What exactly does ‘gourmet’ mean? Online definitions associate the term with refined palates and cultured tastes, the type of person that might eat tiny portions at an expensive fancy restaurant and enjoy it. These descriptors don’t really seem congruent with the average pizza, but then again, neither does healthy eating. And yet, here we are with our wholemeal bases and spinach toppings, so I suppose when it comes to food, we all surprise ourselves.
Either way, gourmet pizzas are increasingly finding their way onto fast food menus, and their continued popularity means they must be hitting a lot of patrons’ sweet spots. So what exactly makes these pizzas ‘gourmet’, and aside from changing their shapes and eating them with knives and forks (like the Italians do), how can we recreate this gourmet effect at home?
In Belgium and some other parts of Europe, French fries are served with mayonnaise instead of ketchup, tomato sauce, or barbeque sauce. Still, mayonnaise on pizza isn’t an instinctive choice. In a sandwich maybe, or a hotdog (which some argue is still a sandwich). So this clearly falls into the gourmet bracket. Of course flavoured mayo takes it another step higher. Popular variants include pesto mayonnaise with its garlic, basil, lemon, and Worcestershire mix; and peri-peri mayonnaise with that mild kick of spice.
Yoghurt, sour cream, and butter milk are commonly consumed with Indian dishes, because the cool down the effect of hot chillies and extreme spices. They make a good neutraliser, and can also moisten an overly dry dish. These foods are often served in a glass, or offered in a bowl as a side sauce or dip. However, applying the yoghurt directly onto the pizza is definitely a gourmet touch. And sometimes, the yoghurt is a substitute for cheese. Greek yoghurt differs from regular yoghurt in that it’s thicker and heavier.
All types of pork bits are used in pizza, from standard pork mince to cylindrical slices of salami, poloni, bacon, ham, and pepperoni. However, chorizo dives deeper. This sausage is made of pork cured, smoked, fermented, and wrapped in natural intestines for that organic touch. It’s generally eaten raw, though technically, 10 to 20 minutes in a pizza oven counts as cooking. Chorizo has a deep reddish colour, often attained by adding red peppers (capsicum) to the smoking mix.
Most pizzas are baked using mozzarella or cheddar, but the gourmet variety might go for cream cheese, ricotta, or feta. Feta cheese is crumbly and grainy, and is usually served in blocks rather than slices. It’s white in colour, curdled in brine, and consists of a mixture of goat and sheep milk. When it’s not gracing a gourmet pizza, feta cheese can be tasty in an omelette or sandwich, especially with a sprinkling of oregano. EU regulations insist that only traditional Greek feta can be labelled as such. Similar variants from other parts of the world can only be generically branded as ‘white cheese’, not feta.
Marinated tiger prawns
The name alone suggests gourmet, because shellfish like lobsters, crabs, shrimps, and prawns are considered fine dining. They’re not something you’d ordinarily expect to find on pizza. And then, these are not just prawns. They’re tiger prawns (they have striped bodies of black and yellow or red and white, hence their name). Before cooking, they are marinated for at least two hours in a rich mix of garlic, ginger, ground pepper, coriander, honey, nutmeg, habanero, and red wine vinegar. If that doesn’t elevate your pizza to gourmet status!
Avocado restaurants are becoming quite popular now that the fruit has suddenly hit the limelight. It’s considered healthy because it contains ‘the good kind of fat’ and avocado oil is being adopted by naturalistas everywhere. In the past, avocado was largely consumed in the form of guacamole, but it’s now popping up in all sorts of places, including deep fried, toasted, smoothied, and yes, even on pizza. It’s usually the last topping, added after the pizza is already out of the oven, to prevent it from getting too mushy and unpalatable. In this sense, it’s less of a cooked ingredient and more of a gourmet garnish.
Spanish onions are red or yellow, unlike the white onions we usually cook with. They have papery skin and a milder flavour than ‘traditional onions’, and aren’t as sharp or moist as spring onions. On the other hand, Kalamata olives are larger than ordinary olives, and range in colour from deep purple to black or brown. They have a unique almond shape and meat-like texture. They are always picked by hand, and they can only be named Kalamata olives if they are certified to originate from that region in Greece. Otherwise, they’ll be marked Kalamon olives even if they’re the same colour, flavours, shape, and variety.