Project Food Blog Challenge 5: Tales of a Traveling Pizza

Pizzas Collage

The first pizza I ever ate would have made a true Italian (or New Yorker, for that matter) go nearly apoplectic with righteous indignation. It had a 6-inch round, thick crust, the tomato sauce bore a closer resemblance to ketchup and it was topped with onions, green peppers and copious amounts of processed cheese. Olive oil, mozzarella, basil – these were just alien names, not ingredients. This was more than a decade ago when people in Bombay didn’t have access to ‘imported’ ingredients and restaurants serving thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas were an anomaly. That pizza was nowhere close to authentic but my sister and I loved it. My mom even came up with a recipe based solely on instinct (this was before the times of Google or even the internet) and the pizza ‘baked’ in a cast iron pan over the stove became a regular at our house.

Pizza Collage

I know that the ‘best’ pizza is a topic that sparks much passionate debate and emotion. Petitions are filed to register the definition of an authentic Pizza Napoletana, long journeys are undertaken in search of the perfect pie, attempts are made to compile ‘best pizza’ lists that are quickly shredded apart by disgruntled readers, entire blogs are dedicated to the topic, kitchen experiments are conducted to replicate the perfect pizza at home – the dough, water quality, cast iron pans, the broiler method, oven transformations – everything is tested and analyzed; an innocent remark may have even caused a president lost votes. When I’d read that the fifth Project Food Blog* challenge was to put your own spin on pizza, initially I’d thought that it was easier than the previous challenges. But my research (that’s what I call reading endless stories about food) had intimidated me. What could I possibly contribute that hadn’t already been done before?

Hachapuri Tart Collage

And then I came across Chris Bianco’s pizza philosphy – according to Bianco, there are no pizza masters and no “world’s best pizza,” just your own personal expression. And I agree with him; food is such a personal thing that every ‘expert’ opinion is subjective. And as much as I would like to turn my nose up at the bland butter chicken I encounter when abroad, and an Italian would shake his fist at barbecue sauce on pizza, I think that we sometimes take ourselves too seriously. While I might never go back to the pizza from my childhood after eating the real thing, I still remember the simple joy it gave me and how connected I felt to a country I’d never seen. So I decided to spin my pizza around the world. An Indian pizza with a naan crust, tandoori sauce and gently spiced paneer seemed an obvious choice, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to stick to the essence of a true pizza – something comforting and rustic that you eat hot from the oven with your friends, plates and cutlery optional. Soon I’d whipped up a pizza party spanning two days and four meals.

Breakfast – Pizza Shakshuka:
Pizza for breakfast! A fabulous idea that requires no further explanation. Digging through my list of bookmarked recipes (a list that like an alien has been steadily mutating out of control), I came across one for shakshuka – an Israeli dish of eggs poached in a tomato sauce. And of course, I decided to turn it into a pizza. I wanted to stay true to the pizza crust (mainly because I was eager to try making one at home) and turned to the master baker Peter Reinhart. His pizza dough is relatively simple to work with and all the flavor comes from its long, slow fermentation. I layered the crust with a spicy tomato sauce spiked with jalapeños, cumin and paprika. Eggs were carefully cracked over the sauce, some feta cheese was crumbled and I took further liberty by adding thin strips of pancetta. The crust came out golden from the oven and the spicy sauce tangoed with the eggs, cheese and ham in my mouth – I don’t think breakfast can get any better.

Pizza Sh 5

Lunch – Pizza Hachapuri:
Emboldened by my Israeli breakfast pizza success, for lunch I traveled further north to Georgia. A classic Georgian dish is the hachapuri (or khachapuri), leavened bread filled with a mixture of cheese and egg and baked. I adapted the recipe from Nigella Lawson’s celebratory book Feast, a recipe she got from Nana, a grandmotherly purveyor at a Georgian cafe. I used a mixture of feta and mozzarella for a cheese sauce and added caramelized onions and proscuitto as toppings for my hachapuri pizza. Steam arose as I cut into the soft, chewy bread, the cheese oozed out, and the sweet onions were the perfect mate to the salty proscuitto. Thanks Nana!

