It is entirely possible that pizza just might be my favorite food. I always had the inkling it was. My suspicions were confirmed about two weeks ago. I had the good fortune to get involved with a grilled pizza-making "class" which came about quite unexpectedly. One of our customers (and now friend) at Wine and Spirit world has a reputation for creating authentic, exquisite pizzas that are so perfect they are hard to describe. As part of a silent auction for the Franklin Lakes Education Foundation in New Jersey, John Gonzalez, along with some friends, donated a fabulous night of pizza making, wine, and osso bucco which was purchased by 5 couples and went for $1,000. John and his wife Sandy, and 2 other couples prepared everything themselves. The night consisted of a pizza making demonstration given by John, a wine tasting coordinated by John and myself, and a fabulous dinner prepared by one of the other couples involved. All aspects of the night were created, donated, organized, and served by the three couples who donated the package. They did everything from soup to nuts and it was truly a fabulous evening.
John came into Wine and Spirit World several days before the event, asking for recommendations on wines that were on the inexpensive side, but tasted like more high-end offerings. This idea was intended to prove that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get wines of superior quality. And that's where I came in. After selecting about 6 wines that I thought would impress his guests, John invited me to participate in the event. I attended, and as a result, had the good fortune to get a lesson in making what I consider to be one of the world's most perfect foods.
John giving the group a lesson in dough-making
Using the indoor grill at one of the participating couples' homes, John wowed the group with his pizza making expertise. He uses black garlic (fermented garlic) on his pizza which just brings the flavors to an entirely new level. I have to say he made the process look painfully simple, though I have yet to try it and have to think it's not as easy as it looks. His crust is cracker thin and the finished product offers the perfect crunch combined with the delectable flavors of San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh Pecorino Romano and Fontina, fresh basil and fresh parsley (the herbs come from his own garden). Watching him, one would guess he could do this with his eyes closed. I consider myself to be somewhat of a pizza snob, and I have to say that John's pies rank among the best I've tasted.
One of my latest addictions is grilled fennel. I would love to try some atop John's pizza!
Patience is key. Let the underside cook sufficiently before flipping and adding the toppings.
Usually when I recommend wines to go with pizza, I tend to suggest reds (like Sangiovese) in a lower-end price range. While an everyday Chianti would be fine next to John's pizzas, I personally would opt to enjoy something a little more special. They are that good!
Viola! A work of art!
John G's Grilled Pizza Margherita
(Adapted from Al Forno's in Providence, RI)
For the dough:
1 envelope (2 1/2 tsps) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 cup stone ground corn meal or polenta
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tbsp virgin olive oil
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cups grated fresh mozzarella
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 cups shredded Fontina cheese (not aged or smoked)
4 1/2 cups chopped canned tomatoes (San Marzano DOP's are the best)
3 scallions, chopped and sliced thinly
4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped fine (or fermented black garlic)
3/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leafed parsley
Chiffonade of basil for garnish
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste
1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water with the sugar.
2. After 5 minutes stir in the salt, corn meal, whole-wheat flour, and oil.
3. Gradually add the white flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until a stiff dough has formed.
4. Place the dough on a floured board, and knead it for several minutes, adding only enough additional flour to keep the dough from sticking. When the dough is smooth and shiny, transfer it to a bowl that has been brushed with olive oil. To prevent a skin from forming, brush the top of the dough with additional olive oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place, away from drafts, until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down the dough and knead once more. Let the dough rise again for about 40 minutes. Punch down the dough. If it is sticky, knead in a bit more flour.
5. Divide into 6 balls. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes.
6. While the dough is rising, prepare a hot charcoal fire, setting the grill rack 3 to 4 inches above the coals and set out topping ingredients. If using a gas grill, warm it up.
7. Place a ball of dough on a flat surface. Mold it into a round shape, then with a rolling pin, spread and flatten the dough into a 10 to 12-inch rectangle, 1/8-inch thick; the shape is unimportant. Take care not to stretch the dough so thin that small holes appear. If this happens, all is not lost. Rather than try to repair them, avoid them when adding toppings and drizzling with olive oil.
8. When the fire is hot, brush olive oil onto one side of the dough, and using your fingertips lift the dough gently by the two corners closest to you, and drape it onto the grill, oiled side down. Once it's in place, brush olive oil onto the second side. Within a minute, the dough will puff slightly, the underside will stiffen, and grill marks will appear.
9. Once the underside is well grilled, use tongs to flip the crust over onto the coolest part of the grill. Quickly brush the grilled surface with 2 tsps of virgin olive oil.
10. Spread 1/2 cup or more of the cheese mixture over the entire surface of the pizza.
11. Dollop with 8 to 10 tbsps of the tomatoes.
12. Top with parsley, scallions, garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper and anything else you desire.
13. Drizzle the entire pizza with extra virgin olive oil.
14. After the toppings have been added, slide the pizza back toward the hot coals so about half of the pizza is directly over the heat. Rotate the pizza frequently so that different sections receive high heat checking the underside by lifting the edge with tongs to be sure it is not burning.
15. The pizza is done when the top is bubbling and the cheese has melted. Garnish with basil and serve immediately. Use a pizza cutter to slice irregular pieces...and enjoy!