January 9, 2020

Don’t pizza me off !

Friday night is generally pizza night at our house. My pride and joy are a wood-fired pizza oven in the kitchen and I’ll fire it up quicker than you can say extra mozzarella.

Once the fire settles down, a thin wisp of white smoke curls above the house reminiscent of the scene at the Vatican City when the Cardinals are electing a new Pope and is a sure sign to my neighbours that they’re all welcome for pizza as long as the smoke is visible. They’ve stopped asking when am I going to light the fire again and simply say “Don’t you think it’s about time we elected a new Pope!”

Pizza can, at the same time, be the simplest and the most difficult dish in the world because sure as hell, everyone’s got an opinion on it! “Don’t make my base too thick, thick bases are too bready!” “Who taught you to make bases like this – it won’t hold the topping!” “Why is this sauce so watery, it’s not supposed to be so thin!” “In Italy, they only use buffalo mozzarella, this stuff is like chopped up egg whites! ” “I know a place where they make the perfect pizza!”

I don’t think it happens with any other dish I cook for guests, normally they are either complimentary or they keep quiet. My roast lamb is considered fantastic, the freshly baked line fish in coconut milk has received rave reviews and even the humble roast chicken with the All-Purpose Asian Paste squished under the skin garners the occasional compliment but fire up the pizza oven and you’ve got a roomful of bloody experts.

I’ve given it a lot of thought and come to the conclusion that the answer is not to offer your guests anything that is commercially available in a restaurant especially if you are preparing the real McCoy – it distorts their cognitive process. You see no-one I know makes pizza from scratch at home, they buy takeaways or eat in an Italian restaurant, they buy ready-cooked pizza bases and heat them up in a lukewarm oven topped with a tin of chopped tomatoes and grated cheddar cheese and quite simply that is their point of reference for judging the quality of pizzas.

They don’t understand that I’ve spent 30 years experimenting with hard flours, soft flours, imported 00 flour from Italy, unbleached flour, wholewheat flour, semolina flour, fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, roasted tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, chopped bocconcini, sliced, torn, shredded, marinated cow’s milk mozzarellas, processed mozzarella, non-dairy toppings, provolone, ricotta, goat’s cheese, mixtures of mozzarella, pecorino, parmesan, emmenthaler, cheddar and gouda, chopped garlic, crushed garlic, blanched garlic, roasted garlic and don’t even get me started on the toppings.

They don’t understand my pizza bases have contained at various times, olive oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil, vegetable oil, milk, dried milk, tap water, mineral water, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rock salt, onion salt, garlic salt, celery salt, dried yeast, baker’s yeast, instant yeast, sponge starters, sourdough starters in more combinations than the National Lottery.

They don’t understand that in my personal pizza pursuit I too have tasted Mama’s Pizza, Tony’s Original and even Pizza Hut’s Tuesday Nite Special. I’ve eaten deep dish pizza in Chicago and in Naples naturally Margheritas (the pizza not Margaritas the drink) , goat cheese and sundried olive calzone in Melbourne and Dublin Bay prawn and pesto in Dublin Bay of all places, I’ve even had a Mars Bar pizza in Glasgow at a time when it rather incongruously held the title of “Cultural Capital of Europe.”

So if you happen to be in the neighbourhood on a Friday evening and see the telltale wisp of smoke you’re more than welcome to join us – just don’t tell me “You know in Hawaii they actually use tinned pineapple on their pizzas!”

“Brian owns the Food Biz, a Cape Town based food consultancy, and instead of working spends his time telling other people how to work. Contact him at www.thefood.biz, foodwizard@iafrica.com, 0824929239”

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