Tag Archives: pizza

Pizza di San Martino for Martinmas

Pizza di San Martino

November 11 is Martinmas, the feast day of St Martin, or San Martino as he’s known in Italian. I talked about St Martin and his feast day here, and one of the related food products I mentioned was pizza di San Martino. This is a kind of enriched bread – as in Italy, “pizza” doesn’t necessarily imply a thing topped with tomato sauce and cheese. There are many variations on the theme.

Do a Google image search, and pizza di San Martino comes in several forms but they’re all basically yeasted cakes. It probably originates from the small Italian region of Molise, which reaches from the east coast into the Apennines, or possibly from the region to its north, Abruzzo. This area of central Italy, along with Umbria, has suffered recently from a series of earthquakes and aftershocks this year, so making this is one way of saying I’m thinking of friends living there, and anyone who’s lost their homes and livelihoods.

The patron saint of protection against earthquakes is actually Emygdius or Emidio, but he’s pretty obscure and I’m not aware of any baked goods associated with his feast day (5 and 18 August). I’ve adapted this pizza recipe from one found in Cooking with the Saints by Ernst Schuegraf; he doesn’t mention St Emygdius.

As I wrote in my previous piece about St Martin, a traditional pizza di San Martino would contain trinkets, favours, much like the inclusion of a silver coin in traditional British Christmas pudding or ceramic baby Jesus in galette de rois. This recipe doesn’t include any. There’s nothing to stop you adding trinkets though, for luck to whoever receives them.

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.

Make the sponge, preferment

2. Add about 150g of the strong flour, and blend to form a sponge or pre-ferment.

Bubbly sponge

3. Allow the sponge to develop until it’s nice and bubbly – an hour or two, depending on warmth.

Combine the ingredients
4. Put the rest of the flour and the salt in a large bowl, then pour in the sponge, milk, beaten egg and melted butter and add the sugar, raisins and zest. I used orange and lemon zest.

Bring together - almost more a batter than a dough.

5. Mix to combine. It’ll be a fairly sticky dough. With just the water and milk, it’s about 67% hydration, but factor in the eggs and melted better too and that’s a fairly high proportion of liquid to flour.

Sticky dough

6. Turn out onto an oiled worktop and bring to a dough. For tips on how to handle sticky doughs, read my notes here.
7. Return to the bowl, cleaned and oiled, then cover and leave to prove until doubled in size.
8. Butter a round cake cake tin, ideally 26cm,  or even larger. (If you don’t have one, you could bake the pizza freeform, shaped like a disc, on a baking sheet.)
9. Turn out the dough and form into a ball. Push the ball down into the cake tin, then cover and leave to prove again.
10. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Put in round cake tin

11. When the dough is nicely risen, put it in the oven.
12. Bake for about 40 minutes. If it’s browning too much, cover with foil or turn down the oven.

Freshly baked pizza di San Martino

13. Take out, turn out and cool on a rack.

It’s not unlike a kind of brioche, so eat for breakfast, or morning coffee, or with tea. If I’m honest, I’ve no idea how an Italian family would eat it. During my time in Italy I never really managed to inveigle myself into households to watch people eating Easter Colomba or Christmas panettone or other enriched feast day breads like this. So any central Italians reading, please do let me know.

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Lewes OctoberFeast – apple juice, pizza and pulled beef

I know it has absolutely nothing to do with bread, cakes or ale, but I was really excited to hear that an apple press was being set up for two weekends of Lewes OctoberFeast (which is actually more of a SeptemberFeast). People could collect their own apples, or their neighbours’, or apples from wild trees, or whatever, and bring them along to be made into juice.

When we moved back into our house in Lewes at the end of December 2013, one of our two old apple trees had produced loads of fruit, which was all lying rotting on the ground. It drives me mad to think our tenants were probably buying apples shipped from New Zealand or South Africa – or even France – while ones went to waste in their garden.

I vowed to utilise them this year, but the ripening has coincided with out period of no kitchen (10 and half weeks and counting), so I couldn’t make any chutney; instead, we gathered a small backpack full and took them to John Downie’s press in the Market Tower. Which was disappointingly quiet – considering how many other apple trees I see being neglected, and considering how much effort those running it go to, it should have been thronged. Quite possibly  it wasn’t publicised enough.

Apple pressing 1

Just one small backpack produced nearly three litres of delicious fresh juice. Wonderful.

Apple pressing 2

Afterwards, we wandered off in the direction of the Street Food Feast, taking place in the yard of Harveys brewery, picking up some bread en-route at Flint Owl, one of the two great real bread places that opened up in Lewes during our two years away in Rome.

