Isn't it great when something turns out better than you expected?
I fully expected that my first time grilling pizza would culminate in an utter disaster: singed eyebrows, charred dough, and undercooked toppings. Shockingly, I grilled 8 pizzas (with the indispensable help of my lovely sous chef, Kara), and each one of them was delicious in their own way.
I won't belabor this post, since the pictures really say it all (thanks to fab photog Josh), and there are many, many comments to sift through, but I will say that The Night of Grilled Pizza was most definitely one of the most successful, delicious, and all-around fun blogs to date! I hope it will become a summer tradition for some of you as well.
2 batches of fresh pizza dough, cut into 8 sections
olive oil for brushing
flour for rolling
Assorted sauces and toppings:
marinara (recipe follows)
pesto (recipe follows)
roasted red peppers
dried figs (sounds weird, but with chevre, is amazing)
fresh baby spinach
parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
a grill (we used a charcoal grill)
ample surface area - we brought out two small tables, then had another one for the wine and glasses
large spatula with a long handle
sharp grill skewers or a sharp paring knife to poke holes in the dough bubbles
brush (for the olive oil)
large tray (for setting grilled dough on, and used as a surface on which to top the pizzas)
DIRECTIONS & TIPS:
- Remember that there is no heat source above the pizzas, so all your toppings should be chosen with that in mind; things like onions, mushrooms, and the like, which aren't very good on a pizza when they're raw, should be pre-cooked - by caramelizing, sauteeing, and the like. Things like fresh baby spinach and tomatoes are fine raw, although you could pre-cook them if you wanted. We used only vegetarian toppings, although you of course have an assortment of meats, as long as they were all pre-cooked: crumbled bacon, Italian sausage, chopped chicken, etc.
- You need to grill one side of the pizza first (the side which will eventually have the toppings on it). Our method took tow people: Kara stood by the grill, tray ready, while I grilled two pizza dough rounds on the grill. When they were browning and had nice grill marks and bubbled up on the raw side (the side facing up), I poked holes in the bubbles with skewers and slid them off the grill with a spatula and onto Kara's tray.
We then turned them over, so they were grilled-side up, and brushed them with olive oil before we topped them (except when we topped them with pesto - they don't need any more oil than is already in the pesto). Then we returned them to the grill (topped side up, raw dough side down, obviously), and closed the lid, checking on them every few minutes.
Once they were nice and crispy on the bottom, and the toppings were heated, we put them back on the tray, then transferred them to a side table where we cut and served them. So basically, we had 2 pizzas at a time, adding up to 8 pizzas over the course of about an hour and a half. This was a good method.
- We found that most delicious combinations of toppings were the simplest: fig and chevre; pesto and ricotta. When you start to add too many toppings, not only can the crust become too weighted to be light and crisp, it can also get soggy; also, too many toppings tend to cause competing flavors.
- I think the key to having really delicious, simple pizzas, is the quality of the toppings. For instance, rather than buy pre-made pesto and marinara, I made my own (not as hard as it sounds). Check out the recipes below. Besides that, just make sure you buy good cheese (since cheese is integral to a great pizza), and fresh toppings. It's as simple as that. NOTE: we could only find SunMaid dried figs, which, out of the package, are crusted with sugar and much too sweet. I just soaked them in a warm water bath for about 10 minutes, then drained and dried them. They are much better that way.
QUICK MARINARA RECIPE:
drizzle olive oil
3 garlic cloves, mashed but kept whole
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2-3 T. balsamic vinegar
splash of wine (white or red is fine)
fresh chopped parsley
dried Italian herbs (oregano, basil, whatever you have)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
Heat the olive oil in a pot. Cook the garlic cloves for a few minutes in the oil, until fragrant (you will fish them out later). Pour in the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium-high heat until the sauce is reduced/thickened. Fish out the whole garlic cloves and discard.