Hachapuri Collage

Dinner – Pizza Margherita:
With all the attention Mr. Shakshuka and Mrs. Hachapuri were getting in my kitchen, Ms. Margherita was starting to feel a little left out. So what if she was authentic? I decided to let her join our party. (Plus, I wanted to prove that you could make a ‘proper’ pizza at home.) The step-by-step photos at the bottom should help you produce a pretty nifty homemade crust. I also wanted to give you the (now not so) secret trick to the best my favorite tomato sauce: slow-roasting the tomatoes and garlic at a low heat for a couple of hours concentrates their flavor and mellows the garlic giving you a thick, intensely flavorful sauce. Add fresh basil and bubbling cheese… and I’m going to let this picture do the talking.

Pizza M 3

Dessert – Almond, Apple and Pear Pizza:
I couldn’t have a party without dessert, could I? With a nod to fall, I used pears and apples in a pizza version of my recent French tart. Store-bought puff pastry as the crust, an almond-cinnamon ‘sauce’, and thin slices of fruit topping that get cooked down to delicious perfection. I couldn’t have hoped for a better end.

Tart 3

Whichever branch of the pizza philosophy you subscribe to, try and make your own at home. It may or may not be authentic, it may or may not have the perfect crust, but if you use the best ingredients you can find, give it some loving attention, and show restraint when adding your toppings, you will have a pizza that will be good. Really good. And it will be homemade. That’s all your family and friends will care about.

Pizza Flip Collage

This is my very sweet roommate, whose breakfast I interrupted so we could try our hand at flipping the pizza dough – as you can see, a wasted attempt, but so much fun! Gently pressing out the dough proved to be the most successful method.

*P.S. PFB voting is now open. Thank you to everyone for your loving support. Your thoughtful comments make my day. Thank you also to my roommate for being the best model there is. (And to that buzzing bee(/wasp?) on Picture 3 for not stinging me. He is a photo-shoot regular.)

RECIPES

Pizza Dough Collage 1

Pizza Dough Collage 2

Hachapuri Dough Collage 1

Hachapuri Dough Collage 2

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50 Responses to Project Food Blog Challenge 5: Tales of a Traveling Pizza

  1. Winnie says:

    You’re so ridiculously talented Heena. This is a fantastic post…love, love, LOVE it!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks a lot Winnie. I’d read and edited this so many times that the words were beginning to blur into each other. Glad you liked it. Can’t wait to read yours.

  2. You are incredible! I can’t get over how delicious your pizzas look and how unique each one is. The dessert pizza is calling my name! Your photos are just beyond amazing, I’m so impressed. And I love how you included pictures of your roommate in your post, how cute! I will definitely be voting for you, best of luck.

    • tiffintales says:

      Thank you!!! That dessert pizza was pretty amazing – I’m afraid as usual I may have eaten too much. And my roommate is pretty cool too – endlessly patient as I click photo after photo. Thanks for your support – I would send you that dessert pizza if I could.

  3. How to choose a favorite here… it seems daunting but I go with the breakfast pizza. I know it would be delicious. GREG

    • tiffintales says:

      That breakfast pizza was my favorite too. Until I ate the dessert pizza.. And then there was a tie : )
      My landlord/hostess wuld agree with you though – she LOVED that pizza.

  4. Mindy says:

    I’m in Israel often and love your take on shakshuka- definitely something I will be trying (and dare I say, I think you found the one idea that might improve the already delicious dish?) Great photos, great ideas, and love the wasp. I stumbled across your blog from PFB, but will definitely become an avid reader, and you have my vote.

    • tiffintales says:

      It’s so brilliant that someone who’s eaten the dish where it originated would love this idea. I love the sauce in shakshuka, it’s such an explosion of flavors in your mouth. Thanks for your vote!
      P.S. I’m afraid I cannot tell the difference between bees and wasps :D

  5. Another great post Heena. I was laughing while reading your intro about the pizzas we used to get in Bombay. Remember the horrible Pillsbury ‘pan pizza’ version? Blech! Each pizza looks better than the other. Love the breakfast Shakshuka version.

    • tiffintales says:

      Ya, some of those pizzas were pretty bad. But to me it was always amazing that people would attempt to make and adapt something they’d never seen before. I loved the breakfast one too.

