Last weekend for my son’s twelfth birthday party, we hosted a ‘mega sleep out’ party for 10 boys in a tent in our backyard. After a quite a deal of research on whether Pizza Hut or Dominos were the best cheap option for ordering in pizza, I decided to hell with it and just make pizza at home. The last time I made pizza for my son’s birthday, I used Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipe and it was for a massive party of 27 kids, plus a dozen or so adults. I had pizza dough stashed everywhere in the fridge and defrosting in eskies but, most importantly, my then 19-year-old niece came over with one of her lovely friends and were pizza slaves for the entire afternoon, rolling and baking off pizza after pizza. Unfortunately, my niece is overseas at the moment (Nira!!!) so the whole rolling out of dough and cooking pizzas one by one on a stone seemed out of the question. Instead, I opted for Ken Lahey’s magic no-knead pizza dough and just pressed the dough onto large, lightly oiled trays to bake off. I used the 22-hour proving option, so I made the dough up on the Friday night, but the next morning I thought I’d messed up the recipe and put in too much yeast because the dough seemed to have risen monster-like overnight and looked like a giant foaming wet sponge. I was almost going to call it a disaster but, instead, put the dough into a cooler part the house to slow the rise and decided to chill out, go with the flow and if all else failed, order in pizza. I shouldn’t have worried because Ken Lahey’s pizza dough really is magically foolproof and turned out some of the best homemade pizza I’ve ever made.
In the big picture scheme of hosting a big sleepover, making pizza for 15 kids and four adults was probably the least challenging part of the entire exercise. If anybody out there is considering hosting a mega sleepover, be warned – you or the kids will not get that much sleep, but that is part of the awesome fun of a big sleep out, particularly with 12-year-old boys who take it as a sign of their boyhood vitality that can stay up all night without sleeping. On the plus side, it is great for developing social skills with all the boys packed into a tent, overtired, keeping up the jokes and good humour, while they are jumped on by their friends and pranked with throw-down bungers, all while being threatened by a couple of tyrannical adults to quieten down or face going to sleep in the house or worse, humiliated by a ‘phone call’ to their parents and taken home (they knew we were bluffing on that one). The big backyard sleep out turned out both completely exhausting and totally awesome: an enduring, magical memory for all concerned.
After all the excitement of a sleepover party and leftover pizza for Sunday night dinner, come Monday night, I felt like I never wanted to cook again. Dinner involved foraging in my overstocked pantry, discovering I had no canned chickpeas but a tonne of canned white beans. Obviously, dinner was going to consist of white bean dahl and rice. This was a perfect Monday night dinner – a couple of cans of white beans, shredded kale sauted in olive oil with garlic, some chopped cucumber, a dollop of yoghurt and rice. It’s one of those emergency pantry meals that is a brilliantly delicious pick-me-up for the jaded cook. I like my white beans lightly spiced with cumin, chilli flakes and curry leaves but, really, you can adapt and improvise on the spices and aromatics as you desire. The only real trick is to buy good quality beans and use the bean liquid because this gives the bean dahl a richer, tastier gravy.
Emergency canned bean dahl
- 2 x 450g cans of white beans (or any bean of your choice)
- 1 medium onion chopped finely
- 2 cm of fresh ginger, finely grated
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- Chilli flakes (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon of whole cumin seeds
- A couple of pinches of nigella seeds
- 6–8 fresh curry leaves (optional)
- 4 cherry tomatoes sliced in half
- Salt to taste
- Light olive oil
- In a medium size saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, throw in the curry leaves and cumin seeds, sizzle for a few seconds then add onion, garlic, ginger and saute gently until onion begins to turn golden.
- Throw in the chilli flakes, nigella seeds and two cans of white beans with bean liquid. Add about another half can of water the cherry tomatoes and simmer uncovered, until the gravy is rich and thickened. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Serve with rice or chapatis.