Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The European mans burden
Having spent the last four weeks in India, I have tried some quite interesting food, some really good food and some not so good food, but never anything awful. Until today.
In his quest of spending the largest amount of Rupees on one pizza, one colleague of mine spent Rs. 464 on one medium sized pizza. The key to this ghastly amount was the combination of two crusts, normally not seen together: “The Ultimate Deep Dish” and the “Cheese burst”. In the menu the latter is described as “creamy liquid cheese filled between a classic base and a layer of wafer thin crusts”. In my head it is described as “way too much”.
In my mind pizza is the thin-crust Italian version. Pan pizzas and the square shaped traditional Norwegian “Lørdagspizza” are also good meals, but it’s not pizza. Imagine an Italian pizzeria, with red and white table cloth, nice pear shaped chianti bottles, candles and a couple in love, holding hands and waiting for their pizza. In comes the waiter, a thin Italian man, with a white shirt, black hair and a thin moustache, and places a big lump of dough and cheese, one inch thick on the table. That is not very romantic, has rather nasty sexual undertones, and the guy is destined to go home alone after the elegant Italian girls sees him eat like a pig.
If the waiter instead would have brought a nice Italian pizza, with slices that can be maneuvered with one hand, with a thin layer of tomato sauce and with patches of molten cheese, nicely browned on top, topped with fresh basil and some extra vergine olive oil, the night would surely be more satisfactory.
With this in mind, I will carry the European mans burden, learning Indians and Americans how to make a perfect pizza in your own kitchen.
As explained before, the key to a good wheat dough is the kneading. If you have a kneading machine, great, if not, get ready for some work out. The kneading releases gluten, which forms a network of bubbles ready to be filled with CO2 from the yeast
350 g wheat flour
200 g tepid water
1 tsp Salt
25 g fresh yeast (or corresponding amount of dried yeast)
Combine flour and water in a kneading machine, and let it run for four minutes at low speed. Let the dough rest 15 min. Then add salt and yeast, and work for another four minutes. Cover and let rest 1-2 hours. Form the dough into four balls, and proof for another 20 min. Roll the dough into thin pizzas, app 3 mm thick, they are now ready for sauce and topping. I prefer to use a basic tomato sauce (boil a can of good quality tinned tomatoes to right consistency, add salt and black pepper to taste), some nice cheese (Jarlsberg, Port Salut, Ridderost, Gruyere or mozzarella), and top with good quality olive oil and fresh basil.
The baking of the pizza
Even though the dough is important, what separates good pizza from great pizza is the baking. Ordinary kitchen ovens will not provide the high temperatures necessary to make a thin pizza with that slightly burnt taste. One way around this problem is to buy a specialized pizza oven, but since I have way too many kitchen appliances I prefer to do the following:
- Preheat your oven to highest temperature possible, with grill element on.
- Put a cast iron frying pan (as large as possible) on full effect on the stove. Leave for ten minutes (less if you have an induction stove, the pan should be hot, but not glowing)
- Then make the pizza, with topping and all, slide it onto the base of the pan turned upside-down, and position this in the oven, so that the pizza is two inches from the grill element. Leave the oven door open (prevents thermostat from turning of the grill)
- Cook for two-three minutes, until the pizza is done, with molten cheese and nice black freckled crust
- Reheat the frying pan for each pizza
For a more thorough walkthrough, see Heston Blumenthals YouTube entries