My family has a weird relationship with restaurants. We love eating out with a list of joints that we always go back to have that perfect meal. However, this list in a very selective rolodex of names with critical reasons for which each establishment makes it’s mark. The one reason that remains constant is: “can the food we ate there be replicated or improved back home?” If the answer is yes then sadly we never come back there again. It’s honestly a challenge to take my parents anywhere because the moment the food arrives, both mum and dad begin dissecting the food like the parts of a lego set. Everything from ingredients used, to cooking process, to plating are up for a discursive analysis following which we get a verdict— are we coming back?
For the longest time, I hated how my parents did this with every meal but as I grew older, this trait slowly seeped into me as well. Not only did it make me pickier of what and where I ate but also allowed me to appreciate the meals that stumped me. Meals that were made in such a way that I knew the only I can ever make it home was by repeated visits with increasing expectations. It sounds like we are very picky and snooty eaters but to be quite honest, we are all on a constant diet and days where do eat out are extremely planned. Meals prior to them are controlled in terms of their macronutrient intake so as to make sure we don’t exceed our threshold of carbs and fats. Additionally, a great meal with my mom usually means that the chef gets a nice praise and at times, summoned to help us understand what we just ate and how it was so perfect.
In fact, a lot of the things I have learned making are recipes that my mom was originally introduced to by such perfect meals. She has a knack for chatting with the chef and asking them about how they make it so well, which usually leads to them revealing their recipes, and in turn us eating those dishes at home. Aglio e olio is one such recipe that my mom picked up on and brought back home. The other was homemade pizza— specifically the pizza dough. In 2009, we moved to a new house where we had invested in (for the first time) an oven. Dad used it to bake chicken while mom was still trying to understand how she could advance her knowledge and move from just baking desserts. I only got into cooking in college, so all I did was eat and push them to expand their culinary horizons by providing them with the blank canvas that was my stomach.
Pizza became her new Everest. Every visit to a pizza parlor became a new school that taught my mom about some different aspect about this meal. She first perfected her sauce, taking inspiration from chefs both in India and in the various other countries she travelled to. This resulted in the first versions of the homemade pizza- a chunky aromatic sauce lathered on to a store bought base and the only kind of pizza cheese available in Delhi at the time— Amul Pizza Cheese. It was not the best pizza, which meant parlors in the tri state area still had three hungry patrons. Soon, she perfected the dough and made the hyper trendy, thin crust pizza along with a low moisture mozzarella that became abundantly available soon after. Version 3 of this rendition began with version 2 being rolled out to friends and family at dinner parties. It became such a hit that even my high school friends who otherwise would hate to come 30 minutes away from the main city to my house, were now excited by the prospect of getting “better than restaurant pizza.” Version 3 (AKA the killer of all pizza parlors) was when we began getting a little scientific— measuring the water to flour ratio, buying good quality dry yeast, cured pork for toppings, and investing in pizza stones to get a temperature just close enough to that of wood fired ovens.
My recipe here uses version 3 of mom’s recipe but adds some more science to it. I also make a smoother sauce than the one she makes primarily because I don’t like my sauce to be the whole meal but only a contributor— but don’t tell her that I said that!
Now some of you may ask, “is there a pizza parlor in Delhi that you still go to?” The answer to that is, yes! A recent trip to Italy, introduced us to Neapolitan pizza. A ferment dough that is stretched so that the sides are thick like a garlic bread, which the middle is thin. The whole pastry is cooked in a fire oven to a point that the crust is charred, leaving this beautiful flavor of fresh mixed with licks or carbon that are just too difficult to replicate at home— for now. Leo’s Pizzeria in Basant Lok is the only place that provides us with pizza today and really hope it does for a while!
Glimpses from the week
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Spent the weekend learning how to perfectly shallow fry chicken for Asian dishes. More than the sauce, it’s the breading on your protein that takes the most time to perfect. This chicken has a salt and oil marinade, and then mixed in egg and cornflour. Sweet and sour chicken with the perfect breading on the blog soon!
Pizza Dough (Makes 4)
500g Bread flour
16g kosher salt
2.5g active dry yeast
350 ml water
8 tomatoes, boiled, skins peeled, and deseeded
1 large red onion, minced
2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
8 Garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons oregano powder
1/2 cup fresh basil
400 grams Low-moisture mozzarella cheese (shredded)
Fresh basil, as needed for topping
Salami/ bacon/ smoked chicken, as needed for topping
In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and, with a wooden spoon or your hands, mix thoroughly.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature for 18 hours or until it has more than doubled. It will take longer in a chilly room and less time in a very warm one.
Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. Divide it into 4 equal parts and shape them. For each portion, start with the right side of the dough and pull it towards the center; then do the same with the left, then the top, then the bottom (the order doesn’t actually matter; what you want is four folds). Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.
If you don’t intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered in a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.
Start by heating olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onions an and garlic and sauce until onions get translucent. Add some red pepper flakes and let those cook for about 10-15 seconds.
Add tomatoes. Stir in and lightly break up the tomatoes. Add some dry oregano and basil leaves stir to combine and let simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Add sauce to a blender and puree for about 10-15 seconds.
Slowly start to pat the dough down into the general shape of a pizza. Don’t roll it out with a rolling pin. Once the dough had grown in size, pass over your knuckles and slowly start to spread it out until a pizza pie shape is formed.
Add your sauce and low moisture mozzarella along with whatever toppings you’d like and place on your pizza stone in your preheated 250°C (or max temp) oven (pre-heat for 1 hour). Bake for 7-9 minutes.
Let cool for a few minutes. Serve and enjoy.