipes, my favorite way to cook is to see what's in the fridge and wing it. I live with my husband, son and dog in rural Wisconsin. Husband (Tom) and son (Luke) are talented cooks themselves; the dogs (Cleo and Libby) not so much. But they're young yet. All the photographs in this blog are my own creations. I'm a neophyte in the world of food photography (as if you couldn't tell), but I still claim blushing ownership of the pix you see here. If you want to reprint them (I can't imagine why), please give credit, if for no other reason than to pass on the blame.
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6 Responses to Pizza: If at first you don’t succeed…

  1. Pineapple Upside Down Cake has been my favorite for, well way too long. I only let my family make me one a year, so I don’t spoil myself. A few years ago, my dear love of a wife decided to adulterate Grandma Geoffrion’s recipe! GASP! But oh what a wonderful alteration it turned out to be….she added blueberries to the batter! A new favorite!

    • Rick, it’s my husband’s and his twin brother’s favorite birthday cake; we only make it once or twice a year as well, since they mostly want vast quantities of butter and brown sugar, with just enough pineapple and cake to hold it together. Your wife’s brave decision to break protocol with the addition of blueberries sounds wonderful.

  2. Haha – “greedily-large” I love it – lesson learned!

    The idea of an “emergency can” (weirdly similar to what we should all keep in our car trunks for flat tires) seems like priceless advice, considering not too many other grilled dishes allow for such easy, inexpensive insurance.

    Maybe update this blog entry as the summer continues, and share your tweaks and experiments with us? I’ve grilled chipati bread, but pizza would be great fun/terror/disaster…

    • Bruce, with a teen in the house, so many dinners are last-minute that I do tend to have a stash of last-minute emergency meals. Come to think of it, there’s no reason I couldn’t make and freeze my own pizza dough….
      I do plan on a few revision and update posts soon–stay tuned.

  3. Peg says:

    How about a grilling pizza class? I’m kind of hands on.

  4. Peg, I love the idea of classes in general. I need to start looking into venues.

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