Friday, June 21, 2013

Pizza on the Grill: A Little Goes a Long Way

This afternoon, after weather had kiboshed our plans to head out of town for the weekend, I turned to D and said, "What should we have for supper?" With a big grin, and without missing a beat, he said, "PIZZA!"

That was just the encouragement I needed. It is Friday after all, the official pizza day of my childhood. I didn't have tomato sauce, pepperoni or many other traditional pizza ingredients handy, but I did have a grill, some pesto in the freezer, a package of mozzarella cheese, and just enough time to whip up a batch of pizza dough and let it rise before supper.

Grilled pizza has a certain je ne sais quoi, which seems to make it taste better with less effort than oven-baked pizza. The trick is to keep it simple, and go light on the ingredients. You'll be amazed at how far you can get with a few high quality items, whether you're doing a full-on pizza party, or just an impromptu Friday family pizza night.

Tonight, while I was rolling the dough, I tossed two portabello mushrooms, two Pine View Farms chicken smokies and a red pepper onto the grill to cook. I sliced everything and distributed it among five thin pizza crusts spread with pesto and topped with grated mozzarella cheese. That fed three adults and two pizza monster kids, with a few pieces left over.

With some ready-made dough in your freezer, pizza night is even less of a production and more of a lifesaver. On another occasion, I had too few frozen cooked shrimp to really do anything with, and two small leftover striploin steaks. Working with the other ingredients around the house, I came up with two killer pizza combos, which I would gladly make again:

• Radish pesto, shrimp, grape tomatoes, bocconcini
• Philly cheese steak pizza (leftover grilled steak, caramelized onions and peppers, sauteed mushrooms white cheddar cheese sauce)

I have posted my pizza dough recipe previously here in this rambling post.

I find there's a bit of a formula to making pizza that helps get past the hurdle of thinking you need certain ingredients to make pizza. I have often found myself in the conundrum of thinking, "I have to make pizza sauce...or go buy it," in order to start thinking about having pizza on short notice. But after a few years of practice, I can take a wider view of what pizza might be.

What you need:
1. Pizza dough (can be thrown together and risen in about 45 minutes, if you put your mind to it—or pulled out of the freezer and thawed with a few hours' forethought). OR something that will serve as a pizza crust: stale buns, pita bread, naan bread, for example.
2. Some kind of base 'sauce': tomato sauce is an option, of course, but alternatives include pesto, bechamel or cheese sauce (or any kind of cream sauce for that matter), salsa or a savoury preserve (like fig or onion jam)
3. Fresh toppings. The sky is the limit! But I'll give you some suggestions below. All you need to consider is whether the flavours will work together, and whether you have a good balance of sweet/salty/fresh/cheezy
4. Cheese (cheese can be optional, but it's my favourite part of pizza, so I usually try to include it. I have used mozza, feta, cheddar, blue cheese, name it)

To bake in the oven, my pizza dough tends to be rolled out medium thickness, to make a slightly bready crust. On the grill, I use the same recipe but roll it thinner, and it comes out much more like a wood oven pizza, crispy and dark.

When grilling pizza, be sure all of your ingredients are cooked and prepped ahead of time, like this!

The grilling of the dough/adding ingredients happens fast, so you want to make sure you have everything lined up at your finger tips.

Throw thinly rolled crust onto the hot grill and toast for about a minute. Brush the top side with olive oil while the bottom cooks. Flip it (and adjust the temperature if it's browning too fast), and immediately spread on your sauce, thinly distributed toppings and a light coating of cheese. You don't want it to overflow and start a fire. Close the lid for about three minutes to let the cheese melt and the bottom toast. Voila! Your pizza is done.

As you can see here, grilled pizza can be rustic. No need to be round or even symmetrical. It's all about quick grilling and getting the crust just right.

Some suggested flavour combos:
• pesto, sausage, mushrooms, roasted red pepper, mozzarella, as above
• salsa, cubed ham, black beans, mango, Monterey Jack
• fig jam, caramelized onions, toasted walnuts, blue cheese
• fig jam, duck prosciutto, cave-aged gruyere
• pesto, fresh tomatoes, bocconcini
• garlic oil, fresh tomatoes, basil, bocconcini
• or the Philly cheesesteak and shrimp option, listed earlier.

Experiment and find your own favourites—and a delicious way to use up those last scraps of fantastic ingredients.