Tag Archives: pizza

It´s a pizza, I’m sure!

16 Oct

Beneath a shady tree, the hero spread
His table on the turf, with cakes of bread;
And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed.
They sate; and, (not without the god’s command)
Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.

These are the translated words of Virgil (70-19 b.C) in the “The Aeneid”, describing the legendary origin of the Roman nation and their cakes or circles of bread, probably the first written record of this amazing culinary creation, the pizza.

After “It’s not a pizza! Or is it?“, I just can’t go on for too long without writing about the real pizza. At least if you define pizza as a “shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings such as sausage or olive (take a look at Pizza, History and Legends“).

Although of uncertain origin, the standards of what became known today as pizzas were probably set in 1889 by Raffaele Esposito in Naples. In that year he prepared tree kinds of pizzas: one with pork fat, cheese and basil; one with garlic, olive oil and tomatoes; and another with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (in the colors of the Italian flag – yellow, green and red) which were offered to the Queen Margherita di Savoia. The Queen really enjoyed them, particularly the third type, which than became known as “Pizza Margherita” and is today considered the most basic and traditional type of pizza.

Travelling around Italy you will certainly find thousands of pizzerias, offering pizzas that range from heaven to complete hell. In my last trip to Italy, the third one I had the pleasure of making, my son Thiago, who just loves pizza, decided to try them in almost every meal. We travelled around Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Marche, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, thus, from the center to northern regions. I’d like to highlight two of them:

1. “Tonno e cipolla” (Tuna and onions) from the restaurant “Il Vecchio Dado” in Pisa/Tuscany – The city of Pisa has for quite a long time been known for one single thing, its Leaning Tower, which in fact became a symbol of Italy itself. Although an impressive building, the Leaning Tower is just one component of the beautiful “Campo dei Miracoli” (Field of Miracles) which also includes an amazing church, a baptistery and a cemetery.

Pisa flourished mainly around the XIth to the XIIIth century, declining after it was defeated by the Genoese in 1284. It was also governed by the Medice, from Florence, who re-established the famous University of Pisa were Galileo Galilei served as a teacher.

Campo dei Miracoli, in Pisa/Tuscany, with the Leaning Tower and part of the Dome.

Campo dei Miracoli, in Pisa/Tuscany, with the Leaning Tower and part of the Dome.

When looking for a meal please, run away from the restaurants around the “Campo dei Miracoli”. They are expensive and usually of low quality – real tourist traps. Take your time and walk towards south, in the direction of the Arno river. It should not take more than 5-10 min (a little more if you stop for pictures and to admire the nice architecture along the way). Then just walk along the river and look for “Il Vecchio Dado”, at Lungarno Antonio Paccinoti, 22 (if you came through Via Santa Maria, which starts at the “Campo”, just turn left and walk a couple of blocks).

Walk along via Santa Maria towards the Arno river

Walk along via Santa Maria towards the Arno river

“Il Vecchio Dado” is a 200 years old establishment serving good quality pizzas right on the waterfront. It also has a good selection of fish and seafood dishes.

Pizza Tonno e Cipolla from Il Vechio Dado - Pisa/Tuscany - According to my son Thiago the number 1 in Italy

Pizza Tonno e Cipolla from Il Vechio Dado - Pisa/Tuscany - According to my son Thiago the number 1 in Italy

2. “Tartufo Nero” (Black truffles) from the restaurant “I Monaci” in Assisi/Umbria – Assisi is well known as the birthplace of St. Francis, the first Italian saint and the founder of the Franciscan Order. It’s a beautiful medieval town, filled with tourists and pilgrims during most of the year, but worth of visiting for at least a couple of days.

Basilica of St Francis - Assisi/Umbria

Basilica of St Francis - Assisi/Umbria

We had an amazing pizza at “Il Monaci”, whose entrance is in a stepped alley (Scaletti del Metastasio) off the north side of Via Fontebella, a few steps down from Piazzetta in downtown Assisi. I had never had truffles before, but will not comment on that now, as it believe it deserves a special blog entry.

"Tartufo nero" from "Il Monaci" - Assisi/Umbria

Pizza de Tartufo Nero from Il Monaci - Assisi/Umbria

These two pizzas had a few things in common: (a) first quality ingredients, specially the tomatoes, the mozzarella cheese and the olive oil; (b) they were baked in wooden ovens, acquiring a natural and unique smokiness; (c) a crunchy and delicate crust and (d) abundant toppings.

Have you had a similar experience? Wanna share your favorite pizzas with us? Get in touch.

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Pizza on Foodista

It’s not a pizza! Or is it?

