Until a few years ago, I always preferred the pizza from my native state of New York to anything I found in California. The pizza in North County San Diego, where I grew up, was inedible as far as my family was concerned, so we always made our pizza at home. My mother's pizzas were unparalleled by anything we could get at a local pizzeria -- thick crust with a tangy tomato sauce laced with anchovies and black olives. When I moved to San Francisco years ago, I loved that I could finally buy a decent pizza. Right now, Oliveto, Pizzaiolo, and Dopo are my East Bay neighborhood favorites, with Pizzeria Delifina taking the gold medal for my all-around favorite local pie. Yet although these restaurants and many others offer wonderful Roma and Neopolitan-style pizzas, I still often make my own pies at home, especially now that I've discovered grilled pizza.
Yes, I am now grilling my pizzas. This may sound odd, but using your grill actually makes more sense than baking your pizza in an oven. Although people will disagree about toppings -- sauce or fresh tomatoes? Anchovies or plain cheese? -- it is universally known that you need a very hot oven to make a great crust. A home oven only reaches a max of 500 or, if you're lucky, 550 degrees, while most grills get up to 600 degrees or hotter (mine gets up to 650 degrees). You'll never replicate the intense radiant heat from a professional pizzeria oven at home, but using a barbecue grill will get you pretty close. Used with a pizza stone, your backyard grill becomes the perfect home pizza oven.
I also have a new dough recipe which is worth mentioning. I used to make my pizza dough the old fashioned way, kneading it by hand and then letting it rise in a bowl. But I recently tried a recipe from the New York Times Sunday Magazine and loved it. This recipe lets the paddle on your mixer do all the kneading, so it's quick to make and pretty mess free. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can still knead the dough, but if you do have one, this recipe is so easy there's no reason to ever buy pre-made dough again. Best of all, the final result is a moist pizza dough that crusts beautifully.
My new homemade pizza of choice is one made with wilted arugula, prosciutto, and Brie cheese. I love how the earthy and slightly peppery arugula tastes with the salty pork and oozy puddles of buttery cheese. It's truly a match made in pizza heaven.
Why make your own pizza?
1. Homemade pizza is much less expensive than restaurant pizza, especially for a family of four. When I buy two pies at a local restaurant, I often spend over $40, but making two larger pizzas at home usually runs under $20 (and if I use only cheese, basil and tomatoes, I spend less than $10).
2. Making pizza is a great way to get your kids involved in the cooking process. My kids love to make and stretch dough, and slather toppings on their own pizzas. They take great pride in their finished pies and usually lick the plate clean.
3. Pizza night is just way more fun when everyone gets sticky dough on their hands.
Tips for baking a pizza on a grill:
1. Preheat the grill with the door closed at the highest possible setting.
2. Place the pizza stone on the grill before you turn on the heat or the stone will crack.
3. If you don't have a peel, buy one. Pizza peels are a necessary investment if you don't want to burn yourself.
4. Make sure your pizza peel is nicely floured before laying down the dough as you want the pizza to easily slide off. If the dough sticks to the peel, your toppings will fall onto the stone while your pizza stays on the peel. Before you try to slide the pizza onto your hot stone, give the peel a jiggle. If the pizza moves, you're in good shape. If it seems stuck, carefully lift the edges of the dough and flick some flour underneath until you get some movement.
5. If you accidentally slide the pizza halfway off the stone, you can let it cook for a couple minutes and then the dough will be hard enough for you to pull it all back onto the stone without any permanent damage.
6. Your pizza will bake in 5-7 minutes on the grill, so be careful not to leave it on too long.
7. Always keep the grill closed when baking your pies
8. When checking for doneness, lift the pizza off the stone a bit to see if the bottom is getting too crisp. On a grill, the hot air doesn't circulate but instead radiates upward so you can easily burn your crust if you're not careful.
9. If using a gas grill, you may need to turn the heat down after cooking more than a couple of pizzas to avoid burning the dough.
Arugula, Prosciutto, and Brie Cheese Pizza
Makes: 1 pizza
1 pound pizza dough (half of the NY Times Magazine recipe) already risen and then refrigerated for at least a half hour
2 cups fresh arugula
2 cloves of garlic smashed and chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped prosciutto
6 oz Brie (about a half-wedge) cut into ½ slices
1. Heat your grill with your pizza stone inside. For gas grills, heat on high for about 10 minutes. For charcoal grills, heat coals until white hot
2. While grill is warming, heat a large pan on medium-high on your stove top. When pan is hot, add 2 Tbsp olive oil, garlic and arugula and mix. Turn off heat and cover for 3-5 minutes, or until arugula is wilted.
3. Flour a solid surface, such as a stone or wooden counter top or large cutting board, and shape your pizza. You can stretch the dough or use a rolling pin to shape it into a 12 to 14-inch round.
4. Place dough on a floured pizza peel and drizzle the dough with remaining olive oil. Evenly sprinkle the arugula and prosciutto on top and then add the Brie slices. Dust the top with a dash of sea salt.
5. Jiggle the dough on the pizza peel to make sure it's mobile and then place on top of the now hot pizza stone. Cover your grill and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the bottom of the crust is crisp and the top is lightly browned.
6. Slice and serve.