Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Supper: Pizza Night

I have been blogging about food for well over two years, and pizza has yet to make an appearance here. How on earth did this happen? Perhaps I was intimidated by all the wonderful pizzas already out there on the food blogs. In any case, this is a lapse that I am about to fix today. This is also a reader-request recipe: Sharvari requested a pizza recipe in a comment on this post, and many many weeks later, here it is.

Pizza has certainly been a favorite food of mine for many years. I have been digging into pizza from a very early age, long before pizza chains descended on Indian cities, long before I moved to graduate school in NYC, where pizza is not just food, it is a food group. All credit for the early pizza nights goes to my ever-creative mother. Living in a relatively small town with ultra-conservative food tastes never deterred her in the least. In the years of growing up in Kolhapur, I attended perhaps a couple hundred different social events, but they all had exactly the *same* menu- Kolhapuri tambda rassa (red mutton curry), pandhra rassa (white mutton stew), dry-fried mutton, dahi kanda (onion-yogurt relish), thick chapatis and jeera (cumin) rice; gulab jamuns for dessert. I kid you not. If you served anything else, there was the danger of armed revolt. In the midst of this rather bleak culinary landscape, my mother served baked vegetables and baked corn at her dinner parties, and jelly-custard (Brown and Polson brand, anyone remember that one?), set in pretty little bowls for dessert. She procured macaroni and spaghetti and cooked the pasta in a tomato-Amul cheese sauce (a recipe that started with my grandmother, believe it or not...it must be in the genes. I can only hope). She made sweet corn soup and stir-fried noodles long before "Indian-Chinese" cuisine came into vogue. She hosted burger nights, with mincemeat burgers tucked into pav-bhaji buns, garnished with cabbage and carrot shreds. And she made pizza. We enjoyed Maharashtrian food and other Indian cuisines as much as anyone else, but we also got a chance to try something new every so often.

Aai's pizza started off as "bread pizza" with the sauce spread on regular sliced bread and sprinkled with Amul cheese. Later, as an enterprising local store-owner started to carry a more extensive inventory, she would buy pizza bases, small 6-inch discs of par-baked bread. No matter what, the pizza would always be pan-baked on the stove to a crispy and golden finish, because my parents only had one tiny electric oven and it was stored away to be used strictly for birthday cakes.

Coming back to pizza. For the home cook, a pizza base represents a blank canvas on which to experiment with an assortment of sauces, a potpourri of toppings and wild combinations of sauces and toppings. Our other favorites sauce, apart from the tomato sauce that follows, is classis basil pesto. I have a long list of pizzas on the to-make list as well- caramelized onion and sage, and one that I ate in a wonderful pizzeria in NYC- ricotta, paper-thin slices of potato and walnuts, all drizzled with fragrant olive oil. But the humble and messy tomato sauce that follows remains the firm favorite in our home.

Aai's Pizza Sauce


piz1

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, chopped fine
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bell pepper (green/red/yellow), chopped fine
2 cups tomato puree (fresh or canned)
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 T ketchup or 1 t sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Method:
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan.
2. Saute the garlic and onion until fragrant and transluscent (not browned).
3. Stir in the pepper and fry for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the tomato, chilli powder and sugar. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, uncovered or partially covered, or until the sauce is thick (the time will depend on how watery the tomatoes were to begin with).
5. Season with salt and pepper and let it cool to room temperature. A thick sauce is of utmost importance, IMHO, because a watery sauce will make the crust soggy.

Next comes the dough. Since I have the privilege of living in a home with a full-size oven, and having access to yeast, I make the dough myself. I use a food processor to make the dough but it is by no means necessary. You can make the dough by hand: use a bowl and a wooden spoon for the initial mixing, and then place the dough on a floured surface and knead with your hands. I have used Bittman's recipe for many years with consistently good results. I feel that pizza dough is very forgiving and a good way for newbies to get into baking. It is certainly the first bread that I started baking on a regular basis.

