The beloved pie has evolved from food for the humble laborer to a permanent item on gourmet menus around the world. This might be hyperbole. But, then I am writing from America where much of the stuff is given the exalted status of being the best in the world.
Pizzas with simple, flavourful toppings inspired from world cuisine have made their way into top restaurants in the country and to me that is the best meal, well worth its weight in calories.
What about the pizza is so fascinating?
To me, it is the simplicity of the idea; bread and topping in a presentation that allows for rolling, folding, and eating wedges that could be bite sized to gigantic, floppy, messy sections. As one moves eastward from Europe the cuisines of mediterranean region, northern and eastern Africa, middle east and finally south Asia have one thing in common; a flat bread made either from wheat or other fermented grains paired with meat, vegetables and lentils. These staples are common and the way we eat them, i.e. by using bread to take a bite of the main entrée is routine. Pizza makes this even easier by combining bread and entrée, well almost!
I used to think that making pizza from scratch base, sauce and all – would be the kind of exercise that would banish me to the kitchen for half a day. To my surprise, it isn’t that much work. It’s just like making chappatis (whole wheat bread, roti) and baking it with toppings of choice.
The downside of this discovery is that pizza’s are often demanded as dinner by permanent roommate.
Here is my recipe for a delicious pizza made from scratch.
Total Time: 1 hour
Prep: 25-30 minutes
Active: 20 minutes
For the base:
2 cups Whole wheat flour (atta),
2 tsp Baking powder,
1 tsp Salt,
1 tsp each of dry oregano, basil and thyme. (add herbs that you enjoy),
4 tbsp Olive oil (about 1/4 cup),
3/4 cup Water (or as needed for kneading).
For the sauce:
1 tbsp Olive oil,
1 cup Marinara pasta sauce,
4 tbsp Ketchup,
3-4 Garlic cloves finely chopped,
1 Onion, thinly sliced,
A pinch of Paprika, (I also use chopped green chillies, a staple of Indian tempering)
Salt and pepper to taste,
2-4 tbsp Ground Parmesan.
1/2 to 1 Onion, sliced,
1 Green Pepper, sliced (use red or yellow, whatever is available),
8 oz White mushrooms, sliced (approx 200 gms),
1 cup Baby spinach leaves,
1 cup Roasted and sliced/shredded chicken breast,
1, 7 oz pack of Pepperoni (I use turkey pepperoni),
Pickled jalapeno (as needed),
*Optional garnishes, if available: sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper, cheese.
Base: This is a recipe without any yeast. It’s easy and doesn’t require long waiting periods for the dough to rise.
1.Assemble all ingredients in a large vessel. First add flour, then salt, baking powder, dried herbs and finally olive oil. I also add chilli flakes once in a while. Mix with a fork.
2.Next, take water in a cup. Make a well in the flour mixture and add a handful of water in the center. Start kneading by mixing dry flour with water until all of it comes together. If the dough is too wet, add some dry flour. If it’s too tough, wet your palms and keep kneading until the dough responds to a push. Poke it and see if it start bouncing back. If not then its needs some more kneading.
3.Cover with a clean cloth and let it rest while you prep for the sauce and toppings.
Note: Before you start working on the sauce preheat the oven up to the maximum temperature possible. Yes, you read that right. If it goes up to 550 F, then that’s how high you need to heat it. If you use a pizza stone then let it also preheat in the oven.
1.The sauce is the easiest part. Start with heating olive oil in a skillet.
2.To that add chopped garlic and onions. Saute for a few minutes, until the onions start browning.
3.Next, add pasta sauce. Cook it on low for a minute.
4.Mix in ketchup and herbs. Taste and according to need add salt and pepper.
5.Finally, add some granulated parmesan. Mix well, until the cheese melts completely. Turn off the heat and let it rest. Take it off the stove to cool faster.
You can either start or end with this part of pizza making. Depending on how much time it takes for your oven to reach its maximum temperature.
1.Wash all the vegetables you plan to use.
2.Pat them dry with a kitchen towel.
3.Chop onions, capsicum (peppers), mushrooms, roast chicken and spinach. I usually keep the spinach leaves whole.
4.Keep toppings in containers close to each other for easy access.
5.I also use pickled jalapeno, when I have some homemade ones for topping. I will share my method in another post.
Now that the assembly line is set and all ingredients are ready, it’s time to roll!
Rolling the dough: you will need a rolling-pin, you palm and a clean surface.
1.On a clean surface take a quarter portion of the dough. Make it into a ball, needn’t be spherical.
2.On your kitchen counter or a large chakla- a wooden or stone slab used for rolling chappatis – start by flattening the ball you just portioned.
3.You can either roll the dough or use the base of your palm push the dough outward from the center. It will be stretchy with high elasticity. That is the consistency we aimed for when kneading it. Keep pushing and stretching until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Don’t roll it thinner than that.
4.Next, transfer the flattened base onto a plate or a chopping board from where you can transfer it easily to the pizza stone.
5.Topping is the final step before putting it in the oven. Poke a the base a few times with a fork, drizzle olive oil on it and rub it in with the tips of your fingers or the back of a spoon.
6.Take a tablespoon of sauce- it should be at room temperature otherwise the base will become really soggy and sticky. Evenly spread the sauce.
7.Start topping first with pepperoni, then chicken, peppers ending with onions. Don’t end with spinach, but try to have onions or peppers on top. And of course, finish with cheese. I use cheese infrequently.
8.Transfer to a preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Check in between to see if the crust is cooked. The sauce will be bubbling and toppings will also shrivel a little. You should be careful when opening and handling the oven. Always use mitts or layers of cloth towels, if gloves aren’t available. Let the pizza rest for a few minutes. And then enjoy!