I don't often attempt to recreate meals I've eaten at restaurants at home. Part of that is due to budgetary constraints; that is, most of my dining out these days is limited to breakfast dinners and pizza places, with a smattering of fast food joints both local and global. Simply put, I make better food at home than most of the things I leave the house to buy. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, the truly great food I've eaten at restaurants I have decided to leave at restaurants so that I'll have something to look forward to. Recently, though, I chose to make an exception on account of a special occasion. It was my seventh anniversary, and we hadn't really made any plans to celebrate. During the summer of 2005, it seemed terribly romantic to place our wedding so that it would fall in the middle of the twelve day stretch between Wife's birthday and my own, but while it's cute to tell people that the entire month of August is a party, it can be taxing when you begin budgeting and you realize that special occasions are happening faster than you can get paid. Add in an annual tradition of going to the fair and two children who are now at the age where they need copious amounts of school supplies, and something's got to give. So a night at a hotel (our favorite treat, even if we don't leave town,) or even a trip to the theater wasn't going to happen. [Full Disclosure: We do intend to go see "Snow White and the Huntsman" when it hits the dollar theater. But it's less dramatic if I admit I can just celebrate later. And besides, there is something special about acknowledging special days on the days themselves.] The only place our anniversary was allowed to exist, within the constraints of our budget, was in meal planning. Luckily, something I'd been meaning to investigate for the purpose of this blog--grilled pizza--happened to co-exist within the same parameters as something that qualified as a romantic memory--dinner at the Red Rock Brew Publt Lake. Last summer we went to visit our good friend Lotus (she who prompted all the vegetarian recipes I posted this summer,) and when Wife pooh-pooed all of the Asian restaurants that were suggested (to no one's surprise,) we ended up at a brew pub. In case you didn't know it, Salt Lake actually has a pretty strong brewing culture, despite government mandated handicaps. While I loved the chipotle barbecue salmon I ordered, and the rest of our party's food was tasty, the dish I attempted to recreate for my special day is what Wife ordered for that meal, a pizza containing caramelized, walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and juicy pears.
The reason I decided to grill the pizza was two-fold. Most simply, the process seemed fun. While I don't really knock anything except steak out of the park, I like cooking on the grill, and I know I will get more chances if I can find alternatives to just cooking big chunks of meat. However, the more important reason is heat. I've had a decent amount of success cooking pizza in my oven despite not owning a pizza stone, but those times I was trying to compete with pizza of the fast-food variety. This time what I was emulating was a wood-fired pizza with perfect crunch.
Before I could begin cooking the pizza, I had to prepare my grill. I don't own a gas grill, because a lack of funds allowed me to be pretentious and act like I bought my coal-fueled Weber because it "provides more authentic grill taste." But while in the past I've been jealous of fancy grills, I finally broke down and bought some instant-light charcoal. This has made a huge difference. Used to be, I would put my man-credentials to shame by asking Wife to light the grill. Even with lighter fluid, the delicate dance of flame often left me frustrated when it came to traditional briquettes. I would stack them high, let them soak up the fuel, come back, get it going, and nine times out of ten the whole thing would be cold again a minute after the flames flared up and burned up the fuel. But with the instant fuel, I built a stack and held a match to it for three seconds. Viola!
And, instead of wimping out, it burned away for a bit and then became this perfect sight, which I promptly topped with a grate that (instead of receiving the traditional olive oil rubdown) I simply sprayed on both sides with cooking spray.
So with my fire chugging away nicely, I began preparing the pizza itself. I sliced one onion thin, and put it into a cast iron that I'd been warming on medium heat with a decent drizzle of olive oil.
It only took about six minutes (with occasional stirring) to get them nice and toasty, and really accentuate the natural sugars that they were hiding. Unfortunately, I'd misread Red Rock's menu on their website, and so I only got regular walnuts, not the candied variety, but I went ahead and measured out a cup of them as well. Here is where the blog takes a turn from the "and everything turned out perfectly, watch out Food Network," narrative that so many others take. My pears were crap. I'd bought perfectly good green pears at WinCo the week before, and I should have stuck with them, but the red ones were half again as expensive! They must have been good, right? And they felt ripe. Instead, while they were indeed soft, they were mostly mealy and tasted like potato. Four pears (I'd intended to make two pizzas) netted me one pear's worth of fruit.
Which reminds me. I haven't said anything to this point about dough. Look, if you have the time to make it from scratch, good for you. I don't tend to make recipes that include the sentence, "let the dough rise." Maybe when I'm on vacation, but definitely not after a day of work, and probably not on a short weekend. Luckily, the deli at WinCo has ready made pizza dough. This is actual uncooked dough, not to be confused with that pre-cooked Boboli crap that makes Domino's pizza look gourmet. I rolled out my dough--the good whole wheat kind--in some cornmeal and slapped it onto a cutting board, and followed the rest of my ingredients outside.
Also, as you can tell, my pizza is significantly darker in the middle than it is at the sides; this means I didn't do a good enough job of spreading the coals (and therefore the heat) around before putting the grate on the grill. If you were cooking meat, this would be a good thing; you could sear your meat in the center and then move it off to the side to finish, or cook two different types of food in different heat zones, but with pizza you are looking for even cooking all the way across.
But although the crust was a bit blackened, I wasn't too discouraged. It smelled really good, and this was the side the toppings were going to go on, anyway. I brushed the surface with olive oil and then spread my toppings out as evenly as possible, putting the cheese on last. Then just slide it back onto the grill topping side up, and let it go another two minutes with the lid closed or until the cheese is melted.
So, for those of you keeping score, I only used one pear, I would have preferred two. I caramelized one onion, but I think one and a half would have been better for a pizza this size, although I would stick with one if you can roll the dough out in a proper circle unlike your blogger here. I think six-ounces of mozzarella was just right, but would have added another ounce of Gorgonzola as well. As noted, the pizza I was emulating used candied walnuts, but I was perfectly happy with the regular variety. The crust was a tad charred.
But do you know what? It didn't matter. I'm certainly not going to pretend that my pizza lived up to the precedent set by Red Rock Brewing, but it didn't have to. It tasted good. The pears didn't pop exactly as I'd desired, but they still added up to that flavor combination I was looking for, albeit less so. The charring wasn't enough to detract from that awesome flavor that the grill imparts to food. The kids asked for seconds, Wife was touched; my anniversary was saved. And although the execution wasn't perfect, I still think this is something I am proud to share with my readers, because maybe you will be inspired to grill your next pizza. Not because I did it flawlessly and told you how easy it was, but because it was damned tasty even with mistakes, and while perfecting the process might not be easy, making this meal certainly wasn't hard.