Flint Owl shop

Much as I’m missing home baking, I’m enjoying the excuse to try the locally baked breads.

The street food feast was a lovely event. Harveys had their beer wagon set up, a chap was playing a lute (or somesuch exotic instrument) and people were sitting around on beer crates enjoying the wares.

We had some pizzas from the mobile oven of The Hearth, the excellent Lewes pizzeria and bakehouse.

Toppings

Lewes isn’t a great place for restaurants – there are very few, and they’re mostly not great for buon rapporto prezzo qualita (“good balance between price and quality”, ie value for money). Lewes is more a pub town. Indeed, it’s an excellent pub town, but while some of them do decent pub food, those tend to be the ones that don’t necessarily do the best beer. Gah! And, weirdly, for a small town, we have every single rubbish pizza chain you can think off – so The Hearth is a real relief, especially after moving home from Italy.

The restaurant above the bus station has a wood-fired oven, but owner Michael Hanson honed his skills with his mobile rig at festivals. And here it was in the Harveys yard yesterday being ably driven by big-haired Big Pat.

Pat and pizza oven

Now, I must say I prefer cubed mozzarella blocks to this pre-grated stuff, but I imagine Michael uses it for the mobile set-up as it’s a lot easier. (They use both, as well as mozzarella di bufala, in the restaurant.)

Hearth pizzas

After the pizzas we also had to head for a truck called Spade and Spoon, as the carnaholic Fran had spied it did pulled beef, slowed cooked in Harveys ale. This looked like just my sort of place too, as they had an emphasis on good provenance. I’m sick to the eye teeth of pubs saying “we use seasonal and local food” then having menus clearly based on imported produce or stuff from cash and carries. Spade and Spoon looked more credible though, thankfully.

This is where things got a bit strange. Not the very slow-moving queue, which was just boring. I mean the fact that the night before I’d been to a gig in Brighton featuring my very talented friend Angeline Morrison*, who I’ve known since the early 1990s. When Fran got to the front of the Spade and Spoon queue to help carry our pulled beef in buns, chicken wrap and beetroot burger back to our other chums, the guy making my burger said “Dan!”. I looked up and said, “Dan!” This was another old friend from the same period when I met Angeline – indeed, Angeline may well have broken up with me then gone out with Other Dan. I’d not seen Dan for about 15 years, and hadn’t seen Angeline for about five either, so it was a strange coincidence.

Dan’s beetroot burger was very good too. Though I think he perhaps need to employ one more, faster chef in his food truck.

Spade and Spoon

Afterwards all this gorging on the savouries, and shock of the coincidence, we perused the sweets. Now, as much as I like a good honest British sponge cake, I would say there were a few too many at this event. We did, however, find one lady doing delicious chocolate hazel-nut meringues, which just hit that desert spot, thanks very much.

 

 

*Here’s a classic track from Angeline:

Here’s some more of her stuff on Soundcloud, plus look out for the upcoming album of her new outfit, The Mighty Sceptres.

 

 

 

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A week in Rome: pizza and pizza bianca

Biddy on the beach, where we had pizza bianca for our lunch

A couple of my pizza or pizza-related ambitions for this trip didn’t come to fruition – a trip to the vaunted Pepe in Grani pizzeria and a chance to try the intriguing pinse. The former just felt like too much of a mission, as it’s in the sticks, a two-hour drive or doubtless convoluted journey by public transport from Rome. The latter because the place I’d been told about by Hande Leimer, not just the expert sommelier of Vinoroma, but a great knowledge on Roman eating, was closed when we passed by around midday on our way back from closing our Italian bank account. Or attempting to close it. I’ll eat my hat – okay, I’ll just nibble it a bit – if that cheque ever arrives at our UK address.

Shame really, as pinse are a kind of rare Roman and Lazio relative of the pizza, made with a dough based on grains other than wheat, such as millet, oats or barley, in a mix with older wheat varieties. Next time.

And it’s not like we were otherwise deprived.

The best meal we had was for Fran’s birthday lunch, which we celebrated at the excellent trattoria Da Cesare (Via del Casaletto 45, Casaletto/Monteverde Nuovo, 00151 Rome – at the end of the number 8 tram route). It’s an old favourite, via Rachel, Hande and her colleague Katie Parla, and the place where I had one of my most memorable meals ever, last year on Ferragosto – the public holiday that’s celebrated on 15 August, the day that’s considered the hottest of the year. For Fran’s birthday, we gorged ourselves on amazing fritti (deep-fried antipasti) and fresh pasta dishes, like these giant ravioli, accompanied by some great wines recommended by Hande (who told me the boss is also a sommelier and has a great selection). They do do pizza, though I’ve never tried it.

