I used to read to my daughter all the time when she was a little girl. One of her favourite books was a little tome called “Pizza for Dinner”. The book was all about a mother and daughter making pizza for dinner. They would both make the dough, roll it out, pick out the toppings and get all messy trying to make the pie. The refrain on each page was the daughter exclaiming “And then I followed what she did”. The last page had a happy mother and child at the table, enjoying a slice of pizza. My daughter was just a little more than one and had never tasted a pizza but would giggle and add her own childish babble to the refrain every time. She was not going to taste a pizza for a while (I still was not making Pizza at home and had no intentions a feeding a toddler with the store-bought variety. There was time enough for that) but some seem to understand that the whole process could be a lot of fun. So when I made my first pizza, she was all ready to help, fed on a steady diet of the book when she was younger. While I worked feverishly on the pizza, she simply followed what I did. I would not go so far as to put that attempt down to disaster. It was edible alright, but did not have the chew and the crumb that I came to expect from a good pizza. It was only when I made my first semolina bread, that light bulbs went off in my head. This was it, I needed to add semolina to my dough and I would get all the texture I needed. This dough worked for both the thin crust and a slightly deeper dish pizza. I do not have a wood fired oven to get the great char on the crust but I make do with my regular oven and manage to get a very decent crust. Summer in India has become synonymous with the IPL. For those who do not follow cricket (are there really those sort of people in India?) it really is one of the biggest sporting events around. In my house, everything revolves around which team is playing against who, on which evening. Heaven forbid, that someone actually tries to switch channels when a match is on. I actually have no problems watching the games, as long as I have something interesting to munch on. So it was decided (by unanimous vote) that Wednesday was going to be Pizza night. I figured if I was going to make a pizza, I would make it gourmet. I wanted to make a fig and caramelized onion pizza with a touch of balsamic reduction. So off I went to my friendly neighbourhood store. “No figs today madam, Sorry” he shrugged his shoulders. “I have strawberries. Try these plums. You should taste these lychees. These freshly cut pieces of jackfruit is home-grown. Or these mangoes. . . ” he listed. None of them worked for the pizza I had in mind. I did, however, leave after buying a whole bunch of lychee and half a dozen plums and of course, a couple of mangoes. Time to get my dough going and then I could decide on the toppings. I had my heart set on caramelized onions. So once my dough was resting I slice my onions really thin, a drizzle of oil in the pan with the onions, a pinch of salt and a touch of sugar got it all sizzling on a low flame. I know people who add quite a bit of sugar to the onions. I wanted to caramelize them to bring out their natural sugars. I did not want onion jam. With these onions, you just need to be patient. Turn up the heat, and you will have fried onions (as delicious as they can be, save that for your biryani) or worse, blackened and burned onions. So keep flame low and let it cook down at its own pace. What you want is the natural sugars to caramelize and add that lovely sweetness, impossible to replicate with added sugars. It could take about 20 minutes or maybe even half an hour.Keep at it. This will ensure that you have a lovely even flavour.. That done, I checked my fridge and found half a bag of cherry tomatoes. I could use that. Then five forlorn mushrooms looked sad. So those came out as well to be added to the toppings. “Stop” I told myself “No more than 3 toppings” While the dough rose, the pizza sauce bubbled away and the onions were golden and ready to go . “I will start when they go in for the toss” I proclaimed referring to the teams stepping out to spin the coin. That ‘toss’ actually did not happen on time. The weather Gods had other plans. It was raining and everything was getting postponed but my pizza could not wait. Toss or no toss, it was time for the pizza to go into the oven. So in it went. Everyone who had gathered to watch the game at least had something to look forward to. While all of us gathered around the table each with divided opinions (about the teams, not pizza!) the pizza arrived. Warm, with the cheese all melty, and the tomatoes just roasted around the edges, all it needed was a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh basil. As we tucked in, I could taste the crunch the semolina gave the crust, the rich balsamic flavour of the sweet onions, the creaminess of the stringy cheese and the briny Parmesan. The base was sturdy enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy. It was perfect. It no longer mattered if it was going to continue to rain. When you had pizza, friends and conversation, the match is just an excuse.
For the Crust
1 1/2 cups All-purpose or Bread Flour
1/2 cup Semolina
1 tsp Instant Yeast
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt
1 Tbs Sugar
3/4 cup Water
For the Caramelized Onion
A couple of medium onions, thinly sliced
1 to 2 tsp Olive oil
Pinch of salt and sugar
A tablespoon or two of balsamic Vinegar
For the Sauce
Pulp of 4 medium tomatoes
1 tsp of Olive oil
A couple of cloves of garlic finely chopped
Salt and sugar to taste Fresh Basil (or dried if you cannot get hold of fresh)
Your choice ( I used cherry tomatoes and mushroom along with the onions)
I strongly recommend quartered fresh figs with the caramelized onions
1. Mix all the ingredients for the crust together and knead well till you get a soft and supple dough. You might need to add more water depending on your flour and weather conditions.
2. Lightly oil a bowl and roll the dough in it and cover the bowl. Set it aside for the dough to double.
3. In the meantime, add the oil and onions into a pan.
4. On a low flame cook down the onions. Add the sugar and salt
5. When the onions have cooked down and are brown and soft, add the balsamic vinegar and reduce. Set side to cool and resist eating them all.
6. Now make your sauce. Cook the chopped garlic in the oil and add the tomato pulp, salt, and sugar and cook till thick and saucy.
7. Add your herbs and set aside.
8. If the dough has doubled, punch down. Pat the dough into a circle and stretch the dough into a 10 inch circle.
9. Now this is what I do because I do not have super hot oven. I start the pre-heat at least half hour before I am ready to bake. I set it at the highest temperature my oven is capable of (240 C) If you have a pizza stone, slip that in now. I don’t have one. What I do have is my grandmother’s super thick cast-iron tava. This works as well as any pizza stone. So in that goes. I stretch my pizza on a parchment sheet because it is easy to slide it on to the stone. Now, if you have neither, it’s ok. You can bake it on cookie sheet. You will still get a very decent pizza.
10. Now that the long explanation is over, the rest is pretty simple. Spread the sauce on the pizza, scatter your toppings and on top of that, the grated (or clumps) of cheese. Finally on top, some torn pieces of basil. I m not telling you the exact quantity because I believe each person should be allowed to add as much of each element as they choose. So no rules here. Go ahead, let your instincts rule. 11. Now slide the pizza on to the stone or slip your cookie sheet into the oven and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden. I have to add a note here. If you are using the really good cheese, 15 minutes is too long a bake time. So I would bake the pizza for about 12 minutes, add the cheese in the last 3 or 4 minutes. This way every single element is just as it should be.
12. Now just drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top, some more of the fresh herbs and it is ready to serve. Cut yourself a slice, kick back and enjoy the game or just the pizza. Either is fine. The toppings are totally your choice. Feel free to experiment. I love the pineapple and jalapeno combination, Sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke or fire roasted vegetables . . . What ever you do keep it simple.