Pizza Dough

(Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)
1. Take 1/4 C warm (not hot!) water in a small bowl. Add 1/2 t sugar and 1 t active dry yeast to it. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast become active and the solution starts to froth. (If you use instant or bread machine yeast, this proofing step can be skipped and you can add the yeast directly to step 2.
2. In the food processor bowl fitted with a dough blade, add 2 C plain flour, 1 C whole-wheat flour, 1 t salt and the yeast solution. Pulse to combine.
3. With the motor running, add about 1 C water and 1-2 T olive oil (I use two glugs), until the dough comes together as a slightly sticky, elastic ball (add more water or a little more flour as required to achieve this).
4. Take the dough ball out, knead it on a floured surface for a minute, then place in an oiled bowl. Cover with damp cloth or plastic wrap, and let it rise for 1-2 hours. Left-over pizza dough can be frozen for future use.

Assembling and Baking:
Preheat the oven (with pizza stone inside) to 475 degrees for 20-25 minutes (you want the oven and the stone to get very very hot). A pizza stone is a flat stone/ unglazed ceramic tile that helps in creating a crisp crunchy pizza crust.

As the oven pre-heats, make the pizza base. Sprinkle some cornmeal (coarsely ground corn) or semolina (rava) on a pizza peel (a paddle used to transfer the base onto the hot stone). Divide the dough into two portions for two large pizzas (serving 2-3 each) or into 4-6 portions for individual-sized pizzas. Start stretching the dough on the pizza peel either by hand or using a rolling pin with gentle pressure. Periodically, you may have to let the dough "rest" for a few minutes to let it become more pliable.

Note: If you do not own a pizza stone and pizza peel, you can make the pizza on a regular rectangular or circular baking sheet. Lightly oil the sheet with olive oil. Place dough on the baking sheet and press down as above to make the pizza base.

Spread pizza sauce on the pizza base, leaving the edges unsauced. It is better to go easy with the sauce so that the pizza does not get soggy. I often serve some sauce on the side as a dipping sauce, rather than drowning the pizza with it. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice ad then with bits/ slices of mozzarella. I don't like the dry and rubbery pre-shredded mozzarella from the supermarket and always seek out fresh balls of mozzarella that look like the one here.

For beginner pizza-makers, smaller pizzas are much easier to make and transfer to the pizza stone etc. This time I tried making a larger one and it worked fine, but was more difficult to transfer to and from the oven. We topped half the pizza with onions, red peppers and olives and topped the other half with onions and slices of Morningstar fake "chicken" wings (the latter is a guilty and occasional pleasure for us).
piz2


Transfer the pizza from the peel to the pizza stone gently (shaking the peel back and forth gently to release the pizza and slide it onto the stone). If you made the pizza on a baking sheet, simply place the sheet in the oven. Bake for 10-15 mins, or until the crust is crispy and golden, and the cheese is browning and bubbling.
piz3


Cut into wedges and dig in! Jars of dried oregano and red pepper flakes can be offered at the table to enhance the pizzeria experience.
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piz5


Have a great week ahead, everyone!

42 comments:

  1. wow, the pizza looks great. Your description of small-town-trying-out-new-cuisines-mother brought back the memories of my aunt who once served a delicious pizza topped with kobichi bhaji, bell peppers and onions :)

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  2. Now we know that these culinary skills r in your genes ;)
    I buy morning star every once in a while, this is an innovative way to use it

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  3. you have one rocking aai!!! she must be really proud of her daughter.

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  4. What a beautiful story about ur mom's enterprising cooking spirit! Took me back to my childhood where my mom cooked up Western recipes and introduced us to pizzas, custard and sausages etc at a very early age!
    Btw, the 1st dish I cooked when I was a kid was a pizza so this post is bringing back wonderful memories :)

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  5. I loved reading about what your mom cooked and how she cooked it while you were growing up and got a chuckle over the standard menu for social occasions in your town - guess you'd better like mutton! Your pizza is gorgeous - love the pepper hearts! I haven't tried Mark Bittman's pizza dough, so I'll have to give that a try and I'm definitely going to have to try your mom's pizza sauce!

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  6. What a beautiful post. Brought back memories of Aai serving up trifle puddings, custards, spanish omlettes, and yes Desi-Chinese long long before it was 'mainstreamed'.
    They really are something, aren't they?

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  7. Much love to your Aai, Nupur! Very lovely post.....I love that Pizza sauce! and the dough figures on my to do list as well! hugs to you for this post, written straight from the heart!

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  8. I went through a phase where I was making this once a week. While the dough was rising, I'd prep the toppings, and then assemble and pop it in the oven. leftovers were lunch the next day.

    It's one of those things that sounds hard, but is really easy, and very satisfying. Plus an endless variety of possible toppings for every taste!