1 Sep

Well, I’m not so sure about that.  Maybe it’s just a flat bread.  But, isn’t pizza a kind of flat bread too? After all, what is the difference between pizza and focaccia?  Gregory Heinz, a customer at Ray’s Pizza in Greenwich Village, says that “the difference between the two is about a buck”.  Maybe you should read “Pizza It Is, and Pizza It Isn’t” by Moly O’Neil, in the October, 6 1993 edition of “The New York Times” and decide for yourself.  A few things SEEM certain though:  (1) The name of this bread appears to be derive from the Roman expression “panis focacius,” which referred to a flat loaf of bread cooked upon a hearth, over a hot stone, or under the ashes of a fire; (2) It’s much older than pizza, maybe 2,000 years older.

The original recipes have originated along the Mediterranean coast, where the air is incredibly salty, and the focacce (plural of focaccia) tended to rise on their own.  Nevertheless, the use of small amounts of yeast, or other leavening agents, are quite common these days.

I used my basic bread recipe, jumping stage 8 and flattening the dough down to about 1-1.5 cm (around 0.5 inches) thickness at stage 9.  I then spread a mixture of olive oil and rosemary over the top, waited until it doubled in size, and then baked it at high temperature for about 20 min (in fact until it reached a light brown color).  It’s important that you don’t pay much attention to shape, as focacce are rather rustic meals. As soon as I took it from the oven I once again brushed the surface with olive oil and rosemary and covered it with a generous amount of course sea salt.

Rosemary and sea salt focaccia

Rosemary and sea salt focaccia

Get some Gorgonzola cheese, some sliced salami, a bottle of a good red Italian wine (a Chianti, for example), and you are ready for a wonderful and quite simple meal.  The above focaccia was offered to some friends, along with a selection of cheeses and wines, last Saturday night.

Rosemary Focaccia Bread

Italian Focaccia on Foodista

Food with a soul

12 Aug

A person without a soul is nothing but a corpse.  It’s similar with food.  It doesn’t matter how great the ingredients are or how wonderful the recipe is, a good dish needs soul.  For me this culinary soul, this thing that turns ordinary food into a real gastronomic experience, is the sum of various factors, including, but not limited to, the ambiance (the special atmosphere or mood created by a particular environment), the chef”s passion for what he’s doing and the staff attitude towards the food and the customers.

It was late afternoon and I was driving with a motor-home around Innsbruck/Austria heading to a camping place I’d chose a couple of weeks before on the Internet.  For my surprise the place had closed down.  The only alternative was to rely on the Garmin GPS and let it choose the nearest camping, which was “Camping and Pizzeria Stigger” in the small village of Völs.  What a nice surprise.

Camping and Pizzeria Stigger - Völs/Austria

Camping and Pizzeria Stigger - Völs/Austria

The owner, Mr. Walter Stigger, proved to be the most wonderful host.  We found a good spot for our motor-home (even though the camping place is rather small), and what was even better, a warm and friendly atmosphere in his pizzeria.  He even offers “caipirinha” (the Brazilian national drink) in the menu, probably a resquice of his years married to a Brazilian.

We had more than a couple of his pizzas, but also a few shots of his homemade “Schnaps”, a strong, clear, colorless alcoholic beverage distilled from fruits.  He took us to the restaurant kitchen, which is nothing more than a extension of the main serving saloon, and made us taste several different types of them. The one made from pears (“Birnenschnaps”) was something special.  You could really feel the pears on the side of your tongue as an aftertaste.

We also had some Austrian beer, which the ever smiling Cuban waitress would serve whenever she remembered in between her sips of red wine (sorry, but I didn’t write down her name). As a matter of fact she seemed to be more a friend than a waitress, what only helped to improve the overall atmosphere.

The Stigger Pizzeria with the ever smilling Cuban waitress

The Stigger Pizzeria with the ever smiling Cuban waitress

The price?  I forgot (probably a side effect of the “schnaps”), but I believe it was around US$ 15,00/person, including a couple of beers.

Were the pizzas good?  Yes, they were very nice, with the right thickness and the right amount and distribution of toppings.  I wouldn’t say they were great (it would be a bit too much), but definitely they were part of an experience full of soul, this thing that turns a simple body into a living being.  They are prepared right in front of you by Walter himself, with the aid of a beautiful and also ever smilling assistant (she would assume the whole preparation from time to time when Walter would sit down and chat with his friends and customers – or customers friends).

Although he would not give me the entire dough recipe (“it’s a secret”, he said) I was told that an important part of this secret is the use of lard (pork fat) (sorry Walter, I just couldn’t resist telling everyone else).  If you ever happen to be around Innsbruck (Völs, in fact) stop by and tell Walter I said hello. He may even offer you a Cuban cigar.

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