Grill Thrill

By Beacon Staff

I have a new sponsor for my television show and they asked if I would use one of their featured products, a special kind of charcoal grill that also acts as an oven and can heat up to temperatures in excess of 700 degrees.

The concept is much like a tandoori oven used in Indian cooking, but it also is reminiscent of the wood ovens you see in some restaurants these days. Those ovens, however, can reach temperatures in excess of 1500 degrees, enabling them to bake a pizza in less than five minutes.

The community where I live has very strict air quality standards that prohibit the use of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. So I was pleased to learn that there was an exception for charcoal burning grills so that I could experiment with this gizmo, as my grill burns natural gas.

I nurtured my charcoal and was able to get the internal temperature of the grill/oven to nearly 600. I placed my pizza dough carefully on the grill, giving it about three minutes. When I lifted the lid, I could see that the baking process was at the beginning stages, so I turned the dough 45 degrees to create a diamond pattern of grill marks in much the same way I do with steaks.

After another three minutes, the pizza was not only ready to flip to complete cooking the dough, but also to receive the toppings. I decided to demonstrate Pizza Margharetta for my program, which legend states is the original pizza created to honor Queen Margharetta of Italy toward the end of the 19th century at a pizzeria in Naples.

Pizza Margharetta is simply slices of mozzarella cheese and slices of ripe Roma tomatoes, topped with fresh basil. The colors of the vegetables and cheese represent the colors of the Italian flag, as the pizzeria honored the queen with a baked patriotic display.

The flavor imparted by cooking this pizza over charcoal was scrumptious. There was just the hint of the smoke from the intensely burning charcoal. Don’t despair, however, if you don’t have a charcoal grill, for this works nicely on gas-fired grills, too. And you can impart a smoky flavor by soaking wood chips and placing them in a foil package with holes poked in it off to the side of where you’re grilling the pizza.

Here’s my recipe for Pizza Margharetta on the grill:

1 envelope dry yeast
1 C. warm water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
5 Tbsp. cornmeal
1 ball Mozzarella, sliced thin
2/3 C. basil leaves, thinly shredded
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2-1/2 C. all purpose flour
1 ripe Roma tomato, sliced thin
1/2 C. tomato sauce

Lightly coat a glass bowl with olive oil and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor combine the warm water (about 105 degrees), yeast and 2 tsp. olive oil.

Pulse briefly to combine. Add flour, sugar, salt and cornmeal. Process until dough forms into a ball. Flour a board and knead the dough, form it into a ball. Place in the oiled bowl, cover and let stand for an hour to rise.

Heat the grill to as hot as it will get. Remove the dough from the bowl, punch down and knead again, pressing outward from the center to form the pizza, about 10 or 11 inches in diameter. Brush the dough with olive oil. Place the dough, oiled side down, on the grates and close the lid. Bake until the crust is firm enough to turn 45 degrees. Bake another 3 minutes with the lid closed.

Open the lid and flip the pizza to cook the opposite (raw) side. In the meantime, working quickly, spread the tomato sauce with the back of a spoon in a spiral pattern from the center. Lay the tomatoes and mozzarella slices alternately around the perimeter of the pizza, moving inward to the center. Close the lid and when the cheese is melted, the pizza is done.

Dress with shredded basil leaves.

Simple, elegant, and a guarantee that you’ll think twice about ordering a pizza from one of those chains.

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