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Wednesday, July 11, 2007 07:15 am

It’s a grilling good time

Pizza isn’t just for the oven anymore

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Untitled Document “Make-your-own-pizza night” was an almost weekly ritual in our household when our kids were little, as well as a standard birthday- or slumber-party event. All we needed were a quick and easy dough with a short rising time and bowls filled with tomato sauce, cheese, and favorite toppings. In addition to being quick and easy, the pizza dough was very forgiving. Little hands could pummel and stretch it into any shape they wanted: hearts, squares, ovals, or weird amoebalike configurations. If the kids didn’t like their results, they could always wad their dough back into a ball and start over. Everyone’s piece was the same size; some preferred a thick crust and smaller pizza, whereas others chose to stretch the dough as thin as possible for a bigger pie. Admittedly these parties were a tad on the messy side, with flour flying and sauce spilling, but the fun interactive family time and the satisfaction the kids got from creating their own meals was well worth it. Though pizza is often thought of as junk food, when it’s homemade and you control the quality of the dough and toppings it can actually be nutritious. By the time our kids were entering their teenage years, make-your-own-pizza night was still a family ritual, but the creative thrill had faded. Then we discovered grilled pizza. From Indian tandoor breads to Middle Eastern pitas and Aztec tortillas, grilled and griddled flatbreads have been around as long as bread itself. Credit for grilled pizza, however, goes to George Germon and Johanne Killeen, owners of the renowned Al Forno in Providence, R. I., which the International Herald Tribune named in 1994 the best casual-dining restaurant in the world. My grillmeister husband and I read about Al Forno’s grilled pizzas and were instantly intrigued not only by the idea but also as a way to spark up our family tradition. Our first attempts were disastrous. Either the dough was burnt and inedible or it was undercooked and the toppings barely warm. Finally we saw a Julia Child show on PBS during which Germon and Killeen demonstrated their technique. Voilà! We had it! I’ve taught cooking classes in which everyone made his or her own grilled pizza, and it’s always worked well. The essential trick is to have one side of the grill unheated so that the pizza can be pulled over and the toppings warmed and melted without having the bottom burn. It’s fun to make not only with kids but also as for a casual adult get-together. Don’t be discouraged if the first pizzas aren’t perfect — you’ll get the hang of it quickly. (It’s not a bad idea to make extra dough for an initial test round.) The dough is also excellent for pizzas made in the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, line your oven with unglazed quarry tiles (my choice) or use a pizza stone or baking sheets. Dust the bottoms of the pizzas with a little cornmeal or semolina, add toppings (which don’t need to be precooked), slide the pizza into the hot oven, and bake it until the crust is nicely browned and the toppings are cooked through and bubbling, 12 to 15 minutes.
Basic Pizza Dough
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (not rapid-rise) 1/2 cup warm water 1 teaspoon honey or sugar 3 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, or substitute     whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing 3/4 cups beer at room temperature (beer’s yeast adds    flavor and helps with the rising. The alcohol will dissipate    in the rising and baking/grilling, but if you have    concerns about using beer just substitute water) 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Combine the yeast, water, and honey in a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dampened towel and let it stand for about 30 minutes in a warm place. The mixture should bubble up and be very foamy. If the mixture doesn’t foam up, the yeast is inactive. Discard the mixture and start over with fresh yeast. Put the remaining ingredients in the bowl and mix until a dough forms. You may need to add a bit more flour. Either turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it by hand or use the mixer’s dough hook and knead it in the machine until the dough is smooth and satiny. This should take six to eight minutes. Oil the bowl and return the dough to it if you are kneading by hand. Turn the ball of dough to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl again and let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk, about an hour. Punch the dough down and divide it into six to eight pieces. (The dough may be made ahead of time and refrigerated for as long as a day ahead of time.) Form each piece into a ball, then cover the dough and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
Fill a charcoal chimney with hardwood briquettes and light them. When the charcoal is covered with white ash, pour it into a grill and spread it evenly over half the grill. Alternatively, use a gas grill with two heating elements, preheating one half of the grill to medium hot and leaving the other side off. Using flour on your hands and work surface, stretch and pull each ball of dough into a rough circle 6 or 7 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Brush each side lightly with olive oil. Place as many rounds as will fit comfortably without crowding over the heated half of the grill. Cook until dark-brown spots start to form on the bottom and bubbles appear on the top, about four minutes. Turn the rounds over and quickly strew your toppings choice on the pizzas. Cook for a couple of minutes, then, using tongs, pull the pizzas over to the unheated side of the grill. Close the lid for another couple of minutes to finish cooking, melt cheese, and warm toppings. Repeat with the other dough circles. Serve immediately.
Toppings for Grilled Pizza
Don’t overload your grilled pizza with toppings. They should complement the grilled bread, not overwhelm it. Toppings will only warm on the pizza, so any that needing cooking, such as sausage, should be prepared ahead of time. Because grilled pizzas cook quickly, it’s essential that all toppings be ready, cut into appropriate slices or pieces and close at hand. If you wait to prepare the toppings after the dough is on the grill, you will most likely end up with burnt pizza.
Suggestions for Grilled Pizza Toppings * Thinly sliced tomatoes * Caramelized onions * Chopped sun-dried tomatoes * Olives * Strips of roasted pepper * Cooked, crumbled sausage or bacon * Sautéed mushrooms * Thinly sliced prosciutto, ham, or salami * Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese * Artichoke hearts * Shredded mozzarella cheese * Cooked shrimp * Fresh goat cheese * Roasted garlic cloves * Fresh herbs, especially basil (you may want to add
  these after removing the pizza from the grill)
* Freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
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