Giant ravioli of ricotta and spinach at Cesare a Casaletto

More basically though, we also ate a fair amount of pizza, including at one one of my favourite pizzerias. Da Remo (Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice 44, Testaccio, 00153 Rome) is isn’t a place that sells products that are entirely in line with my more ardent principles about long fermentation and whatnot, but it does offer a consistent, consistently tasty product: classic, thin Roman-style pizzas, nicely charred from their wood-fired oven and served an atmospheric slightly rough, rushed setting.

When we went there I had a pizza without tomato sauce – that is, a white pizza or pizza bianca. The topping was simply mozzarella, a few zucchine flowers and some anchovies and it totally hit the spot, washed down with dubious house wine.

Da Remo

Shades of white
The term pizza bianca can be a little confusing in Rome as the other thing it refers to is a simple snack of basic pizza dough embellished with little more than a slosh of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. I love the stuff. Can’t get enough. Which is good, as it’s ubiquitous in bakeries and pizza takeaways, which bake long planks of it and sell it by weight. It’s such a popular staple with Romans, I suspect even mediocre outlets put more effort into getting it right.

I’ve got a recipe here, but I’ll be honest – while I’m pleased with it, it’s never quite as good as the real thing, baked in a proper commercial oven oven, cut from a massive plank, eaten on a Roman street. Or nearby beach (where the old biddy, above, was our neighbour), here topped with some caciotta di pecora (sheep’s milk cheese) and prosciutto.

Pizza bianca 'sandwich'

Or as part of a simple lunch, here accompanied by burrata – not a Roman cheese, but from Puglia, and one of the most stupidly indulgent simple pleasures that exists.

Simple lunch

We bought ours from Il Panificio Passi (Via Mastro Giorgio 87, Testaccio), which was basically underneath the flat we were staying in and fortunately does decent pizza bianca.

Pizza bianca torn open, showing its moliche - crumb or guts

Name games
Rome, and Italy in general, is a great place for getting confused about the names of foods you might previously have considered yourself well-acquainted with. So while pizza bianca refers to both plain pizza, or topped pizza, pizza rossa refers to both pizza based topped with little more than a smear of tomato sauce, and the types of topped pizzas that have that sauce along with other elements.

Furthermore, Romans even use the word focaccia to refer to a very thin, crisp, crunchy bread that some trattorie serve in their baskets of bread that accompany every meal. I love it, though I didn’t take a photo when we had some as the waiter was so grumpy about my query it put me off my stride.

The plumper flatbread us Brits (and I suspect Americans) know as focaccia, meanwhile, can be simply called pizza alla genovese, as that style is from Genova/Genoa and Liguria.

Pizza rossa, pizza bianca and (the fatter stuff) pizza/focaccia alla genovese at Passi, Testaccio.

It’s all six of one and half a dozen of another though, as arguably all flat breads can be considered focaccia. The name simply means “hearth bread”, bread cooked on the hearth, from the Latin focus. Furthermore, Wikipedia’s attempt at making a distinction between focaccia and pizza is clearly spurious as it says things like “while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher” and “focaccia is most often square whereas conventional pizza is more commonly round”, both things fairly disabused by the kind of Roman food mentioned above.

It’s also worth noting, no one really seems to know the etymology of the word pizza anyway, so sod it – if you want to make something thin or thick, round or square, with a hole in the middle or not, heavily topped or simply sprinkled with salt, I’m not sure it’s really worth any fuss if you call it focaccia or pizza. Or indeed pinsa, a word that some suggest has the same roots as pizza anyway. Or not. Chissa?

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Sourdough pizza and Hastings Brewery’s No 6 Hop Forward Pale Ale

Sourdough pizza with Hastings Brewery No 6 Pale Ale

Even though we ate tonnes on Saturday night, accompanied by various local beers and wines, I was making bread dough on Tuesday evening and thought, heck, why not make another pizza? One of the justifications was that on Saturday night one batch we did was slightly over-baked and the other slightly under-baked, so I wanted to keep on experimenting with our oven to try and get it right.

Anyone who’s made real pizza in a domestic oven will know it can be slightly challenging, largely because you simply can’t get the heat. My oven goes up to about 250C (480F) but a wood-fired pizza oven can get up to 450C (840F), enabling flash baking. You can improve things in a domestic oven by using a baking stone. Stones are excellent as you heat them in the oven first, so when the pizza is slid onto them, they’re already hot and help bake the dough through, quickly, as well as crisping up the base.

