There’s a pizzeria in your yard: Grilled pizza with red sauce, sausage, and arugula

A new cookbook shows how easy it is to turn your grill into a pizza oven. Grilling gives this pizza with red sauce, sausage, and arugula a crunchy crust and a nice, slightly smoky flavor. 

Blue Kitchen
Before topping your sausage and arugula pizza, grill one side of the pizza dough, then add the toppings off the heat, and return the pizza to the grill to finish up.

With our friends Melody and Jeremy, we are about to embark on a study of home pizza making, which has been hampered only by my dislike of turning the oven on when the weather is hot. So it was fortuitous that the other day in the mail we received a review copy of a new cookbook, "Patio Pizzeria: Artisan Pizza & Flatbreads on the Grill." 

The concept that one could do this – cook pizza on the barbecue! – was planted in my head a few months ago when one of our daughters went to her boyfriend’s parents’ house for dinner, and they made pizza on the grill. Pizza on the grill? I said. Yes, she said. The barbecue grill? I said. Yes, she said. How was it? It was great. How did they do that? No idea, she said. Could you ask them? Sure, she said, in that sweet, patient way that I knew meant it would probably never happen.

"Patio Pizzeria" is written by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, grilling and barbecuing experts who have appeared on the Food Network and Better Homes & Gardens TV. Their grilling classes have reached more than 75,000 students. The book was published in April by Running Press.

The core of "Patio Pizzeria" is a number of simple pizza doughs for all ability levels and tastes – everything from an elemental stir-together flatbread dough to a slow-rise, sourdough-like dough to one that is gluten-free. Directions are unambiguous. Recipes are interesting, and not just confined to pizza – there are side trips into the world of burgers and foccaccia, for instance, and here and there interesting, easy salad recipes. Everything is presented so clearly that you (by which I mean me) feel brave enough to tackle this, for me, new approach. For one thing, just know that smaller pizzas go straight on the grill, larger ones onto a pizza stone or a grill’s pizza oven accessory.

One of the most wonderful things in the book is a helpful chart – really great! – explaining what different types of flour will do for your pizza dough. Bread dough, for instance, yields a “sturdy, muscular, workable product,” while 00 flour allows you to roll out very thin crusts.

How hard is it to make these pizzas? Really, it’s easier than going to Whole Foods and buying fresh dough. It’s ridiculously easy. You need the dough ingredients and the toppings. A rolling pin might help, but you can just stretch and press the dough out by hand. Really, it’s crazy easy.

To make these pizzas, I decided to go with a tomato sauce, because all the other pizzas on Blue Kitchen are biancos, and simple, traditional toppings – sausage, ricotta, arugula. I made the easy fast San Marzano sauce from "Patio Pizzeria," a version of which is below. It yielded just the amount we like for two 12-inch pizzas.

Despite the confident air of this cookbook, our experience with the grilling started out a bit nervous. We are pretty deft, but we will need a little more practice with the part where you put the dough on the grill. We will probably invest in a peel or giant spatula of some sort as we move this project ahead.

But once we made the first pizza, we relaxed a lot. It was Sunday evening, we were in our back yard, the weather was lovely and the sky was clear. Our neighbors to the north of us were out on their deck chatting. Our neighbors to the south were in their yard – the kids were laughing and playing with the hose. Our neighbors across the alley were having a party outside and watching US v. Portugal on Univision. And there we were, grilling pizzas and some asparagus we happened to have, and running up and down the stairs for something or other we’d forgotten. It was just nice. This was definitely a great jump-start for our home pizza academy.

Here is the slow-rise pizza dough from "Patio Pizzeria." I made this on a Saturday morning – really, it took three minutes to mix together – and then left it alone until Sunday evening, when we lit up the grill.

Slow-rise pizza dough
Adapted from "Patio Pizzeria"
Makes two 10 to 12-inch pizzas

2-1/2 cups bread flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water – you my need a little more
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Stir the flour, yeast and salt together in a medium bowl.
2. Mix the warm water, honey, and olive oil in a separate bowl and stir it all at once into the flour. If the dough is stiff and dry, add a little more water. The dough should feel just moist (not sticky and soggy) and look mixed together well.
3. When it is just blended, stop doing anything to it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and walk away. Just leave it there for at least 24 hours. (After 48 hours, refrigerate it – this can keep for up to 3 more days.)

Tomato pizza sauce
Adapted from "Patio Pizzeria"
Makes enough for two 10 to 12-inch pizzas

1 15-ounce can San Marzano crushed tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 or 3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 or 5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons butter

1. Pour the tomatoes into a small saucepan. Add all the other ingredients and simmer for 30 or 40 minutes. If you don’t have crushed tomatoes, you can use diced tomatoes.
2. Part way through, transfer everything to a bowl, mash with a potato masher, return to the saucepan and finish cooking. Transfer sauce to a bowl and let it cool. You can make the sauce a day or two ahead.

Pizza toppings
You can top your pizza with whatever you choose. "Patio Pizzeria" is full of variations. Next time, we intend to try Spanish chorizo, mozzarella, and maybe a bit of mushroom and a dash of pesto. Here’s what we used this time:

Tomato sauce (recipe above)
Ricotta cheese – for the two pizzas, 6 or 7 ounces total
1/4 pound Italian pork sausage, browned
Fresh arugula – about 1/3 cup for each pizza

Make the pizzas. We made two smaller pizzas instead of one large one, grilling first one, then the other. This was much more manageable – I highly recommend it.

1. Heat the grill for indirect grilling. You want one side hot, the other unheated.
2. When the grill is almost ready, prepare the pizza crusts. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in two and pat and stretch each half into a round. I found it easiest to start by kneading the dough a little bit – it was sticky so I added a little more flour so that it would not cling to every single thing in the general vicinity.
3. Place each round on an oiled sheet of parchment paper and brush oil all over the tops – I put the parchment paper on pizza pans to cart the pizzas up and down stairs. Do not dress the pizzas yet! Leave them naked. Prep your other ingredients and carry everything to grillside.
4. Oil the grill grate. Lift the sheet of parchment paper carrying the dough round over the grill, then flip the dough onto the oiled grill over direct heat, peel off the paper and toss it away. Cover the grill for about 3 minutes, then check the underside of the dough, lifting an edge with tongs or a spatula, looking for lovely grill marks and a lightly golden crust. Flip over the dough onto the indirect heat part of the grill and top it. We actually picked up the dough with tongs and a spatula and transferred it back to the pizza pan, grilled side up, and topped it on a side table, rather than over the hot grill – sauce, then arugula, then everything else.
5. Then we slid it back onto the indirect heat part of the grill, put the lid back, and left it for three minutes. Lift the lid and visually check to see if the pizza looks done. If not, put the lid back on for another minute or so. Lift the pizza with a spatula to remove from the grill, let rest a little while, and serve. If you’re making two pizzas, you can start the second while the first one rests.

One final note: the next day, we had the leftovers for lunch, and they were really good. The smoky, faintly tangy taste of the dough was really nice. In fact, it was terrific. I am trying this recipe again soon – next time, using 00 flour.

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