AMY: My mom first told me about grilling pizza a year ago. Apparently, her boyfriend (we’ll call him “Bob” … because that’s his name) — does it all the time. Now, gun-slinging Captain Bob is already a total character. But this whole idea just struck me as really out there. I just couldn’t figure out the logistics. I mean, doesn’t the dough drip right through the grate? Does the sauce make it soggy? What about getting the cheese all ooey, gooey bubbly and browned on top?
Sounded like a challenge best met as a team. One reason we started this little venture was the discovery that we work well together … at the table. We all love to eat, are beer connoisseurs and insist on sharing whatever we’re enjoying. With nary a picky palate among us, we’re a feasting threesome made in heaven. Dining out is a fun team sport.
Cooking should be the same, in my opinion. There’s nothing worse than old-school “entertaining,” stuck in the kitchen while everyone else schmoozes. Now, cooking is the social activity. And We The Eaters was born.
So, here we are. Welcome to our first communal post.
APRIL: This may come as no surprise, but I was dubious about this grilled pizza idea myself. But somehow, it emerged as all the rage this year. Or maybe the frenzy goes way back among Eaters-in-the-know, and I’m just late to the party.
SARAH: I had heard of the elusive grilled pizza. In fact, my dad and stepmom began experimenting with the idea last summer. After being regaled with their tales (and wiping the drool from my mouth), I selfishly gave my dad pizza accessories for his smoker, thinking I would soon be rewarded with crusty, cheesy deliciousness. Unfortunately, not much has come from this gift — I have yet to get a slice! So, I was eager to give this a whirl, with or without Dad’s Big Green Egg.
APRIL: Either way, as it turns out, Amy and Sarah’s parents were onto something. Because when it came down to finally tackling this little summer experiment, there were plenty of resources to draw from online.
Many of those are offered up by the hardcore: purists who insist it’s easy-peasy to throw together your own pizza dough. And of course they’re right. Water, flour, yeast, a little salt, a little sugar — no mysterious kitchen alchemy there. But the simplicity of dough ingredients belies the most important element: time. Getting three far-flung ladies in one place with a grill on a dry day, all while one of us was moving house … well, that was challenge enough. Tacking on another couple of hours for kneading rising, punching, re-rising? Nope. Wasn’t gonna happen.
So we did what any self-respecting food lovers on a schedule would do: took a trip to Whole Foods, baby!
SARAH: Turns out, you can buy pre-made dough in a little bag. Don’t even have to sell your first born for it. It’s chilled, not frozen, so all ready for a little rising. Just pop it out of the fridge and let it sit for about 20 minutes or so. To give the dough our own flavor, we added minced garlic and basil during the kneading process. Which was an adventure, in and of itself!
APRIL: Because there’s one thing about this endeavor many recipes fail to tell you: it’s not so easy to force your dough into that perfect, rustic ovaly-shape you may have in mind. This actually took some serious work (and a wine bottle).
AMY: Bob actually suggests putting the dough between two well-oiled pieces of parchment before rolling it out. I think that would have saved a little time … and a big floury mess.
APRIL: And one more thing on dough — many recipes recommend using a pizza peel to get your stretched dough from the kitchen onto the grill. ‘Pshaw!’ said we!
AMY: I mean, really – what the heck is a pizza peel?
APRIL: Well, that probably would have been worth investigating. Because holding stretchy, oozy pizza dough in your hands as your fellow Eater desperately tries to finish oiling the grill doesn’t work so well.
SARAH: Some of us had to put our beers down to help. Sadly, we have not perfected the art of oiling grills and carrying pizza dough while also drinking cold beverages.
APRIL: Yes, we got it on there just in time, but it was a close one. So, do yourselves a favor: if you don’t have a pizza peel, slide that dough off your cutting board, or a cookie sheet, or something. Anything. Just don’t go thinking you can just slap that baby on the grill with your bare hands. It may decide it would rather ooze its way onto your patio pavers.
AMY: And don’t forget to clean and oil the grill grates well before throwing it on. It will make flipping the half-cooked crust so much easier.
We used a gas grill, but I think charcoal and some wood briquettes would lend to a nice, smoky flavor. It doesn’t take very long on one side before you’re ready to turn the dough — maybe a minute or so, depending on thickness. We left the grill open and watched to ensure it didn’t burn. When it feels firm enough to flip, it’s ready to go over. Then it’s time for the cheese.
