By PAUL SIDORIAK
For me, Fridays always meant pizza.
In grade school, it was one of the few meals of culinary clarity in the lunchroom. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, pizza was accepted dinner fare for meat-free Fridays during Lent. On a fasting Friday, pizza dinner almost seemed like an indulgence (especially for a kid already skeptical about the real identity of the Easter bunny).
As far as I knew, my family invented making pizza on the grill and we were the only people brave enough to cook pies this way.
Before it was popular for supermarkets to sell raw pizza dough, we would buy an instant pizza kit. While the grill was heating up, I would help assemble the instant pizza in a box, following the directions closely. Bowl, water, mix, stir, done. The mix was almost foolproof.
The packaging also came with a couple of unlabeled cans of different sizes. One contained the perfect amount of pizza sauce; the other was full of dry, crumbled cheese. The cheese always freaked me out because the can is the perfect size to hold a mouse, and my fourth-grade imagination was quite certain it had.
I’d spread the dough on a cookie sheet, slather on the sauce and shake the scary cheese as evenly as possible, minding its proximity to the edge, and leaving room for the crust. After I handed it off to Dad, the pizza would come back from the grill in about ten minutes, bubbling hot and smelling wonderful. It was good that it smelled delicious, because taste left a bit to be desired. Fortunately, I did not know that it tasted crummy until many years later.
As time went on, we graduated from the boxed pizza mix to fresh pizza dough and our pizzas started tasting exponentially better. It seemed there was a pizza place on every corner where I grew up and most of them made fantastic pies. But none of them had the depth of flavor or evoked fond memories like our homemade pizzas when they were fresh off the grill.
Over a recent long weekend, the fridge was filled with a variety of leftovers. Not enough of a single item to make a complete meal, but enough to find a way to re-purpose the leftovers. The leftover pizza was born.
My leftovers selections included taco meat, half a can of olives, a few cooked breakfast link sausages, guacamole, prosciutto, a jalapeño, and some random acts of cheese.
The first pie became a taco pizza and I used a thin layer of taco sauce for the base, adding taco meat, olives, cheese, and the jalapeños. It came off the grill hotter than a Mexican jumping bean. Its flavors were formidable.
The next pie was a complete cavalcade of random items from the fridge. Because I had no sauce, I spread a blanket of ranch dressing on the bottom, implying it would be a white pizza. I layered over that a variety of salty meats, colored cheeses, and bits of taco meat before I put my garbage pizza on the grill.
The grill hovered around 500 degrees and I let it pre-heat for about 40 minutes.
On the grill, I put down a couple of fire bricks on their sides and sat a pizza stone a top them for my cooking surface. My pizza was made atop a sheet of parchment paper that helped it slide onto the hot stone easily and without sticking.
After four or five minutes of cooking, I checked on the pizza and carefully removed the parchment paper. It slid out easily and left the bottom of the pizza sitting directly on the stone.
When you set your pizza stone on top of the bricks, they serve a dual purpose. They act as a heat shield, which helps prevent the bottom from burning, while getting the pie higher in the grill, letting the top cook as evenly as the bottom.
It’s hard to explain what cooking outside on a grill does to food that’s different than using other methods. The flavors become an intense symphony as the otherwise ordinary ingredients work in concert with each other.
About 11 minutes was all it took to cook the pizza on my grill. After letting it cool, it took less than 20 minutes to get the pizza from prep to plate.
About four minutes later, we were left with nothing to show for it except a few crumbs and delicious memories.
Paul moved to Montana in 1996 with about a dozen friends from Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is still reluctantly paying his student loans and has carved out a career working as a supplier representative for various food and beverage products.
Paul enjoys grilling after a day on the water or an afternoon in the garden, where he has been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers out of spite. Often cooking for extended family and friends, he takes a whimsical approach to cooking simple, seasonal dishes, while not taking it too seriously.
Paul does all of his grilling on the Big Green Egg Grill, available in Missoula at the Axmen.
You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.