Zah, pie, flatbread, whatever you prefer to call it, pizza can be a delicious and visually stunning option when sharing a meal around a campfire. The first time I tried grilling pizza was on a hot Philly summer day with my friend Sal, what now seems like ages ago. I was skeptical at first, but it turned out beautifully.
This time around I decided to experiment with an olive oil dough recipe from the acclaimed bread making book, Dough, written by Richard Bertinet of the illustrious Bertinet Kitchen cooking school.
What I like about this recipe, aside from the burst of flavor it provides to any pizza, is its simplicity and resilience during preparation.
Since I haven’t made dough in a while, the night before our camping trip I thought I’d try out two different batches just in case: one by utilizing our KitchenAid mixer, while the other one was kneaded by hand. The intent was that if I messed up any of the batches by accident or lack of practice, we could still use the backup batch.
Quantity: 3 pizzas – I doubled it up for this excursion
Prep time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 10-12 minutes at 475°F (if baking this at home)
- ½ ounce fresh yeast
- 18 ounces Italian white bread flour (3¾ – 3⅞ cups)
- 2 tspn fine-grain salt
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 11½ ounces water (just over 12fl. oz. in a glass measuring cup)
- White flour for dusting
Excerpt taken from the Dough book:
“Rub the yeast into the flour, using your fingertips as if making a crumble. Add salt, olive oil, and water, then continue turning the dough. Let it rest for 1 hour or, to achieve a better crust and taste, rest it overnight in the fridge. By doing this, you will enable the dough to rise very slowly and it will develop a little acidity that will improve its flavor and give a texture that is crispy on the outside and slightly chewy inside.”
Once the batches had risen in their respective bowls under room temperature, I partitioned and molded the dough into bocce-sized balls before covering them up with plastic wrap. After leaving them in the fridge overnight, the next day just prior to getting on the road, I placed the wrapped dough balls in a few large ziploc bags before they went in our iced cooler. It is very important that no water leaks inside the ziploc bags.
Tip: Make sure to not wrap them up too tightly as the dough can still rise somewhat under warmer conditions.
A few hours before we ate dinner, I decided to do a test run by serving a simple margherita-style pizza as appetizer. This allowed me to test out the ideal temperature on the fire pit grill while gauging the right dough thickness and cooking time.
Since I had some extra dough with me, I placed some flour on a wooden cutting board, washed and dried off one of our unused wine bottles to roll out the dough on the board. No need for a rolling pin while you’re camping ; )
After spraying the grill with non-stick spray and flouring the board lightly once more, I slid the dough right on top of the grill.
Tip: It’s very important to spray some oil on the grill top or on aluminum foil otherwise the dough can stick to the surface. Follow these illustrated instructions for additional tips.
From an angle this may look like Oceania, but since this was the first test piece I didn’t pay much attention to what it looked like.
After about 3-4 minutes (depending on the the amount of fire and proximity to the flames), flip the dough over and cook for about a minute as you will be setting it back on the fire shortly after.
Retrieve and place the semi-cooked dough right on a cutting board or plate, spread your base sauce as the first layer and evenly distribute your toppings around the pizza. Set it back on the grill for a few more minutes on a sheet of aluminum foil to avoid burning the bottom part with direct heat.
And there you have it.
I came up with six variations to mix up the different types of protein, cheeses and seasonal veggies:
Russet potato & sweet potato sliced thinly, crispy fried sage with Roquefort cheese crumbles on a classic Béchamel sauce
The crispy sage was deep fried and patted dry ahead of time to remove excess oil. I evenly sprinkled about half a teaspoon of Herbes de Provence and topped it off with bonito dry flakes right before serving to give it a light smokey finish. Dry bonito flakes tend to crumple slowly when coming in contact with heat.
The white sauce was prepared the night before to save some time while on the campground. And as always, don’t forget to set up your mise en place station to keep it tidy.
Fresh grape (or cherry) tomatoes, torn fresh basil, peeled & sliced Japanese eggplant, halved dark Peruvian olives & fresh mozarella on a tomato sauce
I only added a few olives and even smaller amounts of the previously brined eggplant to not take away from the rest of the ingredients.
And since you won’t have the luxury of heat coming from the top as you would in your ordinary home oven, I highly recommend sautéing, grilling or blanching some of your toppings ahead of time and setting them right in your mise en place area.
We had some leftover red tomato sauce that I made the night before in the slow cooker. I took part of the sauce and blended it to thin out any chunks. This is the same red sauce that was used to create shakshuka the following morning.
Bacon (thick-diced), blanched fiddlehead ferns & broccoli rabe, sliced avocado, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano with drizzled green goddess dressing on a tomato sauce
I first sautéed the pancetta, patted it dry and set aside. Then briefly blanched the broccoli rabe and fiddlehead ferns separately with a little white wine to remove some of their bitterness.
The avocado was cut and placed right before serving to avoid any oxidization in its presentation.
Prior to serving our company, I drizzled some home-made green goddess dressing on top of the pizza, which was also prepared in the previous evening. In this case, I had to re-emulsify it with a small whisk as the mixture had started to separate.
I was first introduced to this sassy concoction at one of our local restaurants, Starbelly. And as it turns out it was actually conceived in 1923 right at San Francisco’s famous Palace Hotel. For this recipe I turned to my trusty Bon Appetit to deliver the goods.
Thinly sliced prosciutto, roasted red pepper slices, shaved asparagus & fresh mozzarella on a tomato sauce
Roast the bell pepper ahead of time or right on the fire pit. Add the asparagus in the last 2 minutes of cooking time so they can retain some of their delicate crunch, but don’t shy away from placing them at the very end as they are also great served raw.
Bourbon & sage sausage, fresh black trumpet mushrooms, chopped ramps, crushed roasted garlic, fresh thyme with grated Pecorino on a spicy red bell pepper sauce
This combination was the clear winner from all the options we consumed that day. All the flavors came together, especially with some pecorino dustings to finish off. While black trumpets can be a bit hard to find, any other type of mushroom will also do.
Pancetta, paper thin sweet coppa, sunchoke, & arugula with caramelized white onion strips on a tomato sauce
One of our favorite butcher shops in the city is Avedano’s. They have a fantastic selection of salumi, meats and pre-made items both online and at the store, which is where I picked up all of our cuts.
These are just a few ideas as there are multitude of combinations you can play with, including different types of crusts, fruit, seafood – the list goes on… The dough was crispy and savory, it was easy to make ahead of time and finish up right on the campground.
I think the next time around, I’ll go with a maximum of 3 to 4 pizzas to keep it a bit more manageable, one of which will be the sausage version as it was such a hit. But, better yet, I’d love to make it more interactive by having our guests bring their own toppings so we could all try each other’s variations.