SARAH: Wait, wait, wait. Timeout. Cheese first? ‘Like hell,’ you say! ‘What about the sauce?’
AMY: Once the cheese is melted together, spread the sauce on top of the cheese.
SARAH: Oh … thank goodness.
AMY: This is the magic step that keeps the dough from getting soggy. Apparently, Bob doesn’t use sauce at all. And that’s sad, ’cause the sauce I make is killer (if I do say so myself). After taking a trip to Italy last year, with an amazing stop in Naples for real Italian pie, I’ve sworn off any kind of commercial tomato sauce. I make my own from whole tomatoes. My pizza has never tasted better.
What’s funny is, I always thought I hated pizza. I didn’t. I hated the sauce.
SARAH: I cannot argue with this. I have never had a commercial sauce that could even come close to the quick one Amy whipped up. She’s either been making it a lot recently or has some sort of magic sauce wand. It was done in mere seconds. Fresh, vibrant and so flavorful. We had to stop ourselves from eating heaping spoonfuls of it, remembering it had a home on the grill waiting.
This cheese-first business was not the only magic step to grilling pizza. Since it cooks so quickly on the grill, the toppings need to be pre-cooked, depending on what you’re using. We chose simple vegetables: Shitake mushrooms, red bell peppers and green onions. I sauteed them on the stovetop with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Nothing fancy, just wanted to take the crispy edge off of them. And atop the sauce they went.
AMY: Then it’s more cheese. One, because we like cheese, and two, because it just feels weird to have nothing over the toppings holding it all together.
Now, close the lid … and wait a few minutes. I know it’s hard, but you can do it!
SARAH: When it was pronounced done, we all gathered around the grill, giddy as school children to dig right in. But wait! Not so fast! How were we going to cut this thing? Frankly, it was pretty big. It took up the whole grill.
Scissors appeared, crunching through the crisp crust and melty cheese right there on the grill. It made for oddly shaped slices, but it didn’t matter. Squares, oblongs, rectangles — it was all we could do to not burn our mouths as we gobbled it up.
APRIL: Scissors are the only way to cut pizza. Learned that from Mom. Forget the pizza cutter! Good old scissors, that’s what you need!
AMY: It was everything Mom and Bob had promised. So, Mom … drumroll, please … you were right. Or Bob was right. Whatever — this scores two “yums” up from me.
SARAH: Me too! This one is definitely a keeper. Once you learn the secrets, it’s really simple to make. And like any pizza, the topping possibilities are endless. Personally, I would love to try adding a little spicy sausage to it next time. And this sauce is seriously killer.
APRIL: Me three! But … I know this is blasphemous, because Amy’s sauce is superb. But I’m with Bob. Pizza doesn’t always need sauce. Some delicious cheese, some olive oil, maybe some cured meats, some arugula and fresh herbs? Yeah, that’s good.
AMY: As a white pizza lover, I’ll concede. There are so many delicious options. I’d like to experiment with fig, carmelized onions, a gorgonzola-esque cheese and maybe some prosciutto. The point is, pizza is great — because anything goes. Be creative and have fun with it.
Until we grill again … adieu.
Pre-made dough, or better yet — make your own
Toppings of your choice, sautee any veggies slightly (a little swirl in a pan for something like fig wouldn’t hurt, either)
Amy’s Tomato Sauce
4-5 roma tomatoes
2 cloves fresh garlic
A dash of olive oil
A few leaves fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar, if desired
Halve and scrape seeds out of tomatoes. I’m a fan of whole foods, so I use the whole tomato without removing the skins (you won’t even be able to tell it’s there.) Toss into a food processor or use a blender, adding tomatoes a few at a time. Microplane the garlic into the tomatoes. You can also mince it fine and scrape it against cutting board with your knife to form a paste. Add olive oil, basil leaves, salt and pepper. The sauce will look really pink — I mean, like watermelon sauce. You can darken it up a little by adding some balsamic, which gives it a more complex flavor, anyway.
There is absolutely no need to cook this sauce. It even tastes great with the grilled pita we talked about last week. I have cooked it down a bit to use with pasta, which, with a little fresh shaved Parmesan, was magical. And cooking does boost tomato’s cancer-fighting abilities, so have at it. Bon appetit!