Once upon a time, I liked pizzas.
My favoured toppings were jalapenos, sausages and pepperoni. I liked meatiness on my pizzas, and I liked the tang and bite of pickled chillies. To me, a pizza was comfort food. More than anything, it meant I did not have to cook. For someone who has spent a lifetime cooking for self, friends and family, an occasional meal out of a box was a big deal.
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Sometime, maybe about 10 years ago, I stopped liking pizzas.
I grew tired of the thick crusts, layers of cheese and the general feeling of eating flavoured cardboard. However, I will deign to eat a slice or two of the thin-crust pizzas now common in major cities. Most of these are delicate, smoky—thanks to the proliferation of wood-fired ovens—and often delicious, though I do think they need to slap more meat on them.
So, I was sceptical when the wife coerced our cousin and great impromptu cook, Gyan, to make pizzas during his Delhi visit. Pizzas? I frowned. In my kitchen?
Top notch: With some imaginative use of the leftovers in your refrigerator, you can make your own gourmet pizzas. Photo : Samar Halarnkar
Now, I do remember that making pizzas at home was fun. I often mass produced them—once making 20 to cater to a drunken evening—and enjoyed mixing and matching ingredients you wouldn’t find in a Pizza Hut or Domino’s. But given my recent antipathy towards pizzas, I had stopped all such experiments.
Pizzas? I could see my father perk up. For some reason, Halarnkar Senior is a fan of Pizza Hut. I have no idea why. At a recent dinner at an Italian restaurant, he wanted pizza. He stared suspiciously at the elegantly made thin crust before him and after wolfing it down declared that it was good but Pizza Hut is better. Sigh. Yes, apparently he did beget me.
As I watched, Gyan got to work. We had bought only two wholewheat pizza bases from the market the previous day, which clearly wasn’t enough for the hungry Halarnkars. But we did have packaged kulchas and naans—you know, the kind that are mass produced in Okhla Industrial Area (no, really, these packets were from south Delhi’s grimy industrial heartland) and packed in plastic.
I’ve always believed that the best home food is sometimes produced from leftovers, and Gyan soon confirmed this. Using bits and bobs lying around in my refrigerator, he produced vegetarian and non-vegetarian pizzas atop the naans, kulchas and pizza bases.
We all agreed that the wholewheat pizza bases were unnecessary (they are healthier though). The best pizzas that evening came from the industrial kulchas and naans. I am putting down what Gyan used for these pizzas, but you can use pretty much anything that’s lying around—of course, that doesn’t mean you should sprinkle olives on paneer… actually, why not? That’s the wonder of leftovers.
Am I a reconvert to pizzas? No, not from the big chains or restaurants. But you can be sure I will make many more at home.
Gyan’s Kulcha-leftovers Pizza
4-6 kulchas and/or naans (ours were from the grocery store)
1-2 large onions, cut into rings
1 green pepper, deseeded and julienned
Dried or fresh herbs (we used dried rosemary/oregano and fresh basil)
Leftover meats—sausages (we had some leftover from breakfast), ham, fish (we had leftover canned tuna)
Splash of red wine
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated cheddar
For the sauce
1/2 onion, minced
Leftover pasta sauce
1 can of tinned tomato purée (or 4-5 fresh tomatoes, blanched, skins removed and chopped)
1 tbsp olive oil
6-8 pods of garlic, chopped
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil, sauté the garlic lightly. Add minced onion and fry till soft. Add the tomato purée and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add leftover pasta sauce (if you don’t have any, add deskinned, deseeded fresh tomatoes and fry till they disintegrate) and keep blending till you get a smooth consistency. Add dried herbs and sauté. Add a dash of red wine (if you’re drinking any at the time). Remove when everything is well blended.
Important: Let the sauce cool for about 30 minutes. Otherwise your pizza is likely to get soggy.
In a non-stick pan, lightly sauté sausages, onion rings and green peppers. There’s no need for oil; the sausages release their own.
Now, apply sauce on the pizza base. Spread the cheddar and then the sautéed vegetables. Scatter the meat (use tuna on one pizza, sausage on another) on top and grated mozzarella above that.
Prepare a hot oven by preheating to gas mark 5. Put the pizza in for 12-15 minutes. When the cheese has melted and the pizza is ready, remove and sprinkle with fresh basil. Serve immediately.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org