Monday, August 24, 2009

Grilled Pizza Round Two. Charcoal Edition.

Well, I wrote about my latest foray into the grilled pizza world last week (with the Reuben), and although I wanted to make another attempt the very next night, I waited one whole week before throwing down another pie - or THREE. I have this problem (surely it’s been alluded to) where I generally always like to overdo things. So, in preparation for what you’re about to read, know that charcoal pizza takes a lot more finesse than its propane counterpart, as well as a lot more time.

I figured if I burn one, at least I can fall back on the other two.

The dough (like before) was made the previous night, let to rise for about an hour and a half (it got huge), and then sat in the fridge over night. This helps to ensure that it is pliable, and you really don't want to rush the dough’s rising or the yeast’s activity. Yeast is quite sensitive and you want to be sure you allow it ample time to work its magic. Remember to pull your dough out at least an hour before shaping to allow it to get to room temperature. I cut a double batch of dough into three pieces using the pizza wheel. I then started the hardwood charcoal (this stuff is the best) in the chimney, and actually added some small pieces of dry oak I had set aside for the smoker. Next, I set the grate on the highest level to account for the extra hot fire, and decidedly made one side hotter by piling a majority of the coals on that side. This allows you to rotate the pizza and get those ever desirable cris-cross grill marks; this also gives you the ability to move a side that might be cooking faster to the cooler edge. I HIGHLY recommend this.

I stretched the dough like before, and although last time it worked fine with olive oil for stretching, this time it was being more finicky - so I threw some flour down and kneaded away. This is the way you treat normal homemade pizza dough, so it made sense. After the dough balls were stretched into their funky grilled pizza shapes (and a spray of olive oil went down on the grate), they went on the grill and were left to cook. No ingredients or anything just yet. After about 5 minutes, they got a quarter turn (grill marks) and left to cook until the bottom is crispy and nicely charred. In breaking from my previous grilled pizza, I pulled the dough (with one side cooked) completely off of the grill, and then the toppings were applied to the cooked side. This is a superior method to hastily arranging them all on the pizza at once with it still on the hot grill. It’s less stress, and you can make sure that everything looks more appealing, not to mention ensuring an even application of the various meats and cheeses.

For this batch, I took a bunch of fresh basil, threw it in the food processor with 4 cloves of garlic, a healthy dose of pine nuts, some freshly grated parmesan, a good amount of olive oil, and made some pesto for one of the pizzas to be sauced with. The garlic in it was a bit sharp and overpowering, which had me nervous, but luckily once it was cooked with all of the other toppings, it mellowed out quite nicely. Next time I will cut the garlic down to two cloves. The fresh pesto was applied to the base of the crust, topped with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and an abundance of pepperoni. This is one of my favorite pizza combos; the pesto is rich and basil-y, and the pepperoni is a bit spicy and definitely salty. The tomatoes bring a fresh, juicy element and (seeing as how there is no tomato sauce) give it a small piece of that traditional pizza zing.

On the second pie (along with some marinara sauce, mozzarella, and thinly sliced Prosciutto) we put sliced Vidalia onion, kalamata olives, and slices of fresh Hungarian wax peppers from the garden. Any kind of pork is a winner on pizza with me, and the paper-thin pieces of Prosciutto tend to get thoroughly crispy and delicious, so it is always one of my go-to toppings. The onions will also brown and this really turns out to be an incredible pizza on the grill. I love the blend of salty meat, salty olives, and the onions – they sweeten nicely (nearly caramelize) when cooked. The fresh peppers rounded out the bunch, with a bit of a spicy kick. Simply delicious.

We had a variety of “fresh from the garden” veggies (not from my garden, which is imaginary) - so on the final pie, we went for an “everything” pizza approach: marinara, eggplant, onions, peppers, Prosciutto, pepperoni, and layer after layer of cheese. It was almost deep-dish style, and turned out to be savory and delectable. I would have to recommend to anyone who hasn’t tried making your own grilled pizza, go for it. It beats getting the oven hot on these steamy August nights, and you will be vastly rewarded with an incredible amount of flavor & a crisp crust that will leave you feeling like #1 - a badass on the grill, and #2 - a grilled pizza snob for years to come.

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