Dinner Rush! Grilled Garden Vegetable Pizza

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I see no reason for hot, muggy summer nights to put a damper on my delicious pizza-consumption time. Sure, turning on the oven to the highest setting it’ll withstand to produce that crispy, crispy crust would be a tasty choice. It would also be an express ticket to sleeping on the couch (the air conditioner is in the bedroom and my husband doesn’t suffer the heat too gladly). Enter old faithful: the trusty grill.

If you’ve made pizza at home before, then you know that heat is your friend. You crank that oven up as high as you possibly can, the idea being that you want a browned crust and melted cheese quickly. When grilling your pizza, it’s important to be a bit more reserved with those gas knobs. Since the heat of a grill is more direct than a traditional oven, hanging out in the “medium” range is your ticket. That is, of course, unless you love a charred pizza. I didn’t think so.

Now that you and pizza have been united in summertime backyard bliss, the only decision left to make is what should go on the pie. Here’s an idea:

For the pesto
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 small bunch cilantro (about 2 cups)
Zest and juice of half a lemon
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
Splash of water, as needed
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

For the toppings
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, sliced into matchsticks
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 medium zucchini, cored and seeded, halved lenghtwise and thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, as needed for dusting
1 pound whole-wheat pizza dough
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Prepare the pesto. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pumpkin seeds, cilantro, and lemon zest and juice. Pulse the machine a few times to chop up the ingredients. Turn the machine on and stream in the olive oil to make a smooth paste (use a few splashes of water if the oil isn’t enough to smooth out the mixture). Season the pesto with salt and pepper and set aside.

Prepare the toppings. Place a medium saute pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the bell pepper and onion to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the zucchini, garlic, red pepper flakes and dried oregano to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the zucchini is tender, 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and let the vegetables cool slightly.

Preheat a gas grill to medium heat. Lightly dust a work surface with the flour and roll out the pizza dough to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Lightly brush one side with a bit of the remaining oil and then lay the oiled side down over the grill. Brush the dry side with the remaining olive oil. Cook the crust until the bottom is lightly charred and the dough is starting to puff up, 3 to 4 minutes. Slide the pizza dough off from the grill and onto a baking sheet and flip the dough over so that the grilled side is facing up.

Spread the prepared pesto evenly over the grilled side of the dough. Scatter the cooked vegetables in an even layer over the pesto and then sprinkle the cheese over the vegetables. Slide the pizza back from the sheet to the grill, close the cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the bottom crust is deep golden-brown and crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve the pizza warm with additional red pepper flakes.

COOK’S NOTE: If you find that the bottom of the pizza is getting too dark before the cheese has melted, invert a baking sheet, slide the pizza onto it and put that back over the heat. This will put some space between the crust and the flames and buy you a few more minutes of melting time.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars like Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and Bobby Deen , he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at  @patrickwdecker  or visiting his website at  patrickwdecker.com .

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