Pizza Meet - June 2012

The beer and wine festivals in Mumbai and Pune kept me so busy between October 2011 and Jan 2012 that it was impossible to find the energy and time to organise a PGC meet.  

In March I discovered that all the good food and wine had converted to Triglycerides and Low Density Lipoproteins and were merrily coursing thru my blood stream in ever increasing numbers.  I then had to reinvent myself. My reading habits changed from BBC Good Food India to Dean Ornish’s Reversing Heart Disease and Eat More Weigh Less and WebMD. My food habits moved from Chicken Chettinad to pasta with 1.2 gm fat per serving and zero oil subzis. It’s a gourmet journey of a different kind. Bye bye Amrut Single Malt, hello 0.9gm fat per 100 gm of Dahi!!  Instead of watching MasterChef Australia, I began browsing the net for brown rice dosas and oat idlis!! Believe me, it is not easy to dream up a gourmet meal in such trying circumstances.

Thanks to members like Parag Sane and Husein Upletawala who were eager to have a meet, I thought up a pizzas and salad event. Why pizzas? Mainly because what we get in Pune is very run of the mill. Getting a New York or Chicago style pizza is next to impossible. The Lebanese Lahme is practically unknown. The Zather you get is a piece of maida roti fried on a tawa! 

It was a back to the basics meet on June 3rd at my place. Though our kitchen is not restaurant sized, it is well equipped with 2 large ovens, pizza pie pans, all related equipment and enough space for 4 persons to work simultaneously.

All attendees had to cook. I decided on five styles of pizzas. Vivek Mannige chose to make a New York style (Neapolitan), Rohan Thacker was allotted Gordon Ramsay’s award winning Basil Pizza, Husein Upletawala got the Lahme bi Ajeen, a Lebanese style pizza, Parag Sane was tasked with the Arabic Zather pizza and I undertook Emeril Lagasse’s Chicago style pizza.  Nilesh Kale was the Greek Salad maker.  In all we were 12 attendees with the ladies free of any work. Cooking was strictly a men’s affair.

Each pizza was unique in dough composition, toppings and sauces. 

Vivek was one up on everyone else. He prebaked his base, brought a Ragu of his own creation and toppings and just finished it off at my place in 10 minutes flat while we began from first principle of rolling out the dough. It was a thin crust pizza with Ragu, chicken and cheese toppings and utterly delicious.

Rohan apparently had more than an adventurous time making the Passata for his pizza. The tomato sauce forced itself out of the pressure cooker and splattered the wall! The resulting sauce was not as thick and intense in flavour as Gordon Ramsay’s but with the fresh basil topping and buffalo mozzarella, it was finger licking good. The base,made of a flour and semolina mix had a soft yet crispy texture. Apparenly semolina (rawa/sooji) is high in gluten and lends crispiness to the dish.

Parag who confessed that he and his wife had never been successful in making a good pizza at home, came up with a perfectly risen dough for his Zather. Which I’m sure instilled a high degree of confidence in his pizza creating abilities. A little help from Husein and  me, he started churning them out like a pro.  The flatbread was dusted with Zather – the Arabic spice mix – and generously lathered with olive oil prior to being cut in appetiser sized triangles. 

Husein had taken the trouble to experiment the Lahme recipe in advance and everything went right tho we did have a bit of problem with the oven temperature.  The Lahme is the non-veg version of the Zather and every popular in Lebanon, Syria and surrounding countries. It’s uncommon in India. Like the Zather its a perfect appetizer.

Nilesh assembled the Greek salad – complete with feta cheese, olives etc. - on the spot like a pro. 

Emeril Lagasse is a chef I swear by and his Chicago style deep dish pizza did not disappoint. It had chopped sausage, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. The base was firm at the bottom and deliciously bready in texture. We could lift the entire 12” dia pizza with 3”x4” spatula. 

It was great fun with 5 of us working in the kitchen, quaffing beer (London Pride Ale, Murphy’s Stout, Amstel Light and Birra Moretti), exchanging notes and experimenting with a mix and match of sauces and toppings!! The ladies and Vivek stuck to Sula’s Dindori Reserve. After a long time, PGC members were finally getting to do some cooking!
Dessert was homemade Mango gelato. Vivek correctly identified the Kesar as the mango used in the gelato.

Deepak and Vinita Mohoni’s daughter Madhavi – currently learning photography - took the pictures.  

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