raditionally, even though this is changing slowly, Indians are not very adventurous when it comes to food. Not that there’s anything wrong in a preference for food that one has grown up with. For one thing, on the whole, the generation that my parents belonged to accepted that it was alright to eat out once in a while but wondered why anyone would choose food served in restaurants over fresh and healthy home cooked fare.
Then again, having been used a cuisine that made excellent use of spice (I’m not talking about the oily, spicy and calorie-rich stuff that gets dished out in most eateries in the name of Indian food!) most foreign cuisines tend to feel a bit bland and unexciting on the Indian taste buds.
Yet change in food habits is inevitable, especially in today’s market driven world economies, and change can be a good thing. With a lot of food ingredients that used to sound exotic now lining our store shelves in even smaller cities and becoming a lot more affordable, many Indians have embraced non-Indian cuisines with open arms. Two world cuisines that we have really taken to and made so Indian that they are no longer recognisable in the countries of their birth are Chinese and Italian food!
Our Chinese dishes, pastas and pizzas have taken on very Indian flavours and are as Indian as rice and chappathis. I’m sure there is no other part of the world where you can eat a “tandoori” pizza!
Having eaten authentic pizza (I consider a pizza eaten in Italy authentic though the Italians might not agree), it was next to impossible to enjoy the stuff they serve in the name of pizza even in pizza chain restaurants. However there was a time when we had very little choice but that since I hadn’t mastered bread making at home.
Even after I learned to make decent bread, a good home-made pizza eluded me for a long time. But a lot of practise later, I can now manage a decent pizza and make them on and off though I haven’t really blogged them The only other pizzas on this blog, as of now, are a Hawaiian Pizza and the one I made for a Daring Baker challenge. That challenge involved not just making the pizza but tossing it up in the air which I have never quite got the hang of, not having the skills of either a pizzaiolo or a juggler!
I prefer the less adventurous and theatrical kind of cooking in my kitchen and my pizzas are always pressed out by hand. The kind of pizza that everyone , especially our daughter, likes and so the one I make more frequently is the one with my home-made tomato based sauce topped with vegetables and cheese.
A few months back it was the season for figs and I decided to use them on a “no tomato sauce” pizza with caramelised onions and paneer. You could use Feta cheese if you prefer as the salt of that balances the sweetness of figs very well. Feta is very expensive here when I can find it, and I’ve found paneer works extremely well as a substitute. Store bought paneer is normally unsalted, except for the kind that we get in Goa which is salted. If you make your own paneer at home, then you can salt it to your taste and even add a dash of spice like cumin to it.
We prefer thin crust pizzas so that’s how I make mine. Do not over bake this pizza or the paneer will become tough and chewy.
Fresh Fig, Caramelised Onion & Paneer Pizza
For the pizza bases:
1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Enough water to form the dough
For the toppings:
4 medium sized onions, sliced
2 tsp olive oil
8 fresh figs, sliced or quartered
200gm paneer cubes
More olive oil to brush on the pizza
2 to 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or dried herbs)
Salt to taste
Red chilli flakes to taste
Semolina to dust the baking sheets
To make the pizza dough:
Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk and then add the yeast. Stir well and keep aside for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
You can knead the dough by hand but I prefer to do it in the processor. Put the flour, salt and olive oil in the food processor bowl and pulse a couple of times. Now add the activated yeast-milk mixture and run the processor. Add enough water to form a dough that is kneaded to a soft, smooth and elastic consistency.
Remove the dough and shape it into a ball and place in an oiled bowl allowing the oil to coat the dough well. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise till almost double 9 about an hour and a half).
Deflate the dough and knead lightly a couple of times. Divide the dough into 2 halves and shape each into a smooth ball. Roll out or press out each ball into a flat 11” round. Dust the pizza sheets with semolina and place the pizza dough on this and cover with toppings as mentioned below.
Heat the oil in a pan and stir-fry the onions in it till they caramelise to a golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep aside to cool.
Brush the pizza dough with olive oil and arrange the caramelised onions, figs and the paneer cubes on top. Lightly sprinkle with salt and red chilli flakes, and then the rosemary too. Lightly drizzle a little more olive oil on the pizzas.
Bake the pizzas at 240C (475F) for about 20 minutes or till the edges of the pizza are golden brown and the paneer starts browning at the edges.