But I’ve not got one at the moment.

Currently, I’m just using a metal baking sheet, which goes into the oven cold. It’s not ideal, as, depending on the temperature variables in your oven, you can get a done, or potentially burnt, top, before the base is full baked. Even though I’m pleased with this recipe, the base wasn’t baked to perfection. That’s the challenge – for me and for you, as your oven will be different again.

Hastings Brewery No 6. With cat

Hopping forward
The other enjoyable factor about this pizza dinner – aside from being able to eat it outside on a warm English summer evening, 20C, no mosquitoes – was a great beer. I mentioned in my previous post I don’t think the light mild beer I was drinking was a good food pairing. This time round I chose a considerably more hoppy beer, and it worked well.

This was a Handmade No 6 Pale Ale bottled beer from Hastings Brewery, bought from the excellent Trafalgar Wines in Brighton, a booze shop with an excellent selection of beers. Apparently Hastings Brewery beers are their second-best selling now, after beers from The Kernel in London.

Hastings Brewery is a new discovery for me. I’m slowly working my way through all the local breweries. This one is 23 miles away from my home in Lewes. It started with founders Pete Mason and Brett Ross inspired “whilst litter picking after the Hastings Beer & Music Festival in July 2010.” Pete’s dad Andy got on board and by 2011 they’d bought “a larger – but still small – brewery”.

They’re an interesting outfit as not only do they do everything by hand on a small scale, with brews of 800 litres, they’re also make entirely vegan products. A lot of drinkers may not realise beer generally isn’t very vegetarian or vegan, but it’s often filtered with isinglass finings, which are fish bladders. Pete Mason is a vegan, as is their sales manager. Their beers are unfiltered. For some, this is appealing as filtering, arguably, can remove some of the flavour and mouthfeel.

The brewery’s label design and branding is great too. Their labels – all featuring a lion with fine mane and tongue sticking out1 – certainly stood out on the shelf at Trafalgar Wines.

Handmade

The 4.8% ABV beer, with its slightly unwieldy full name of ‘Hastings Handmade No 6 Hop Forward Pale Ale (Columbus)’, is very much a British take on a US craft beer. It’s defined by its use of Columbus, an American hop variety with a high alpha acid (around 15%), making it suitable for assertive bittering, 48 IBUs apparently. I suspect they’ve also used it for late-hopping (adding later in the boil, so it the oils aren’t totally broken down) or even dry hopping (adding during the conditioning stage so the oils remain largely intact) as the beer is highly aromatic: citrus, ginger, passion fruit, honey. The taste, while defined by massive bitterness, is also honeyed, with a salty, minerally aftertaste that verges on soapiness. [See below – actually they used a hopback.]

This beer really reminded us of our travels in the US, and while I have vague feelings of disloyalty to more traditional, malty, subtly hopped British beer styles when I drink something like this, I also love how British brewers are playing around with US styles. I love all the international cross-pollination of tastes and styles. The beer also went really well with our pizza, which I topped with mozzarella, thinly sliced pancetta from Beals Farm Charcuterie and a pecorino romano, for that added salty goodness.

I was hoping to add some asparagus but while I still saw plenty on the farmers’ markets a few days ago, guess what? Waitrose – nominally the less unethical British supermarket – only had asparagus from Peru! Southafeckingmerica!!! It’s asparagus season here – in England – right now, the end of the season sure, but still now. Now. In England. I’ve seen signs outside farms as I’ve cycled around Sussex, mere miles from that branch of Waitrose. Supermarket food economics is bonkers. Not to mention environmentally appalling.

Baked pizza

Sourdough pizza recipe
This makes one large-ish pizza, about 30cm (12 inch), but could cut up and manipulated differently. If you roll it flat, you’ll get a much more Roman-style pizza. If you open out the centre more and leave a wider, fatter edge, you’ll get a more Neapolitan-style pizza. The latter is called a cornicione and is the speciality of Michael Hanson at The Hearth in Lewes. Lewes, depressingly, has about four industrial chain pizza places; I’d say my pizza is better than all of theirs, easily, though still second-best in Lewes, after The Hearth.

This is a naturally leavened dough, so you want to make it the day before, to give it time to do a nice long fermentation.

