Late last year I attended a panel at the food and wine festival with Stephen Starr, the incredibly successful restauranteur behind Buddakan, Morimoto, and about 50 others. He mentioned a project he was working on for a California style pizza restaurant featuring loads of fresh vegetables. That restaurant, now open in gramercy, is Upland. The gorgeous space is flanked by walls of brightly colored preserved lemons and artichokes, and the thin, wood-fired pizza is top notch.
It’s difficult to replicate wood fired pizza at home, unless you have a proper wood-burning oven, in which case I’d like to come over for dinner. One shortcut to add a smoky flavor to pizza is as simple as cooking pizza on the grill. I had heard of this concept for some time but avoided it because, surely, I thought, the pizza would stick to the grill and result in a total disaster. I felt quite confident in this prediction until summer heat hit and the idea of cranking my oven upwards of 400 degrees F became unthinkable.
Here’s what I did: preheated the grill for a good 10-15 minutes (I use charcoal and needed the heat to even out), put the dough on in one motion (or tried), and waited 2-3 minutes until a crust formed. I envisioned it being very challenging to place thin pizza dough on a hot grill (I’ve never mastered the pizza peel method of effortlessly sliding dough off a peel and onto a stone), but it wasn’t especially hard at all. Do pay attention to any thin spots in the dough or any hot spots on the grill to avoid charred spots or a hole developing.
The key, I found, is to take the pizza off the grill once a crust has formed, flip it cooked-side up onto a cutting board, and relatively quickly load it with toppings. Use a spatula to help transfer it back to the grill and cook, with the grill covered, until the cheese has melted. The newly formed crust helps add stability to the dough, and you won’t miss trying to evenly sprinkle toppings over a hot grill or the perils of transferring a thin dough loaded with sauce and cheese effectively to a grill.
The toppings on this pizza are straight from Upland’s menu and, if you can find them, make for a really special pizza. I found straticcitella, a tender, pulled mozzarella, and ‘njuda, the spicy, spreadable sausage from Calabria, at Eataly. Both could easily be substituted with similar ingredients, but don’t skim over the passata sauce. It adds more flavor than a standard pizza sauce, and tastes great on bruschetta, over pasta, or just as a dipping sauce.
Inspired by [Upland Restaurant|http://uplandnyc.com/" target="_blank]
- 1/2 red onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 7 ripe medium tomatoes, cored and halved
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon sun-dried tomato paste*
- 1 recipe basic pizza dough
- 'Nduja sausage*
- Stracciatella cheese*
- Heat a small pan over medium high heat, adding a bit of olive oil when the pan is hot. Add red onion and sauté until just browned. Set aside.
- In a blender or food processor, blend tomatoes, sautéed onions, garlic, and basil until smooth.
- Pour sauce into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Stir in sun-dried tomato paste, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 30 minutes. Season to taste. Strain sauce if desired.
- Preheat grill* or oven at 400 degrees F.
- Form pizza crusts by stretching dough until thin, avoiding any holes or spots that may break when put on the grill.
- Transfer crusts to grill, trying to put them on the grates in one motion. Close lid and cook until crusts form, about 2-3 minutes.
- Take crusts off the grill and flip over onto a cutting board so the cooked side is facing up. Add sauce, and spoonfuls of sausage and stracciatella, keeping the toppings fairly light so as not to overload the dough.
- Using a spatula, carefully transfer pizzas back onto the grill and cook until cheese has melted, about 6-10 minutes.
* I used a sun-dried tomato tapenade, but tomato paste will work as well.
* 'Nduja is a soft, spreadable spicy sausage. I found it at Eataly, but if you have trouble finding it, substitute with another spicy sausage or pepperoni
* Stracciatella cheese is a cross between fresh mozzarella and burrata, substitute fresh mozzarella slices or shredded mozzarella.
* When preheating the grill, also clean the grates.