Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Host a Grilled Pizza Night (and How Not To)

Two sweet families joined us Saturday for a backyard cookout featuring build-your-own grilled pizzas.  In tow were their unbelievably adorable babies, Noah and Ella.  How sweet are they?
We met both families through my husband's graduate school program, and both are about to leave Boston, headed for new homes and new careers following graduation, so it was great to have one last get-together!  Boy will we miss them! 
Set Up:

As this was an impromptu thing, we kept the decor simple  I threw a table cloth over our weathered picnic table, added a vase of fresh flowers, and that was that.  Thanks to throwing a couple baby showers, I also have a surplus of colorful cocktail napkins, mason jars, and striped paper straws that come in handy for cook-outs.
The Menu:

We provided drinks and pizza "fixins" while our fabulous guests brought appetizers (pita chips, hummus, and bacon-wrapped ricotta-stuffed dates), sides (a gorgeous spinach salad with cantaloupe, strawberries, pecans, and goat cheese), and dessert (to-die-for sea salt chocolate chip cookies).

For drinks, I went with the ultimate summer combo: lemonade and sweet tea, which yields a third bonus  drink (mix equal parts lemonade and sweet tea for a mighty fine Arnold Palmer). We also had a bottle of Rose wine and a cooler of beer on hand.
A quick poll of our guests' favorite toppings (as well as our own) resulted in a fine spread: tomato sauce, pesto, fresh basil, baby bella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, a mix of dried italian herbs, prosciutto, pepperoni, and of course cheese. We usually use just grated mozzarella, but this time we added in some fontina for fantastic results!
How to Grill Pizza:

Rather than making our own dough, we used balls of bagged fresh dough from Whole Foods (most supermarkets sell it in the bakery section).  We divided each ball into thirds, which was perfect for individual pizzas, and my husband stretched and tossed until each resembled a thin disk.

Stretch the dough a little thinner than you want your crust, as it will puff up some once cooked. Once stretched, poke the surface all over with a fork to prevent large bubbles in the crust.
For grilled pizza, you need your grill to be as hot as possible. Once the dough was tossed and the grill was piping hot, we grilled each crust on one side for about 1.5 to 2 minutes (with the lid closed).

To get the dough from the kitchen to the grill, we use a wooden pizza peel dusted with semolina or cornmeal to prevent sticking. One quick jerk should slide the dough from the peel to the grill (as Julia Child would say, you have to have the courage of your convictions about you).

We then put each crust (grilled side-up) on a plate and let our guests start decorating their pizzas. Even Baby Noah got to help with the pizza topping decisions.
Once pizzas were topped, we slid them back onto the grill  one at a time (again using the semolina-dustd pizza peel) for about 2 minutes to cook and crisp up the bottom and to melt the cheese.
Serve and Enjoy:

As folks got their pizzas one by one, we gathered around the picnic table and dug in. (Pro Tip: Forget about pizza cutters. The easiest way to cut pizza into slices is with a pair of kitchen shears.) At this point, we could sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the evening!
Evenings like this are why summer is my favorite time of year, especially in Boston. Everyone comes out of  winter hibernation, we cook out on the grill, we sip on lemonade or refreshing pink wine, we bask in the sunshine, we swat mosquitoes, and we laugh. What a wonderful night!
Lessons Learned:

Now, lest you think this all went off without a hitch, we learned a few valuable lessons at this cook-out. Thank goodness we have such sweet, patient friends to be our guinea pigs as we continue to get this whole "entertaining" thing figured out.

1) When you invite more than one southerner to a cook-out, make more than one pitcher of sweet tea. Otherwise it will disappear within the first 15 minutes of the party.

2) Doing one large grilled pizza is an incredibly quick meal. In less than 10 minutes, dinner is on the table, so we were surprised at how much more time consuming and labor intensive individual pizzas were (especially for the grill-master).

Next time, we'll toss each crust and pre-grill one side, cooling them on wire racks to prevent sogginess, prior to guests' arrival. When people arrive, they can decorate their pizzas all at the same time. The host can then line them up in an assembly line for the last step (cooking the bottom of the crust and melting the cheese).

3) Don't forget to use the practical, sturdy paper plates, ideal for backyard cook-outs and for minimal clean-up, that you sent your husband on a completely separate errand to get prior to the cook-out. Oops.

No comments:

Post a Comment