250g strong white bread flour (or a mixture of strong, high protein flour and plain, all-purpose flour)
180g water
50g sourdough starter (100% hydration. I used a rye-based one, but wheat-based would be fine too)
15g olive oil (a good glug basically, QB)
5g salt

1. Whisk together the sourdough starter and water. It doesn’t matter if the water is cool, as it’s a long fermentation it doesn’t really need that boost of using body-temperature water. Try and use water that’s not too chlorinated or fluorinated. I filter my tap water with a Brita and the sourdough starter seems to prefer it.
2. Add the flour and salt and stir together well.
3. Add the olive oil and keep blending until well-combined.
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface lightly greased with more olive oil and give it a short knead. It is a relatively wet dough. If you find it too sloppy, add a little more flour – but not too much or you’ll make a nasty dry dough.2
5. Put the dough back in the bowl, cleaned and oiled, and let it rest for 15 minutes before giving it another quick knead, stretching it and folding it over. Repeat this twice more, then put the dough back in the bowl, again, cleaned and oiled.
6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a shower cap, and put it in the fridge and let it ferment slowly for about 24 hours.
7. Take the dough out of the fridge about an hour before you want to use it.
8. Form it into a ball on a floured work surface. Cover.
9. When you want to bake, preheat your oven to the highest setting.
10. Gently stretch out the dough. Don’t be too rough, or you’ll damage the structure that’d been developing during the fermentation period. How you open it up depends on what shape of pizza you’re making (see above).
11. Once you have opened up the dough to almost the desired shaped, gently transfer it to an oiled baking sheet, hanging it over your forearm and taking care not to poke your fingers through it.
12. Cover with your desired toppings. I did a pizza rossa – with tomato sauce – along with the abovementioned cheese and pancetta. Here’s the pizza before it went into the oven:

Unbaked pizza.
13. Bake in your preheated oven until it’s done. Yes, I know that’s vague, but it could be 10 minutes, it could be 25, with the oven turned down a little lower to make sure the middle of the base bakes and the top doesn’t char (too much).
14. Enjoy. Preferably al fresco with a quality, hoppy local beer.

 

Info
Hastings Brewery, 12 Moorhurst Road, Hastings TN38 9NB
hastingsbrewery.co.uk | info@hastingsbrewery.co.uk | 01424 572051

 

Trafalgar Wines, 23 Trafalgar St, Brighton BN1 4EQ
01273 683325

 

Footnotes
1 Some local ignorance – is the lion a Hastings thing? Maybe, as there are lions – or one lion and two half-lion/half-boat things – on the town’s crest.
2 The mixture is really 275g flour and 205g water, as the 50g of leaven at 100% hydration is 25g water, 25g flour. So this is a 74.5% hydration dough in bakers’ percentages. I’m using Stoates organic strong white bread flour; I find it quite absorbent, possibly as it’s stoneground and contains more bran. If you’re using a whiter, less branny flour that’s less absorbent, and

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Fritti, pizza, local Sussex booze – and chocolate pine nut ricottta tart

Slice with strawbs and cream

We’d been planning a pizza and local beer evening with friends here in Lewes, Sussex, for a while. This evolved into a pizza, local beer, local wine, local cider and Roman-style fried starters (fritti) evening, with the latter becoming viable after we borrowed a deep fat fryer.

We started the evening with an aperitivo of kir royales made with sparkling wine from Breaky Bottom, one of several vineyards we’re lucky enough to have near us on the chalk South Downs. I tried not to drink too much though, as I was driving the deep fat fryer.

Breaky Bottom

Missing these things from Rome, we did suppli al telefono, which are deep-fried balls of risotto with melting mozzarella inside; carciofi alla giudia, Romano-Jewish deep-fried artichokes, which I’d never done before, but worked very well (you trim the artichoke, remove the choke, then deep-fry it. Then deep-fry it again); and calamari fritti – fried squid bits, which I simply floured with semolina.

Fritti

Seasonal pizza
For the pizzas, I did about 2kg of dough. Here it is before and after its 24 hour prove. It was a monster.

Pizza doughPizza dough, after final prove

Then we made four different topping. One thing we learned from Gabrieli Bonci in Rome is to not be afraid to experiment with toppings, not be a slave to the canonical pizzas, and to use seasonal ingredients. It’s a great time of year for seasonal produce, so alongside the artichokes, the markets also furnished us with other good stuff like asparagus and radicchio. Here’s our pizza menu, typos and all.

Pizza menu

We were so busy trying to bake them and serve them – and drink our way through a very fine selection of further wines, cider and beer – we forgot to take any pics. The booze included Danebury Vineyards’ Madeline Angevine white (not Sussex, but Hampshire, though bought from Harveys) and various beers from Harveys and Long Man, the brewery named after the giant figure on the hillside at Wilmington, about 10 miles east of Lewes.

