Grilled Pizza

Special to The Hartford Courant

It's the ultimate take-out food. Phone the local pizza joint and order a pie to go. No fuss, no bother.

The family is happy — after all, who is that rare soul who doesn't like the combination of molten cheese and sauce atop a chewy crust? — and everyone has the chance to choose a topping.

We'd like to suggest an alternative that is especially appealing during summer's grilling season. This do-it-yourself approach takes a little more elbow grease than jumping in the car for the trip to the pizza parlor while someone else bakes the pie.

Crank up the barbie and prepare for pizza hot off the grill. Store-bought dough cuts the prep time and is available in the refrigerator case at most large supermarkets. We found great fresh dough at Adams supermarket and both white and whole-wheat doughs at Stop & Shop.

The results are worth the effort, and even the kids can get into the act of rolling out the dough and choosing the toppings.

There are some tricks to working with the dough, but even a novice will become adept to rolling out and stretching the dough after a few tries.

Bring the refrigerated dough to room temperature. During the summer, when the kitchen is warmer, this could take as little as an hour. Most store-bought dough balls weight 16 ounces. Cut the ball into four pieces — we found that working with smaller pieces of dough was much easier, both in handling and maneuvering the crust on the grill.

Roll each of the four pieces into a nice, round ball on a well-floured countertop or cutting board, then let them rest for five to 10 minutes.

Put the dough on the well-floured surface and flatten it with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin. Begin to roll out the dough with the rolling pin. Start at the middle of the dough, and roll away from your body. Turn the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the rolling. Continue the process until the dough is about 10 inches in diameter. Don't worry if it is not a perfect circle.

If you wish to try hand-stretching the dough, follow the instructions above until the dough is about 8 inches in diameter and about a half-inch thick. Pick up the dough at the edges, and move your fingers along the edge as the weight of the dough causes it to stretch. If you are really feeling adventurous, try tossing the dough like an old-time pizza maker.

When ready to assemble those pies, preheat the grill to high, and get the toppings ready.

At the least, go for staples such as mozzarella (shredded or thinly sliced, your choice), grated Parmesan, tomatoes (fresh and/or stewed or prepared as sauce), pepperoni, meatballs or sausage, and basil as a fresh herb.

Expand the topping choices to suit the family's tastes. On a recent pizza-grilling session, we lined up the following: caramelized onion, sliced portabella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, Gorgonzola and goat cheeses, crisp bacon, pesto, clams, roasted garlic cloves, walnuts and thinly sliced Golden Delicious apples.

Because the grilling process is so quick, the results are better if some toppings are cooked in advance. Use pre-cooked sausage and meatballs. Use olive oil to sauté onions until softened and golden and mushrooms and other fresh vegetables until tender-crisp. Even paper-thin slices of apple have a better texture on a finished pizza when sautéed briefly in butter. Oven-roasting garlic softens and sweetens the cloves (see recipe). Rehydrate sun-dried tomatoes in hot water to soften them.

Now, for the fun part. When the grill is hot, carefully place the rolled out dough on the grate. Grill until the dough is golden and slightly charred in spots on the bottom.

Using a pair of long-handled tongs, flip the crust and add the toppings of choice. Reduce heat to medium or slide the crust to a less hot part of the grill. Grill just until the cheese has melted and the toppings are set.

That's it. The grill becomes a pizza oven and imparts a smoky flavor to the crust while creating that chewy but crisp texture.

The family is happy because, even if one person mans the grill, everyone has a chance to choose his or her own toppings. Refrigerated dough and a few toppings add up to an inexpensive meal without a hamburger or hot dog in sight.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Oven-Roasted Garlic>> 1 large bulb garlic

>> 1 tablespoon olive oil

Leave the bulb intact, but remove the outer papery covering. Put the bulb on a piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap the bulb in the foil and roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until soft. An alternate method is to roast the garlic on the grill over indirect heat.

Margarita>> Sliced fresh tomatoes

>> Mozzarella, sliced or shredded

>> Fresh basil, chopped or cut into thin strips

Pesto And Tomato>> Pesto

>> Sliced fresh tomatoes or rehydrated, chopped sun-dried tomatoes

>> Roasted garlic cloves, sliced

>> Grated Parmesan cheese

>> Crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

White Clam>> Olive oil

>> Chopped roasted garlic

>> 1 (10-ounce) can chopped clams, drained

>> Chopped cooked bacon

>> Parmesan cheese

>> Roasted red pepper strips (optional)

Apple And Gorgonzola>> Golden Delicious apples, sliced paper-thin and sautéed in butter until tender-crisp

>> Chopped walnuts

>> Crumbled Gorgonzola

>> Crumbled goat cheese

Portabella Mushroom>> Tomato sauce

>> Strips of portabella mushrooms, sautéed in olive oil

>> Caramelized sliced Vidalia onions

>> Shredded mozzarella

>> Crumbled goat cheese

>> Drizzle of truffle oil and sea salt after baking

Grilled Cheese And Tomato>> Sliced American cheese

>> Prepared spaghetti sauce or sliced fresh tomato

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