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Monday, February 8, 2016

Red-white-green: Pizza Margherita

On a picnic plate


When fast food from the West first descended upon urban India there was just a single name to reckon with. Growing up in the nineties we all knew of Nirula's - their Big Boy Burger, pizzas, and hot chocolate fudge were immensely popular. Coming to pizzas I think I was in high school when the bigger brands - the MNCs - opened shop: I think it was mainly Pizza Hut and Dominoes, and very quickly they caught on. The rich kids threw birthday parties at either, and ordering in pizza on week-nights, weekends, special days, and anytime you didn't want to have daal-chawal for dinner, became the done thing. Pizza cheese was the stretchy cheese and extra oregano seasoning was always saved. In fact for the longest time I thought oregano wasn't just a single herb but the dried salty mix that came with pizzas.

But times have changed and thanks to the internet and greater awareness of Italian food, there seems to be a general shift in marketing strategies in the Indian food market. From American fast food to Italian gourmet. The thick bready dough has given way to thin crust and freeze-dried oregano to fresh basil.

So, when my cousin Shruti (check out her on-going project here) was over last weekend, she got me the best gift ever. A basil sapling and a fistful of sweet smelling basil from her garden. We decided to go partially gourmet! Pizza Margherita :) And even though I had been making my own pizza sauce for a long time now I had always used freeze-dried herbs for the lack of a better alternative. It worked nicely in the past but I never knew I was missing out on such an incredible flavor that fresh basil adds to any tomato sauce. Sweet and fragrant this pizza sauce perfectly complemented the salty mozzarella. In fact, I loved it so much that I made it again for a birthday picnic lunch with Rupak. Sadly though Caramel turned up her nose at my pizza preferring to run around on the grass and munch on her chew sticks and dog bones instead :)


Ready for the oven


What you need

This recipe makes enough sauce to spread over four ten-inch pizzas.

8 ripe tomatoes, medium-sized
1 onion, small-sized and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp, olive oil
10-15 fresh basil leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried basil)
Baking soda, a large pinch
1/4 tsp, sugar
2 tbsp, water
Salt and pepper, to taste

How to

This is probably the easiest pizza sauce I have ever made and yet the most flavourful!

There are two ways to prep the tomatoes. This time around I used the first technique. Stick a fork into a tomato and hold it directly over the gas-stove turning it from time to time. This loosens the skin and once slightly burnt, it can be easily peeled off. This needs to  be done for all the tomatoes. Once the skin is off, roughly chop them. I like to do this for a chunky tomato sauce but if you want a smooth puree, try this second one: cut the tomatoes half and place on a slightly oiled baking tray at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes. Once cooled, they can then be pureed and used for the sauce.

In a pan, pour in olive oil and heat slightly. Add the onions and sauté till slightly pink. Now, throw in the chopped garlic and cook till the raw smell of garlic disappears.

Now add the tomatoes (whichever variant you choose). They need to be cooked for about ten minutes: then add the baking soda, salt, pepper. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. If it gets too dry, add a sprinkle of water and cover.

Add the sugar before turning off the heat.

Lastly tear the basil and add them to the sauce. Cover and allow it to cool.


To assemble the pizza, smear a bit of good quality olive oil on the base. Then add enough sauce to cover the base. Add basil and cheese on top and put it in the oven for 10 minutes at 200 degrees.

Season with garlic salt or pizza seasoning.

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