We did do one classic pizza, a Margherita, but otherwise we used seasonal ingredients and local cheeses and meats. For the latter, we used some smoked pancetta from Beal’s Farm Charcuterie, combined with local asparagus. The other two pizzas we did were bianche – white, that is, without tomato sauce. This is commonplace in Rome, but international pizza all seems to default to rossa (red), with tomato sauce. First, we did radicchio, fresh garlic and two cheeses from High Weald Dairy: their ricotta and Medita, a salty feta-style sheep’s milk cheese. Second, we did roasted baby leeks with mozzarella and Twineham Grange, a local parmesan-style cheese, aged for 15 months, which satisfies my need for a local cheese that’s good for grating on pasta dishes etc. We did use bog-standard mozzarella throughout, as no one’s making a Sussex version. Yet.*

Pie!
After all that fried food and stodge, what else did the meal need? Ah yes, fat and sugar. A dessert. After making a pine nut tart recently, I’ve been wondering about a chocolate version. As, like any sane person, I adore chocolate. Plus, we’d seen the High Weald ricotta on the market.

Side, through glass cloche

Anyway, the chocolate pine nut ricotta tart is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, granddaughter of the legendary film producer Dino and iconic actress Silvana Mangano. The original recipe was in cup measures. I tried translating these to grams using online charts, as well as using actual cup measuring spoons: each approach gave me completely different weights. This is why I’m not a fan of cups – for flour, especially, they’re inaccurate, as there’s the question of how compacted the powder is.

The resulting pastry was very crumbly and impossible to roll, so I effectively filled the bottom of a loose-bottom cake tin with it, as you would with biscuit crumbs for a cheesecake. Indeed, this is basically a type of cheesecake, though the filling is dense and very rich. After all that fritti and pizza and booze it was perhaps a bit much – or at least a big slice was a bit much. Perhaps it’d be a more suitable end to a slightly lighter meal!

You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

Pastry
200g plain flour
20g polenta
100g pine nuts, toasted
35g caster sugar
Pinch salt
120g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
110g water
150g caster sugar
225g dark chocolate, chopped
200g ricotta
8og full-fat cream cheese
3 eggs
100g pine nuts

1. To make the pastry, combine the plain flour, polenta, 35g sugar, salt and 100g toasted pine nuts in a food processor, blending until the nuts are well ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It’s unlikely it’ll ball up like a normal pastry dough.
3. Use the mix to line a 26cm loose-bottomed tin. I used a cake tin, though a flan or pie tin would work.
4. Put the pastry case in the fridge for at least half an hour, or for a day or so if you make it in advance.
5. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment then fill with baking beans.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
8. Allow the pie case to cool while you prepare the filling.
9. Heat the water and 150g sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
10. Over a separate pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, avoiding contact with the water.
11. Beat together the eggs.
12. Using a hand blender or the food processor again, combine the ricotta and cream cheese, then slowly add the egg.
13. Continue beating or processing until smooth.
14. Slowly add the sugar syrup, beating or processing until all combined.
15. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake, at the same temperature, until almost set – check at about 15 minutes.
16. Sprinkle the other, non-toasted pine-nuts over the top then continue baking until it’s all set and the pine-nuts are nicely toasted, another 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.
17. Allow to cool and serve. We served it with some cream and macerated strawberries.

Cloche

A note on the food matching
Although we and our guests put together a great collection of local boozes, after the initial aperitivo I stuck with Harveys’ Knots of May. This is a seasonal light mild, reddish-brown in colour and only 3%, which I bought direct from cask at Harveys in a 4 pint / 2.4 litre plastic jug, aka container, aka rigger, aka growler, aka polysomething or other.

It’s a delicious beer, but I’m not sure its malty sweetness made for the best food pairing with the fritti and pizza. Something a little more acid or bitter might have been better for cutting through the fattiness of the cheese etc.

It did, however, work well with the desert. I’m still blundering uncertainly through the beer and food matching business but that malty sweetness, and light, low body, went well with the dense, chocolately pudding.

Little brown jug - empty

 

* There is a British buffalo mozzarella being made these days, from my home county of Hampshire, just to the west. I’ve yet to try it. Plus, mozzarella di bufala is far too good – and pricey – to use for melting directly on pizza. For that you use the standard cow milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte (“flower of milk”, “milk flower”) in Italy. Bufala is best added after the end comes out of the oven and allowed to melt just slightly with the latent heat.

