Cooking a homemade pizza on the barbecue grill seemed like a natural. After all there are few forms of animal, mineral or vegetable matter that I have not, at one time or another, attempted to slap on a grill.
Moreover, the end product of this endeavor was going to be pizza, one of the few items that the kids and I agree is edible by all age groups.
So I did it. I made the dough and cooked two pizzas.
I would not, however, describe the process as natural. There were flours in the air, whole wheat and unbleached. There were also herbs and cheeses around, along with tomatoes, lots of tomatoes. About three hours worth of tomatoes -- which is how long it took me to skin and seed the basket full of plum tomatoes I bought to use as pizza topping.
There was one sun-dried ingredient. It was not the sun-dried tomato, the fashionable topping that comes to us from California pizza makers. Instead I used a sun-dried brick. It came from my back yard, right underneath the cherry tree. After drying the brick in the sun, I put it in the bottom of my barbecue kettle.
Pizza makers are always putting bricks in their ovens. They say bricks are supposed to hold the heat. But pizza makers also believe that bricks have mythical qualities. Bricks, they figure, appease the gods of burnt crust.
I used a half a brick. Which is probably why the gods were angry at me. More about that later.
I got the idea for this undertaking from a new book "Cucina Simpatica" (HarperCollins $25) by Johanne Killeen and George Germon, two Providence, R.I., restaurateurs.
The authors warned that "it will take a few practice runs" to perfect the pizza-on-the-grill technique. I tossed off this declaimer as being aimed at amateurs, not at me. After all, I was a semipro. I had grilled onions.
I began by tracking down the yeast, corn meal, and flours used to make dough. I had some yeast, but it had expired. At least, that is what the little freshness date typed on top of the yeast envelope led me to believe.
After saying a few brief words of sympathy on their passing, I buried the expired yeast containers in the trash can. I had corn meal, but it was the wrong color. I had yellow, the recipe called for white. The household flours were off-color as well. I had bleached white, the recipe wanted unbleached and some earthy whole wheat.
So after a trek to the grocery store to pick up the correct hues of flour, and after a trip to the Sunday morning Farmer's Market at Gay Street and I-83 to pick up fresh plum tomatoes, I began the pizza-making process.
It was work, but it smelled good. The yeast bubbling in the sugar-and-water solution smelled like a brewery, and that was a plus. Mixing the clouds of corn meal, whole wheat and unbleached white flours together was messy. But I consoled myself with the thought that at any pizzeria worth its anchovies, the pizza makers are covered with flour.
Following instructions, I placed the dough in a covered bowl. It was a dough attuned to today's financial climate. It inflated twice in less than three hours.
While I waited for the dough to rise, I peeled and seeded tomatoes. This was drudgery, so I enlisted a helper, my $l 6-year-old. Like most small boys, he likes to break things open. So when I told him we going to cook the tomatoes in water until their skins split, he was more than willing to assist me.
Speaking of testosterone, I enjoyed punching the dough back down. That is what I did when the dough inflated. It felt good, but like most measures designed to stop inflation, it had no lasting effect. Forty minutes later the dough was puffed up again.
I needed a very hot, full-bore fire. Charcoal or wood fires only, the book said; a gas grill won't work because it can't get hot enough. I built my fire using a charcoal starter, a metal device that looks like an oversized beer mug with holes in it.
Since I have a kettle-style barbecue cooker, I put the brick down near the charcoal. That is what the book told me to do. It also said that the charcoal should sit only on one side of the grill. This was the hot side where the pizza cooked. The other side, the cold side, was the parking lot side of the grill. That is where the pizza was parked when the toppings were applied.
Things went well for the first effort, the kids' pizza. I put the rolled-out pizza dough on the hot side of the grill. I let it cook for a few minutes, then flipped the dough over and moved it to the cool side of the grill. Then the mozzarella cheese and the freshly skinned tomatoes were placed on top.
I scooted the loaded-down pizza back to the hot side, and kept it there until the cheese bubbled. It looked great. It had pretty good flavor. The kids wouldn't eat it.
The 6-year-old picked the tomatoes off his piece, but just toyed with it. The 10-year old claimed he liked this pizza, but left half of his serving uneaten on the plate.
By contrast, there are no leftovers when a "box pizza," the kind that comes in a box from a nearby pizzeria, is placed in front of the kids.