Pizza is on my list of favourite things to eat. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love says, “I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair.” I don’t think I’m having a pizza affair but pizza can be so versatile especially if you are not dependent on Pizza Hut or Dominos or those horrid small pre-made stale puffed up pizza bases we get in India. Pizza must be as popular all over the world as Chinese food is. When we went to Rome (this is way way before the days of the internet), we were so looking forward to eating pizza in the land of the pizza and get this, there was not a pizza to be found. I thought pizza would be the Italian street food, like the Indian vada pav. After managing to communicate with someone on the street we were led down alley ways and winding steps and cobbled streets to a pizzaria. Just the one, with 3 guys outside selling slices with different toppings. It was sorely disappointing. Apparently, Rome isn’t the place for pizza, Naples is . Once you know how to make your own thin crust pizza base, you are free. The only trick is to get your oven as hot as it can go. If you have a granite or terracotta slab that you can directly put your pizza on, then you’re as close to recreating a wood fired oven in your own home.
We usually have our home made pizzas every Friday night. When some US marines came to India for a recent training exercise and took us out for drinks, it was on a Friday night. Generally inquisitive about our lives, they asked what my husband and I usually do on a Friday night and they just couldn’t believe how similar our lives were to theirs – pizza! But they kept calling it “Date Night” and were ever so apologetic about ruining our “Date Night.” Somehow the name’s stuck, so we now call Friday nights “Date Night, Pizza Night”. We brought in the new year with the “Date Night Special” : eating home made thin crust pizzas, strawberries and icecream, all three of us huddled up in bed, watching movies. Bliss… Here’s how it’s done.
For the base (2 large pizzas, 4 large slices in each or 3 pizzas 15 cms diameter, 4 slices)
Don’t be afraid. Unlike bread, this dough doesn’t have to rise all that much so even if you do make a mistake (which is highly unlikely but anyway) it won’t matter too much to the end result.
Gently warm 175ml or 3/4 cup of water ( 1 cup is 200ml). You don’t want the water too hot or it’ll kill the yeast. You don’t want it too cold or it won’t activate the yeast. Blood temperature is what it’s gorily called. You should comfortably be able to place your finger in it but it should be warm/tepid.
If you’ve not kept your yeast in the fridge or freezer then don’t take the risk – just buy some new yeast.Yeast is very easy to find in any supermarket.
Place 255gms (or 2 and 1/4 cups) of sifted flour in a bowl.
Add 1 tbsp of oil (sunflower or olive oil will do) and mix it about to get as much of a breadcrumb like texture.
Add 1tsp of salt and mix it through the flour.
Add 1tsp of powdered sugar and mix through.
Make a well in the centre of the flour, pour in the 175ml of warmed water. Sprinkle over 1tbsp of dry yeast. If you are using the granules that Baker’s Yeast provides, then dilute the yeast in the water, breaking up the granules and add to the flour. For all other dry active yeast (looks like very fine beach sand) add straight to your warm water in the well.
Keeping your fingers in a stiff claw move your hand slowly through the flour, starting from the centre and very slowly drawing in the rest of the flour. It should continue to be a bit sticky. Keep going till all the flour has been incorporated.
Bring in to a ball shape, sprinkle flour on the counter top and knead for about 5 to 10 mins till the dough is stretchy and soft. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Keep in a warm place and allow to rise for a minimum of 1 hour.
To roll out the dough: break off about a palm full of dought, shape into a ball, then flatten and on a lightly floured surface roll out gently, lifting the dough and sprinkling flour underneath as you roll. Lift the thin dough off your counter using the back of your hands. Balance the dough on your knuckles and lift on to the baking sheet. If you lift with your finger tips then gravity will work on your dough and it will tear.
Brush the base with a little olive oil, then add the sauce. Then add grated cheese. This is a trick I learned from the chef at the Park. The cheese then melts in to the base and doesn’t fall off the top. Add your toppings and then more cheese or mozzarella. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, drizzle a tbsp of olive oil and bake in a very hot oven – as hot as yours will go.
If you have left over dough, you can shape in to a ball, wrap in clingfilm and keep in the freezer. When you want a pizza next, bring the dough to room temperature and roll out as normal. I’ve had 3 month old dough work just fine.
Everyone has their own pizza sauce, some with tomatoes, some without. I like to make mine hot and spicy like a momo sauce.
Take 5 red chillies and crush them in a blender to make flakes (or just buy chilli flakes!).
Chop 6 garlic pods finely.
Heat 3 tbs of oil till hot, add the chilli flakes, allow it to just reach burning point (don’t inhale)
then add the garlic and then 3 to 4 tbsps of tomato ketchup. Stir and then add 1 tbsp of sugar to balance out the heat. The amount of tomato sauce can be varied to make as much or little sauce as you need. Sprinkle in 1/2 tsp of dried oregano.
Toppings: There’s a whole host of toppings from mushroom, capsicum, sweet corn, olives, onions and all the meats you want. But remember less is more. You can even make what’s called a bianco, a white pizza which is with slices of potato and thyme. Personally, not a favourite of mine. I can’t stress this enough: sprinkle salt on your vege toppings. It makes a huge difference to the taste. If you are using Amul’s mozzarella pizza cheese, you have to add salt and pepper to it and lace with olive oil. This is the only way it will have some taste and become golden brown as it spreads.
You gotta try this recipe, and it doesn’t matter if your dough doesn’t rise!