Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cookout Week: No-Fuss Grilled Pizza

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I had a lot of fun in my mom's kitchen, but some of the best times were pizza nights. Birthday parties, sleepovers, and visiting friends were occasions for my mother to make pizza dough from scratch, and we'd gather around to pick and choose among a dozen toppings.

I'm trying to keep the tradition alive with my kids, but it can be chaotic. Timing the rise of the dough, prepping toppings, helping young (and always enthusiastic) kids through the process, then shuffling pizzas through the oven... And that hot oven! At 500 degrees, the kitchen becomes a sauna.

Grilling pizzas is a summer-friendly alternative, but it's even more difficult to manage with a crowd. You have to stay on top of the dough, turning it at just the right moment, and then top the pizzas while they're on the grill. The logistics confound me: I've actually set pizzas on fire, which is not how I want to impress guests. I'd rather enjoy the company than fuss over the grill.

By partially baking individual crusts and freezing, the work is done ahead of time and the pizzas are much easier to handle. Just set out toppings, remove the parbaked crusts from the freezer, and let everyone design their own pizzas. Toss the pies on the grill and, minutes later, you have delightfully crispy pizzas -- with no risk of dough flopping into the flames or sagging between the grates.

For our playdate, my favorite combination was Grilled Eggplant with roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, black olives, and smoked mozzarella. The kids preferred crumbled hamburger -- leftover Drive-Through Burgers from an earlier barbecue -- with sausage and plain old mozzarella.

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Grilled Pizza

Parbaking the crusts makes this easy to pull together for a crowd. Set out toppings and let your guests top their own crusts, then toss the pizzas on the grill for dinner in minutes. You also can finish these in the oven.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (one package)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for baking sheet
optional: fresh or dried herbs, ground flax seed

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, yeast, and salt, along with herbs or flax seed, if using. Process the dry ingredients briefly, then pour in 1 cup of lukewarm water and the olive oil. Add more water, just a tiny bit at a time (you might not use the entire amount) and continue to process until the dough forms a ball. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or so to form a ball. Set dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, or higher if your oven allows. Divide dough into as many pieces as you plan to turn into pizzas. For grilling or personal pizzas, I divide the dough into six pieces, but it also makes two full-size pizzas. Shape each piece into a ball and set on a floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

Oil a baking sheet. Take each piece of dough and press it into a circle on the baking sheet, about 8 inches across for personal pizzas. Bake 5 minutes and remove to wire racks to cool. If crusts puff up, pierce with a sharp knife and gently press out air.

Once crusts have cooled completely, stack them one on top of another, with plastic wrap separating each layer, and wrap the stack with plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze up to a month.

To finish pizza, remove frozen crust from freezer, add desired toppings, and cook over a very hot grill until cheese is melted and bottom of crust is crispy.

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