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Back on the Mainland

Woodfired oven, Marlborough Sounds

Historically, the South Island of New Zealand has been called the Middle Island (when the southerly Stewart Island was factored in), or more commonly the Mainland (when Christchurch was the country’s main city). I like the latter nomenclature, as the South Island’s always been my main New Zealand destination, my on-and-off home.

It’s also proving to be a place with less-than-modern notions of internet access though. We’ve been down here a while now, and only now am I getting a chance to sit down with some semi-functional WiFi.

When we came over from Wellington a week or so ago, we immediately caught another boat and went deep into the Marlborough Sounds to catch up with my old friend Nadia. She’s living on the side of Mount Stokes, with a woodfired oven and a mighty fine view.

Pizza in oven

She’d made dough, and when we reached her place we had a good session sliding pizza into the oven and chowing down on the results mere minutes later. Gotta love 400-ish-C of woodfired oven.

Nadia cutting pizza

Much of our visit involved working on her precariously tiered hillside garden, and chasing away a weka (a tenacious flightless NZ bird that is the bane of many people who try to have a veg garden in areas with nearby bush), but we did find time to ardently discuss Italian food, cook up some carciofi alla romana (Roman style artichokes), and even attempt a kind of ciabatta. For this, I used the remains of Nadia’s pizza dough as a kind of biga.

Folding dough for ciabatta

I mixed up a new dough, left it to ferment for a day, then stretched it and slid it into the oven. I hadn’t got the oven quite hot enough (hey, it’s my first time), so the spring wasn’t good, but it was still a pleasing exercise.

Taking out ciabatta

… Other than when I tried to make another variant, it got stuck on the peel, and I ended up losing the loaf to the embers. Hi ho. Live and learn.

Oops

Now we’re heading further south on the Mainland, after visiting another old friend, Susie, in the Buller Gorge, catching up with loads of other young old friends (some of whom I’ve know since their infancy – it’s disconcerting to go away for 10 years and come back and find all these adults).

We even managed to fit in a fairly intense tramp/hike/mountaineering scramble in the mountains of Nelson Lakes National Park. It was a route I’d wanted to do for years, but after weeks of summer, the weather turned back into winter and we found ourselves on a very exposed ridge, all rocks and scree, in thick cloud, horizontal rain and cold winds. Fran, who has a kind of mountain-ridges-vertigo, looked like she was about to file for divorce there and then.

We’re still married though, thankfully, and even survived a seven hour jaunt by car today, the start of a Mainland road trip. Which has even involved some slightly frustrating (I’m always designated driver as Fran doesn’t have a license) visits to several breweries, which I’ll write up at some stage.

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Filed under Breads, Pizza

A British Captain America tea party

Spread, lit candle

Our young nephew Ellis turned five on Monday. He’s a little bit obsessed with superheroes, particularly Captain America. He spends a lot of time in a Captain America outfit. He must be the only Captain America with an English (/slightly Welsh/slightly midwestern) accent.

Although I’m really not a cake decorator, and I really really really don’t like artificial food colourings, I couldn’t say no when sister-in-law Sharon said we had to make Ellis a Captain America birthday cake. Especially as I’m a big comics geek.

Captain America sugar paste figure

This involved a late-night session making one of those cake-dec bobble head figures. It was a collaborative effort: I did the head and some trimmings, Sharon the body, Fran the shield. We were all quite pleased with it. Partly as it was fun to do, but partly as our Captain America is amusingly portly, like he’s retired and taken to the beer. Even his belt and the stripey part of his costume looked more like a girdle or corset. Oh, and we’d had a little booze too: the girls on local Missouri wine from Pirtle in the historic town of Weston, me on beer from Boulevard Brewing Co in Kansas City (which is also in Missouri, mostly).

Really enjoying their bottle-conditioned beers. (I’m drinking one now too.) Like the sound of the brewery too. “Boulevard’s mission is simple: to produce fresh, flavorful [sic] beers using the finest traditional ingredients and the best of both old and new brewing techniques.” That’s what I like to hear.

Slightly bemused that US beers seem to have to carry the government health warning but don’t have to include the ABV on the bottle though.

We’ve tried Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat Beer, which is 4.4% according to the site, and surprisingly mellow for a wheat beer. Apparently it’s also the “best-selling craft beer in the Midwest.” Their 5.5% Pale Ale, meanwhile, is also pretty mellow, but with a really well balanced hoppy tang and caramel maltiness. As for what I’m drinking now – not sure. The brother-in-law said the label came off after a session in the chilly bin/eski/cooler/cool box (delete according to nationality) and he can’t remember; and I can’t find it on the brewery site.

