Pizza. Getting that crust right!

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Pizza is probably the most famous food item from Italy. Although its origin is surrounded by some controversy it is very likely that the pizza was born in Naples. Nevertheless, you can buy incredible pizza everywhere in the country, as well as abroad. I’m lucky enough to have lived more than one year in Italy and have eaten good pizza everywhere from Sicily and Campania through Lazio, Umbria, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and all the way to the northern regions of Linguria and Lombardy. One thing that all the great pizzas have had in common has been the crust. Whether you like thick or thin crust, it should be crunchy!

So… How do you get the crust just right? Since most of us do not posses a wood fired pizza oven, I have has set out to demystify the concept of crunchy pizzas. I will explain how you can give your pizzas the most delicious crunchy crust, which will take your pizzas to the next level and give you the authentic feel.

My dad has always been crazy about pizza, which was reflected in my upbringing: home-made pizza every Friday. Having eaten pizza every single Friday for 18 years straight, and having lived in Italy for more than one year I am quite skeptic when it comes to pizza. I am pretty hard to please, which is the reason why I had to hack the secret(s) of crunchy pizza. So what makes a pizza crunchy? Three factors are important: the dough, the baking temperature and the surface. You will need to knead the dough for 15 minutes and then refrigerate it for 18-24 hours. This will create an elastic dough which will become very crispy. In order to boost that crunchiness, you’ll additionally need to heat the oven (or BBQ) to the highest temperature and use a baking/pizza stone – these three little tricks are the secrets that will give your pizza that desired crispiness rather than a soggy, doughy crust.

Pizza dough:

2 tablespoons sugar or honey

½ tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1,85 dl. warm water

5 dl. all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon instant yeast or 25 grams fresh yeast

a little extra olive oil for coating the bowl and the pizza

Pizza sauce:

Half a can of peeled tomatoes

2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil

1-2 cloves of garlic

Salt & pepper to taste

Toppings:

Fresh mozzarella cheese (not the pre-grated kind)

Basil

Whatever you desire!

Equipment needed:
Pizza stone

Add all the ingredients (except for the flour) for the pizza dough in a bowl and mix together. Gradually work the flour into the mix. Once the dough is uniform remove it from the bowl and kneed for minimum 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl coated in olive oil, cover and refrigerate for 18-24 hours. Make sure that the bowl is big as the dough will rise.

For the pizza sauce add all the ingredients in a blender and blend for half a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the dough has been in the fridge for minimum 18 hours kneed the dough again and tear off a piece. Using your hands to stretch the dough into a disc, add a little olive oil to the disc and add pizza sauce and the desired toppings.

Now, if you have a BBQ that would be the first choice although a domestic oven will work as well. If using a BBQ place the pizza stone over the BBQ, heat to around 300 degrees Celsius. Roll out the pizza dough, add toppings and transfer to pizza stone and let the pizzas bake for 5-6 minutes or until the crust has turned crunchy and the cheese has melted. Do not use coal as this will affect the flavor. Use a gas or wood fired BBQ.

If using an oven turn it to its highest temperature and place the pizza stone on the lowest rack in the oven. Once the stone is hot transfer the pizza to the stone and bake for 6-8 minutes or until the crust has turned crunchy and the cheese has melted.

Enjoy!

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Spicy Eggplant

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I am heads over heels for eggplants. Before I tried this dish I had only had eggplants in Greek and Italian dishes, which basically means that in my head, eggplant went with ingredients like olive oil, rosemary, thyme, basil, olives and flakey sea salt. When I tasted this Indian eggplant fry for the first time I thought to myself ‘Wow.. Can eggplant taste like this?’. Nigella seeds, fennel and the spicy punch from the chili, cayenne pepper and black peppercorns gives this eggplant a magical taste. If you are an eggplant lover, try this out!

Spicy Eggplant

4 medium sized eggplants

3 dl. Vegetable oil

4 cloves garlic

2,5 cm (1 in) piece of ginger

1 teaspoon nigella seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon turmeric

One can of tomatoes, or 400 grams of fresh tomatoes.

Salt

Cut each eggplant into 4 pieces and sprinkle them with salt and leave them for 30 minutes. This will help the bitter juices to run out. Wash the eggplants and pat them dry with paper towels. If using fresh tomatoes, score a cross in each of the tomatoes and plunge into boiling water for 15-20 seconds and transfer to a bowl of cold water. Peel the tomatoes and discard the seeds and stem.

