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Backyard Pizza

August 18, 1994|MARY CARROLL

Pizza came from Naples, they say, where peasant women would top chunks of baking bread with whatever was in the kitchen. Now pizza is the favorite food of millions of Americans, young and old. But in the dog days of August, pizza is the last thing I want to cook in my hot kitchen. I'd rather be outside on the tree-shaded deck, catching the breeze and grilling dinner.

Marry the two and you get grilled pizzas, a new innovation for summer dining.

You can shortcut the process and use frozen pizza dough; thaw it and bring to room temperature to rise before topping and grilling. But true pizza lovers will enjoy the easy homemade crust recipe that follows.

Pizza can be as low-fat as an undressed salad; it's all in the topping. Very little fat goes into the crust if it's homemade--maybe a smidgen of olive oil to keep the dough silky. On top you can pile anything--from fresh vegetables to fresh fruit.

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If you choose cheeses (although plenty of grilled pizzas are topped without them), look for the stronger varieties of reduced-calorie ones. Asiago, Swiss, Parmesan, Romano, provolone, Cheddar and Monterey Jack lend the pizza more flavor for the ounce than mild-tasting mozzarella.

Tomato sauce for grilled pizza can be store-bought or homemade. Try a simple, light sauce whipped together in the food processor--just puree ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and salt and pepper to taste.

As your dough rises and becomes ready to shape, start preheating your grill. According to the chefs at Al Forno restaurant in Providence, R.I., a charcoal grill with hardwood charcoal produces the best pizza with a wonderful smoky crust. When white ash appears on the coals, the grill is ready for the first pizza. Gas grills are less messy but impart less flavor.

Sliding the pizza onto the grill is not hard. Place dough on the oiled back of a metal cookie sheet. Using your fingertips, slip one edge of the circle of pizza dough off the baking sheet and gently drape it onto the grill. Continue working the dough off the baking sheet until the entire circle is on the grill. If the coals are ready, it only takes a minute or two for the pizza to puff slightly and get grill marks. Then it's ready to top.

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I've found it's easiest to flip the pizza (grilled side up) back onto the baking sheet to top, since placing the ingredients on top may take longer than I want the pizza to remain on the grill. After topping, slide the pizza back onto the grill to allow cheese to melt, sauce to heat through and grill marks to appear on the reverse side. This takes about five minutes--faster if you cover the grill. Watch for charring.

On most grills, you can cook only one pizza at a time, but they cook so quickly I didn't find this a real problem. Sliding the raw dough onto the grill often produces some interesting shapes in the finished pizza, especially if the dough sticks to the baking sheet and has to be tugged off. But this all combines to make a very appealing, homemade pizza that friends and family will all love.

The following pizza dough may be made in quantity and frozen after the first rising; roll it into circles, place on baking sheets and freeze. When frozen, slip into self-sealing bags. To use, let the dough come to room temperature and continue with the recipe below.

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH AND TOPPINGS

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup lukewarm water (98 to 102 degrees)

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 cups whole wheat or unbleached white flour, plus up to 1 cup additional for kneading

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

Pesto Topping or Roasted Red Potato Topping

Place honey, water and yeast in prewarmed bowl and mix well. Cover top of bowl with clean dish towel and let stand in warm place 5 minutes or until mixture foams. Stir in 1 cup flour and mix well. Let rise in warm place 30 minutes.

Stir in another 1 cup flour, oil and salt. Knead 5 to 7 minutes into pliable but elastic dough, adding additional flour as needed. Place dough in clean, greased bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into 12-inch circle on floured board. Oil back of metal baking sheet and transfer 1 circle onto it.

Preheat grill until coals are covered with white ash. Slide 1 circle of dough onto grill. Cook 1 minute or until dough puffs slightly and stiffens. Flip back onto baking sheet (side with grill marks should be up). Add topping of your choice. Return pizza to grill. Cover and grill 5 minutes longer, or until topping is hot and pizza has grill marks on underside. Repeat process with second circle of dough. Makes 2 pizzas, or about 10 servings.

Pesto Topping

2 cloves garlic, very finely minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts or pine nuts

1/4 cup toasted rye bread crumbs

1/4 cup shredded Asiago or other low-fat cheese

1/2 cup finely chopped spinach leaves

1/2 cup minced parsley

2 tablespoons dried basil

Thinly sliced tomatoes, optional

Combine garlic, nuts, bread crumbs, cheese, spinach, parsley and basil in food processor fitted with steel blade and pulse until finely minced. Spread mixture on pizza dough. Top with thinly sliced tomatoes. Grill as instructed above. Makes enough topping for 2 pizzas.

Roasted Red Potato

Topping

8 small red potatoes, peeled and scrubbed

1 tablespoon olive oil, warmed

1/4 cup apple juice or defatted stock

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup shredded Asiago or low-fat cheese

Thinly slice potatoes. Brush with oil and place slices on baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees 20 minutes while pizza dough is rising.

Heat apple juice in separate pan. Add mushrooms and saute until tender and lightly browned. Drain.

To assemble pizzas, top with roasted potatoes, then add mushrooms and sprinkle with cheese. Grill as instructed above. Makes enough topping for 2 pizzas.

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