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  9. I love seeing before and after baking pics of pizzas, I also happen to think that it is one of those foods that photographs beautifully.

    Glad you took the plunge and made your own. Looks great.

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  10. Beautiful post, and a beautiful pizza. I'll look forward to more pizza posts now that you've broken the ice with this one!

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  11. looks awesome!! i especially love olives so yayy for that! :D

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  12. Your aai's pizza will put all the smoking joes, pizza huts and domino's to shame!looks so yummy!the same is with my mom..i learnt most of my so called 'non-indian' recipes from her and she is 62 now!:)hats off to your aai!pls. tell her that!and you of course..i am glad you waited this long to post the pizza recipe.it was worth the wait!:)

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  13. Wonderful post Nupur!..great to know about your mom...this brought back many wonderful memories of childhood which was same as you have explained. Amma used to do all these things when Indian culture was not even exposed to these western food habits. Dad came back from his Italian visit and described the foods he eat there...Amma recreated all of them at home...and I started my cooking adventure with Pizzas...lovely...thank you for the lovely post...btw your Aai's sauce rocks!

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  14. Beautiful post, one that brought back a lot of memories about my grandmothers and party food in a small town! Your pizza looks beautiful!

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  15. Nupur!! I know exactly what you mean :-) Amma's one bottle of oregano was a much treasured piece... :-)

    Your pizza looks beautiful. Mine is sitting in drafts :-)

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  16. oh, i love the heart shaped capsicum slices. Will remember that. Your posts are always so interesting to read.

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  17. Hey Nupur,
    Lovely write-up. Do show it to your dear mom. She will be very proud of her daughter :)
    I remember Brown and Polson custard and my mom also used the ready made pizza base. We used to have all kinds of toppings and of course the tomato ketchup had to be a vital part. Beautiful pics.

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  18. I have been eye-ing Sharmi's pizza lately and now your is also added on the list, what is fake chicken wings made of? I don't have a clue on this
    That looks fabulous with Aai's pizza sauce in it!

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  19. Nandan, :D kobichi bhaji sounds like a very delicious and unusual pizza topping!

    Shankari, yes, my old room-mate got me hooked on to the morningstar stuff...I buy it quite rarely, just as a treat.

    Bee, you'd have to ask her :D

    Dhana, really? Pizza was your first dish? Mine was cake :) Glad to hear your memories too!

    Cathy, oh, boy, yes, that town and its mutton! And they wonder why I hastened to turn vegetarian :D

    TheCooker, trifle puddings! Yes! Those were my Dad's specialty in our family :) These creative cooks are my ultimate inspiration for sure.

    Musical, hugs right back at ya! :)

    Diane, I love leftover pizza too :D and yes, it is so easy that I can't really understand why so many people suffer through the awful pizza chain stuff.

    Cynthia, I have been making my own for a few years...just took the punge in posting about it :)

    Lydia, thanks! I really want to try different toppings...but we seem to always crave this one :)

    Nags, yayy for olives is right! I love them too!

    Madhuli, oh yes, I can't stand the pizza stuff at all. NYC had some amazing pizza though. Your mom sounds awesome!

    Srivalli, glad you liked it :) Pizza is an absolute crowd-pleaser everywhere, right?

    Sra, yes, the small town party food deserves an event on its own! Cheese and pineapple on a toothpick...:D

    Raaga, well, hurry up and post it :D would love to see your version!

    Zlamushka, the hearts were fun, but once covered with cheese, you could barely see them :D

    married..., thanks!

    Anu, my mom doesn't read the blog, so this will be my little secret :)

    Padma, Fake chicken wings are made of soy protein.

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  20. That was a very interesting peek into Kolhapur dinner parties. Your Aayi's pizza sauce lokos so good.

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  21. Nupur!!! I didn't know you grew up in Kolhapur!!!! I am from Kolhapur as well although was brought up in Hyd. My parents are both from Kolhapur and I was married there last year:) My gandpa lives near the Ambabai temple right next to Sarawati theatre!!!! Where were you form in Kolhpur:) Such a small world I say!!!

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  22. Ur Mum Rocks!! and the pizza u made rocks as well!
    my mum used to get Pizza base from Monginis and we'd have pizza dinner ... loved it!