  6. You did a remarkable job with this challenge! I toyed with a 3 meals of pizza for it too… but you outdid anything I could’ve tried! Great job!

  7. How much I relate to several things in your wonderful post. Endless reading about food, lists of ‘to make’ recipes getting out of control. Good for you for having a go at the pizza toss – not easy. Your pizzas look delicious, vibrant and relevant and so it this really well written and joyful account. I loved it – you’ll be getting my vote and I’m sure the votes of many. Fabulous.

    • tiffintales says:

      Endless reading and lists – I’m glad there are others out there. Is there like an Anonymous group for us? But frankly, it’s so much fun I wouldn’t want a cure. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your vote and thoughtful comment.

  8. PS The wasp in the picture. Fab.

  9. Hello Heena,

    I have been on a diet for 2 months….but as an act of revenge, I tell you I wouldn’t mind having your pizzas around the clock..
    Great work!

  10. sophia says:

    That’s so true…pizza is so subjective!! My housemate recently told me he didn’t get seafood on pizza…I was like ARE YOU CRAZY??! That’s my favorite topping on pizza! I told him he’s an idiot. He told me I’m an idiot for liking sweet potato in my pizza crust, too. What-eva.

    Anyway. Your pizzaS. Awesomeness. I love runny eggs, so I’m partial to the first one! ;-)

    • tiffintales says:

      I must confess – I don’t like seafood on my pizza too. But I’m completely with you on the runny eggs : )

  11. thanks for sharing Bianco’s pizza philosphy! I am especially intrigued by your Hachapuri pizza. BTW, way to go flipping that pizza :)

    • tiffintales says:

      His philosophy is the greatest. I don’t relate to chefs who are all la-di-da and take themselves so seriously. Flipping that pizza was fun! You should try it : )

  12. you and i were on the same train of thought for the breakfast pizza! beautiful job! I hope you advance!

  13. I love the variety you have here! Well done!

  14. Anna says:

    Oh Girl! That breakfast pizza made me drool in my keyboard. And that is not pretty right? lol.
    Good luck in round 5.

  15. Great entry! I love your take on the challenge, and each of your pizzas looks amazing! Good luck!

  16. Jules says:

    Looks amazing! I love your photos!

  17. Liren says:

    Heena, I love it! Breakfast round the clock, from all around the world. And each one looks utterly delicious.

  18. Jazz Rules says:

    A wise man once told me that “The world economy revolves around pizza”. I think you would have some money in the bank with these delicious pizzas! Jazz

  19. Liz says:

    I am particularly enamored of the fried egg pizza!

  20. notyet100 says:

    truly enjoyed the virtula treat ,..good luck for the next challenge

  21. Oh wow! Love the pizza with the eggs…. and the pizza pie! All so yummy

  22. Joan Nova says:

    Really thorough and well-executed entry. Good luck!

  23. Peggy says:

    This was a fantastic post! Such a great job in interpreting the challenge! One of my votes is definitely yours!

  24. Heather says:

    I am really impressed by this post!!! All beautiful pizzas, all look completely delicious! In particular, I want to try the one with bacon & eggs! :)

  25. riceandwheat says:

    Oh no, I should not be reading this right at lunch time. I cannot stop thinking about that breakfast shashuka pizza and I wish I had one for lunch! I love your “pizza around the world and around the meals” concept and it’s brilliantly executed. Great post, Heena!

  26. Jason Phelps says:

    I love all the different types. You can come cook pizza for me anytime!

    Jason

  27. So many creative pizzas! I’ve never seen a breakfast pizza like that before…and I love it!

  28. Kocinera says:

    Wow! All those pizzas look amazing! I would so love to have an entire day of pizza. :D

  29. elra says:

    Hello, I haven’t had any chance to say thank you for being an online friend on Foodbuzz. Thank you :)

  30. Danny says:

    Wow this Pizza looks really great! I tend to try most Pizza recipes i come across and this one is a must.

  31. what an amazing group of pizza’s!

  32. soni says:

    hi heena,
    remember we make the soya bean sabji in the sindhi homes. a pizza topped with that and cheese is also awesum.

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