Friday, September 9, 2011

Last Days of Summer: Grilled Pizza

I’ve always found the end of the summer a kind of bittersweet time. For most of my life, the arrival of September and the beginning of autumn has meant the start of a new school year, and I love new beginnings. I also love fall, with its cooler weather inviting the makings of hot soups and stews, comfort food that warms the body and soul. Of course, the beginning of fall also means the end of summer, and there is always something a little sad about that. Even this year, although I am not going to be going to any school this September, and my routine will not be changing at all as we transition into fall, I still feel somewhat regretful at the changing of the seasons and the departure of all the activities that summer allows.

Still, summer is not quite gone yet, and I, like many others, am clinging to these last few days of hot sun and summer spirit with a passion. Grilling is, of course, the quintessential summer cooking method, so what better way to hold onto the last days of summer than to make the most of one’s barbeque? Grilled steak, burgers, sausages, vegetables, fish, and shrimp are all favourites of mine, but I’ve had plenty of all of them in the past few months. So, I recently tried grilling something I had never thought to grill before, and the results were far better than I had expected.
I’m talking about grilled pizza. When I think about it now, I don’t know why I was so sceptical to begin with. Pizza is traditionally baked in a wood burning oven made of brick or stone. These ovens are extremely hot, and so one’s home oven does not even come close to creating the same effect that a wood oven has. A barbeque, on the other hand, comes much closer. It is not quite the same, of course: the temperature inside a barbeque still can’t reach the heights of those in wood ovens, and the stone floor of a wood oven is also quite different from a grill. However, the fire and high heat in a barbeque still create an excellent environment to bake delicious pizza when you have quality ingredients.
I like to make my own tomato sauce for pizza, and I always make my own dough. I have two recipes to offer below, and both have their pros and cons. The one using instant yeast is an excellent time saver. It requires only a very short fermentation time, and very little kneading. The results are quite good as well, though, my only complaint with it is that I find it doesn’t puff and bubble up as well as the second dough does. The second recipe is more traditional and takes longer, but I find it creates dough that is a little closer to those at my favourite pizza places: soft, light, and airy.
I have also tried two methods for grilling the dough, and one is clearly superior to the other. One recipe I looked at suggested that after rolling out the dough, it should be placed directly on the grill without topping it. Once one side of the dough has cooked, it can be flipped over, topped, and grilled the rest of the way. This created pizza dough that became dry and overcooked. It was impossible to even melt the cheese on top of the pizza without burning the dough. It was edible, but just barely.
The better way to do things is much closer to traditional pizza-making methods: after rolling out the dough, it can be topped, and then placed on the grill. It’s a little tricky to transfer the dough once it has been topped, so make sure to place the rolled out dough on a well-floured baking sheet before topping it so that it can then be slid right onto the grill.
The trickiest part of this is to create an environment that is hot enough that it cooks the pizza quickly, but does not burn the bottom of the dough. I find that what works best is to heat the barbeque with the lid closed and the burners on high until it is as hot as you can get it: I managed to get mine to about 550 F. At this point, the grill is ready for the pizzas. After sliding the pizzas onto the grill, close the lid again, but turn the burners down to medium. This way, it should remain hot enough inside the barbeque, but the bottom of the pizza won’t be receiving such aggressive high heat.

I’ve been talking so far about how great grilling pizza is because of how similar it is to baking in a wood oven, but grilling also has some merits of its own. Like when you grill anything else, the pizza dough gets flavour from the grill. If you do it right, you should get dough that is crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside.
So, I am preparing myself for fall and all the changes it will bring, but I am still holding onto summer with time spent outside reading in the sunshine, bike rides under blue skies, and evenings when I fire up the grill so that I can taste the season that is leaving us.

Quick Pizza Dough
Adapted from Canadian Living
Makes 2 12” crusts

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 pkg. quick-rising dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 cup warm (about 105 F) water
2 tbsp. vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ cups of the flour, yeast, and salt. Pour the water and the oil into the flour mixture, and mix well. Mix in remaining cup of flour to make a slightly sticky dough. Form into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic (alternately, dough can be kneaded by a stand mixture fitted with a dough hook, for five minutes at second speed). Cut dough in half, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into two 12” circles. Transfer to lightly floured baking sheets. Let rest 15 minutes for a thin crust, or up to 30 minutes for a thicker crust. Add toppings.

Traditional Pizza Dough
Adapted from Professional Baking, 5th ed., by Wayne Gisslen
Makes 2 12” crusts

8.5 oz. warm (105 F) water
1/5 oz. active dry yeast
14 oz. flour (preferably bread flour, but all-purpose is fine)
¼ oz. salt
1/3 tsp. malt syrup or honey
1/3 oz. vegetable or olive oil

In a large bowl, add 1 oz. of the warm water to the yeast and allow the yeast to dissolve, 8-10 minutes. Add the flour, salt, remaining water, malt syrup or honey, and the oil. Mix to combine well. Knead on a well-floured surface for about 10 minutes, or in a stand mixture with a dough hook for 8-10 minutes on second speed until dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in a large, oiled bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.

Divide the dough into two, and round each of the pieces. Cover and let rest ten minutes. Roll dough out into two 12” circles. Place on well-floured baking sheet, and add toppings.

How to Grill Pizza
Preheat barbeque on high heat with the lid closed until internal temperature reaches 550 F. Open the lid and slide the dressed pizzas directly onto the grill. Close the lid immediately and lower the heat to about medium. Grill the pizzas with the lid of the barbeque closed for 4-6 minutes, until the bottoms are cooked and golden, and the cheese has melted. Remove the pizzas from the grill and serve immediately.

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