Independence Day is tomorrow, which for many means firing up the barbecue and gathering up the tried-and-true dishes that traditionally pay tribute to this patriotic day: hotdogs, hamburgers, brats, coleslaw, grandma’s potato salad.

But once the relish and ketchup are back in the fridge and the paper plates are tossed, maybe consider this idea to continue your talents as grill goddess or god: homemade pizza. It’s a way to make creative (and delicious) use of fresh veggies and flavors that burst into the markets and gardens all summer long.

For inspiration, we asked local pizza maker Bob Marshall for help. He’s the owner of Biga Pizza on Main Street, known for its innovative combinations for seasonal pizza pies. An example: One June special was a pizza made with fennel sausage, cream cheese and roasted garlic scapes, those thin, green, curly-cue stalks that are cut from the top of garlic to force the bulb to plump. You’ll see them at farmers markets this time of year.

Ideas for creative pizzas are everywhere, in every season, he said. Just look at what farmers have that’s fresh, and go for it.

Now and in the weeks ahead, you’ll find dandelion and mustard greens, sweet onions, pea tendrils, sweet and hot peppers, heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, arugula, microgreens, corn, cabbage — all can create a unique pizza that could convert even avowed only-pepperoni-on-my-pizza eaters.

Fresh herbs — rosemary, basil, tarragon, thyme, parsley, oregano — are plentiful too, will add a whole new dimension to pizza. To keep basil from wilting, chop it and sprinkle over a just-finished hot pizza before serving.

“This time of year, I’m looking for foraged mushrooms — morels, porcini, lobster mushrooms,” Marshall said. “I love putting fennel on a pizza: It has that bright, floral flavor. Kale — sautéed with garlic, kale is great on a pizza.”

Using local markets and gardens to inspire makes economic and culinary sense, he said.

“Things are picked at their prime. Often they are organic. They are delicious,” he said. “If I’m buying my food from local sources, then they can go out and spend that in the local economy.”

What to do with these ingredients takes some experimenting. Roasting or grilling some veggies before using them brings out their natural sugars and flavors (onions, leeks, potatoes) and will dry up some of the moisture that will otherwise make a soggy pizza, Marshall said.

Or make a chutney: One of Biga’s signature winter pizzas uses frozen Flathead Lake cherries that are made into a chutney with onions, vinegar, spices and honey, then spread on the pizza with homemade pork sausage and smoked Gouda.

Smoked Gouda is another hint: Consider using cheese other than mozzarella (although mozzarella is delicious), like Gouda, ricotta, cream cheese, goat cheese, brie, Manchego, blue cheese or the creamy Cambozola, a combination of blue cheese and Camembert, he suggested.

Building a pizza requires balancing sweet with salty, crunch with creamy, rich with astringent. “You want flavors that pair well together and play off each other,” he said.

Bakers at Biga Pizza and other artisanal pizza houses like The Bridge have specialty ovens that crisp up their pizza with just the right heat in the right place at the right time. At home, we make do with what we have.

They also have their own sauce and dough recipes; we have to make our own (recipes abound online). For a local premade base, look for balls of fresh pizza dough from the Missoula bakery Le Petit Outre, available in the refrigerated sections of most local grocery store delis for under $3 each, a deal.

True, cooking pizza in an oven might be easier than using the grill, but making a pie al fresco is much more fun. Marshall offers these tips:

• Prepare toppings to have them ready by the grill.

• Preheat grill to a high temperature with lid closed.

• Clean grill with a wire brush and season grates with an oil-soaked rag.

• Stretch the dough into shape away from the fire.

• Turn flame down to low heat.

• With grill fairly cool, lay dough down directly on the grate and close lid.

• When dough is toasted but not burned (maybe 90 seconds; you’ll have to watch), lightly oil the top, flip the dough over. Then add your sauce, cheese, spices and toppings.

• Put lid down and cook just until the cheese melts and the bottom crust is toasted.

And remember, when a pizza comes off the grill, it isn’t necessarily done.

“If you make a simple mushroom pizza, when it comes out slice it, put some fresh arugula on top, drizzle it with truffle oil to tie into the mushrooms, then grate some Pecorino Romano or Gran Padano cheese on top — that gives it that sharpness and freshness at the end,” he said.

On artisanal pizzas, the sparseness of toppings is noticeable: Instead of mounds of cheese, veggies and meats you’ll find small amounts, judiciously placed around the pie, and maybe three or four toppings instead of seven or eight.

“Less is often more,” Marshall said. “I know it’s kind of cliché but if you overload pizza, your crust will not get crispy.”

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Mea Andrews was a Missoulian reporter and editor for 27 years, covering food, art and Missoula County growth and development before leaving the paper. She is now retired.


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