Grind the black peppercorns using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, and mix with the chili powder, cayenne powder, paprika and turmeric. Add the spices to the tomatoes (or canned tomatoes). Add ginger and garlic and blend until a smooth paste.

Put a pan over medium heat and add some of the oil. Fill the pan with as many eggplants as possible (one layer!), and fry them on both sides until brown. Once browned transfer to a colander or a sieve placed over a bowl so excess oil can drain off. Add more oil to the pan when frying the next batch.

After all the eggplants have been fried add the excess oil back to the pan. Add the fennel seeds and let them fry for 20-30 seconds. Then add the nigella seeds and the tomato paste. Cook until thick and add the eggplants. Let it cook for 2 minutes and serve with rice and dhal.

Chicken Tikka (Murgh Tikka)

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This classic Punjabi recipe is one of the food icons of India. It is known internationally and also used in the all time British favorite Chicken Tikka Masala. Basically it is pieces (tikka) of chicken (murgh), which has been marinated in yogurt and spices for 24 hours and put on skewers before cooked in a tandoor – a traditional Indian oven. Since few people have access to a tandoor, this recipe shows how to make Chicken Tikka using a domestic oven or a BBQ. Normally food coloring is used to give the chicken its characteristic red color, but this version leaves it out. If the red color is desired simply add ¼ teaspoon of red tandoori food coloring to the marinate.

Chicken Tikka

500 g. boneless chicken breast fillets cut into 2,5 cm (1 in) cubes

½ tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon hot chili powder

1½ tablespoon lemon juice

2 table spoons garam masala  (see how to make garam masale here)

4 garlic cloves

15 g. coriander (cilantro) leaves

5 cm (2 in) piece of ginger

100 ml  thick plain yogurt

Salt to taste

One lemon cut into wedges

Mix all the ingredients except the chicken and blend to a fine paste. Add salt to taste. Then add the chicken, cover and leave in the fridge over night. Before cooking thread the chicken pieces on skewers (preferably metal skewers).

If using a BBQ

Heat the barbecue to around 300 degrees celcious and cook the chicken for around 10 minutes or until cooked and browned. Serve with lemon wedges.

If using a domestic oven:

Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Roast chicken uncovered for around 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked and browned around the edges. Serve with lemon wedges.

Enjoy!!

Exploring curry and masala

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Indian food has for a long time been one of my preferred choices of chow. I love the delicate, sophisticated and refined flavors of Indian spice blends and am amazed how a little garam masala can bring any dull-tasting dish alive. I also love the diversity of the country’s regional cuisines, which is not very well-known in this part of the world (with the exception of London).

The word curry comes from the Tamil ‘Kari’, meaning a spicy, soupy sauce ladled over rice: To many people in the western world curry means Indian food, and is thought of as a fine powder, which is usually made from cumin, coriander seeds, fenugreek, black peppercorns, cinnamon and turmeric, which gives this powder its characteristic yellow color. This curry powder has been adopted as one of our own and is now integrated in many western cuisines as a way to give regional food an exotic touch.

In order to understand Indian cooking it is important to understand that the diversity of the country’s food is enormous, although one thing connects them all: masalas.

A masala, meaning ‘spices’, is a mix of dry and/or wet flavor agents, which is used to add aroma, taste and spice. Many westerners have probably heard the word garam masala before, which is a spice blend consisting of cardamom, bay leaves, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds, cinnamon and cloves. This spice blend comes in other versions too, some containing star anise, mace, brown cardamom, nutmeg and/or fennel seeds. Garam, which means ‘hot’, does not refer to chili, as there is no chili present in the mix. Instead it refers to the intensity of flavor as highly aromatic and pungent spices are used.

Garam masala is an important spice blend in India, especially in the north. It is a sophisticated mix of spices, which gives a dish a subtle yet warm character. Garam masala, as many other masalas, is surrounded by controversy: whether or not to toast the spices, or which ones to toast, and whether or not to add star anise and/or other spices. Garam masala will be used in cooking classic Punjabi food like Murgh Tikka (Chicken Tikka), and Heavy Mortar suggests the following recipe:

Garam Masala (makes three tablespoons)

8 green cardamom pods

2 Indian bay leaves (cassia leaves)

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

5 cm (2 in) piece of cinnamon stick (cassia cinnamon)

1 tablespoon cloves

1 star anise seed-pod

Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and add to a pan with the rest of the spices. Toast on low heat for 2 minutes or until aromatic. Use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind the mix to a fine powder. If not used right away store in an airtight container and use within 3 months. After 3 months the mix will have lost its pungent and aromatic flavor.

Stay tuned!