Grilled Pizza

On one of my trips to Italy we were on Highway A14, the auto strada that runs between Rimini and Bologna. It was on a Sunday evening in the month of July, and the traffic coming back from the coast (Rimini is on the Adriatic Sea) was bumper-to-bumper. It was pretty slow going, so my wife suggested we pull off and take the old two-lane highway, figuring, at the very least, we would get to enjoy scenery that would be a lot more attractive than that of the bumper in front of us.

It was on this road that I had my first taste of piadina. Just about every 100 yards or so there was a hand-lettered sign touting the goodness and delicious aspects of this unique snack. The car windows were down and the aroma from those roadside food stands was incredible.

My wife and I put away a pretty fair number of these delicious piade, stopping here and there along the way. Needless to say, it took us a while to get back to Bologna, but in the process we were stuffed, satisfied, and feeling pretty smart about what we had done.

The point of this vignette is that the piadina is the forerunner to grilled pizza; and in Italy, this round of grilled dough has had a presence for several years. I say this with all due respect to George Germon and his wife and partner, Johanne Killeen of Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island, who started the whole grilled pizza craze in this country.

A piadina is made by slapping a very thin, round, piece of dough on a hot earthenware disk (testo), or a grill. The dough is cooked briefly until it is golden brown and invariably charred a little. While it is still hot, pieces of meat and cheese are laid on top. It can be eaten straight up or with the dough folded over the toppings.

The idea of grilled pizza, which is unique in every way, is that it offers an alternative to regular thin-crust pizza.

If you have a grill in your operation, you can get into grilled pizza without too much effort.

Going Grilled

You can use a basic thin-crust pizza dough. The important part is that you get the dough rolled out to a thickness a bit less than 1/8 of an inch. A dough sheeter works great, but you can also use a rolling pin. I suggest you keep the diameter of the dough under 12 inches, since anything larger is hard to manage. In fact, a 10-inch piece of dough is ideal.

? Brush one side of the dough with olive oil, which adds flavor and keeps the dough from sticking to the grill.

? Drop the dough onto a hot grill. This can be the trickiest part of the procedure, but with a little practice you can handle it. Don’t worry if the dough doesn’t end up on the grill perfectly round. In fact, you can make it an oval if you care to; the irregular shape adds character.

? The amount of time the dough needs to be grilled on each side is relative to the heat of the grill. In most cases it works out to be about 2-3 minutes of grill time on each side.

? Now flip the dough and grill it on the other side. If the dough gets charred here and there, all the better. Grill as many as you think you will use, and stack the grilled pizza shells.

Icing on the Cake

Once the foundational shells have been made, you have a variety of different options.

One method is to add toppings, including cheese(s), and finish off the pizza in the salamander or broiler. I do not recommend adding any toppings while the pizza is still on the grill, since you will more than likely burn one side of the pizza in the time it takes you to accomplish this.

Let your creative juices flow. Use this elegant round of grilled pizza dough as a palette on which you can create a colorful, interesting and delicious array of “artistic pizzas.” Here are a few ideas to get you started:

• Margherita. Arrange thinly sliced fresh tomatoes over the grilled pizza shell. Over the tomatoes you will arrange thinly sliced fresh mozzarella. Now Drizzle some olive oil over the cheese and tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle torn pieces of fresh basil over the tomatoes. Serve.

• Napoletano. Use canned plum tomatoes. Crush them by hand (to get rid of some of the water) and spread them over the grilled pizza shell. Drizzle some olive oil over the tomatoes. Add finely diced mozzarella or provolone. Sprinkle on some dried oregano, followed by grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. Serve.

• Insalata & Company. For this pizza I use a basic tossed salad (chopped lettuce, tomato, cucumber, olives, etc.,) that has been dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Now I simply arrange the salad over the grilled pizza shell. Sprinkle on some grated Parmesan. Serve.

A variation would be grilled Caesar pizza. Use Romaine lettuce and a Caesar dressing (anchovies optional). You can leave out the croutons, but you should finish it off (tableside, if you can) with a shower of grated Parmesan cheese.

A variation on that theme would be a grilled chicken Caesar pizza. Simply add strips of grilled chicken to the basic Caesar.

There are countless variations to consider, including a white clam pizza (chopped clams, olive oil, garlic, thyme, parsley) or a vegetable pizza (grilled zucchini, eggplant, squash, asparagus, olive oil, herbs, grated Parmesan). Let your creative juices flow.