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  23. Your mom is amazing Nupur... I love jelly-custards.. my dad used to make that too - infact I still buy Brown and Polson Custard powder. Your pizza looks very good... the red pepper hearts are so cute. I haven't tried the morningstar chicken wings yet.. will do sometime if it has your seal of approval :)

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  24. Hi, Nupur ,i`m catching up with your blog and really enjoy reading it..nidhi and I love trying out new Pizza toppings, so we will try your recipe soon..

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  25. Hi Nupur, lovely crunchy-looking pizza crust there! That is something I have never dared try. It's great your mom started that tradition of exploration in the kitchen. If she hadn't, just think what we'd all be missing now! :)

    PS your Ma Po Dofou looks YUMMY too -- one of my favorites.

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  26. yumm and cruchy... thanks for sharing. Lovely pizza pics: its tempting.

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  27. Oh...that was so sweet of your mom....the recipe looks simple and delicious...can anyone ever say no to pizza? But what are fake chicken wings? Never heard of them before...

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  28. waw fake chicken wings??!!!! made of soy! does it taste good. have to give a try:) lovely looking pizza.

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  29. looks fabulous nupur! reminds me that I haven't made pizza in a while. Love the color and the veggie combo and ofcourse the buffalo wings :)

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  30. Yr pizza blog has encouraged me to try to make pizza tmrw. I hate the extra cheese on the pizza I have at the pizza joints so hope I can make pizza with less cheese now..Hope it turns out good! U have a great blog and I love it!

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  31. Sandeepa, well, Kolhapur is a very interesting place :D thanks for stopping by!

    Smita, really??? How cool! Yes, the world is really a small place. You must have been visiting Kolhapur every year or so then, to visit the grandparents.

    Manasi, oh, Monginis :) another set of food memories!

    Laavanya, well, the morningstar buffalo wings are tasty enough (and spicy enough) to be very addictive, but they are a processed food, and I doubt whether I should be encouraging you to eat such things :D

    Rani tai, is that you? Hope you are doing well, and how are the girls doing?

    Linda, oh, once you start making pizza, you will get hooked on to it! Yes, with the cornmeal sprinkled under it, the pizza crust is just so crunchy.

    Grihini, glad you like it!

    Priyanka, fake chicken wings are just shaped from soy protein.

    Sharmi, yes, they do taste good, but are a processed food, so probably should be eaten as a once-in-a-while treat.

    Mandira, once cold weather hits, it is pizza season, right?! Glad you like it!

    Sneha, I agress, sometimes they sell pizza that is drowning in cheese. One of our friends does not like cheese and I make cheese-less pizza for him, which is delicious as well. Hope the recipe works for you!

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  32. That is one good looking pizza!

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  33. Is it necessary to cook the vegetables before putting it on crust. I also wanted to know if we need to bake the crust for sometime before adding the sauce and vegetables. If so, for how long at what temperature.

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  34. Hmmm delicious mouth watering recipe....pizza looks very appetising.

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  35. The pizza looks absolutely delicious and mouth watering. Thanks for such a lovely post

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  36. Hi Nupur!! I tried the pizza recipe!! and I could make it!!! There si ofcourse scpoe for improvement, but I'm getting there!!! I kinda messed up withthe pizza sauce though, too much salt... :( , but the base @!! oh I am glad I tried ur recipe!! THANK U!! THANK U!!
    The left over dough is in the freezer for the next installment!
    BTW, this dough makes good bhaturas too!!! Hv u trie that? I did and we liked them!!

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  37. Another one for your books, Nupur. Tried this pizza yesterday...came out perfect! I used fresh tomatoes for the sauce and added a dash of oregano to it. YUM-O! We didn't even freeze the dough as we're having the same dinner tonight!

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  38. wow! you make things look so easy.. ,..fabulous pizza!!
    good to read about your grandma and aai...must be in gene:)...
    hugs and smiles

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  39. hi nupur ...ive been on the hunt for a good home made pizza base n sauce recipie for an upcoming pizza party . Could you tell me whats tthe full name for whole wheat flour? i live in ireland so am not quite sure the variety to pick up ? is it similar to our chappati atta or doe we need to get whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat bread flour...appreciate ur reply.thanks

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    Replies
    1. Whole wheat bread flour would be the most appropriate. Better yet, do a web search for Irish food blogs + pizza dough and see what flour they're using.

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    2. thanks for getting back to me nupur..i'll check like u suggested ..thanks!

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