BY-HAND PESTO RECIPE:
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
lots of fresh basil, finely chopped
3/4 c. nuts (I used walnuts, but pine nuts are traditional)
big handful grated parmesan cheese
a few garlic cloves, finely minced
glug olive oil
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients. The mixture, when left sitting, will have a tendency to separate, so just stir it before putting it on the pizza. You could of course use a blender or food processor, but I like the by-hand method; I think it tastes fresher, and I like it a little chunkier.
I didn't realize until I was rolling out the dough, with Adam watching intently over my shoulder, that he would be an especially tough judge of my abilities. Why? Because his family owns and runs a pizza joint in the Chicago suburbs! Adam has been lobbying to come over for a blog for forever, and of course it would be my luck that I chose to cook the one thing he probably knows best. Of course, we had a pizza-throwing contest (he was the clear winner). I was, however, successful at getting flour on myself from head to toe.
THE FINAL EIGHT (topping combinations), plus JUDGES' COMMENTS:
Pesto/ricotta/parmesan (2) (I made it a second time because it was so popular the first time)
"This is everything I love about the earth on pizza dough." - Kara
"NIce, thin crust that's not too crispy - it still has a nice chew to it." - Kara and Josh
"It's like if dessert had salt in it. But my slice had a bite taken out, so that was annoying." - Jess
"A little plain." - Jess
"To be able to anticipate the simplicity of this is great." - Sarah
Olive oil/fig/goat cheese/parmesan
"Ooh, this is a weird one...what's going on here?" [Me: "Fig and goat cheese."] "I did not expect to like the fig one, but it's good." - Adam
"Rustic. Authentic." - Sarah
"This is surprisingly good." - Josh
"Loved it, but maybe the olives and mushrooms were competing." - Sarah
"I think you should lose the olives." - Kara
"Love the spice! Dig it!" - Jess
"I continue to not like olives." - Adam
"The taste of the marinara and the pesto slightly competes. I enjoy them both so much on their own, I didn't need the combo." - Kara
"Loved it. Perfectly rich." - Jess
"I loved it because of the onions." - Sarah
"I really liked the mix. Loved the onions. Anything with goat cheese, though, has me sold." - Shawn
Marinara/roasted red peppers/mushrooms/mozzarella
"Good combo. I love soft cheese." - Sarah
"Favorite so far, although something about it made the crust soggy." - Jess
"It was just 'eh' to me." - Kara
Olive oil/goat cheese/fig/carmelized onion/parmesan
"Decadent." - Sarah [NOTE: my favorite comment of the night.]
"Oh, I thought it was really good. I'm trying to think of something cool to say...mmmmmmm." - Kara
"I still like the original fig one better. I love the simplicity of the first one. It wasn't even like pizza. Just, whatever the hell that was, I liked it." - Adam
"I liked it." - Josh
"The perfect combination of sweet and savory." - Jess (?)
"I've been reading about these dinners forever, and it exceeded my expectations." - Adam
About Shawn's delicious salad:
"Pleasantly surprised." - Adam
"Coming from someone who doesn't eat salad, I loved it. When I first saw the onions in there I was skeptical, but I ate it all and it was soooo good." - The Fearless Cook
"Refreshing and light." - Kara and Sarah
"This entire night has opened my eyes to a whole new world of culinary experiences which I never knew existed....which basically means figs and grapes." - Adam
Thanks to Jess, who recorded all this with aplomb, and also looked totes adorbs in her tiara:
My vote on my dish(es): 9 stars. I'm giving myself extra credit for A.) fearlessness, and B.) not completely screwing up the whole process. The pizzas were all delicious in their own way, and I'm really glad I decided to try grilling pizzas in the first place! Who'd a thunk?
Thanks so much to photog/grillmaster Josh, court reporter Jess, pizza expert Adam, salad creator extrordinaire Shawn, brave out of town guest Sarah, amazing sous chef Kara, and to everyone for reading! More soon...