Covering cake

Anyway.

The cake. Although I can’t really eat coloured sugar paste, I made a nice chocolate cake underneath. I used one of my favourite recipes. It’s originally based on a cardamom cake by Mollie Katzen of Moosewood, but it’s such a great recipe it can be varied according to inclination and occasion. Here’s a metric version of the original US recipe on Cake-off, a site I used to do with my friend Jo. The chocolate version I did left out the nut mix, and replaced about 50g of the flour with cocoa. I also added some finely chopped dark chocolate. It’s such a good cake: dense but moist.

Ellis Capt America

For the party we also did some pizza. This was an interesting challenge, as was making a loaf of bread later on. Like when I first moved to Italy, I find myself in a country where the types of flour, and their packaging, are entirely unfamiliar. And here a lot of the flour is made with GM grain. At least a badge that indicates the non-GMO options seems to be a legal requirement.

Heidi pizza

A lot of the flour, sadly, is also bleached, and packed with gratuitous additives. Still, there’s also some organic available – even in the dreaded Walmart, that poster child for the problems of the industrialised food chain and a place I visited for the first time this week.

Perhaps more problematic in practical, rather than ethical, terms, however, was the way the packages labelled protein content – there was no percentage. So I really couldn’t get a great sense of what was a high protein bread flour. Still, Fran did a sterling job of making pizza dough… until we baked it and managed to totally burn the bottom of one. Our oven in Rome similarly had very fierce bottom heat, but Sharon was possibly even worse; never mind any confusion from being faced with ye olde daffy Fahrenheit after years of using nice sane Celsius.

Still, it all went off well. The cake was a hit with Ellis and the kids; the (unburnt) pizza was avidly consumed, with several of the other ex-pats here being very appreciative of a freshly baked bread product; and me and Sharon even managed to make a decent wholewheat tin loaf too.

Oh cripes. Another rambly post. I’m sorry. I’m not sure I’ll get any structure or succinctness back into this site until I’m settled back in England at the end of the year…

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Filed under Cakes, Misc, Pizza

Bonci, Baladin and cats

Look for this sign - Pizzarium

The past few weeks we’ve been increasingly scombussolati (“de-compassed”, discombobulated, unsettled). Moving house is always a bit of a whirlwind, and we’re on our third move in less than three years. Moving internationally is even more complicated – especially when we can’t actually move back into our own house in England just yet.

While our clobber went off in 11 hefty boxes last week, yesterday was even worse – we said goodbye to our beloved cats. Now, if you’re not an animal person, look away, as you probably won’t understand.

If you are an animal person, and you’re childless like us, you may well understand how important pets are. They’re not exactly surrogate kids, as it’s not like they’ll ever become stroppy teenagers, threaten to leave, then actually do leave, then come back again with dirty laundry. But you do invest a lot of time, money and affection in them.

We didn’t have an easy transition to living in Rome in August 2011, and it was only when our cats arrived in May 2012 that the apartment we were inhabiting here actually took on some of the qualities of a home.

Cats

They went off yesterday, chauffeured by a nice lady called Den and accompanied by three other cats, also making their way from Italy, specifically Naples, to south London, with their owners. It was all very emotional, so we had to get out of the flat, which felt oddly dead without them. To paraphrase something Jean Cocteau reportedly said, cats become the soul of the home, and that soul had just left in a cage in the back of a people carrier.

It seemed like the ideal opportunity to go and indulge ourselves in some of the greatest grain-related goodies available in Rome: specifically Gabriele Bonci’s hole-in-the-wall pizza takeaway Pizzarium, and Rome’s best beer bar, Open Baladin. I’ve been meaning to write more about the latter for ages, as Baladin really is the most important brewery in Italy’s craft beer scene, but I seem to have accidentally deleted most of my photos (ecco: scombussolato) so that’ll have to wait.

Counter at Pizzarium, Rome

Instead: Pizzarium. We heard about this place pretty soon after we arrived in Rome. It’s an institution and Bonci himself is a celebrated pizzaiolo and TV celebrity. When we went there first, I wasn’t entirely convinced, as I was hung up on the thin, crispy, slightly burned Roman pizzas of places like Ai Marmi in Trastevere and Da Remo in Testaccio. I still love those pizzas, but I’m totally a Bonci convert now.

Bonci’s principles were of course more in line with mine – he uses stoneground flours made from older wheat varieties, natural leavens and long fermentation, and tops the pizza with local and seasonal ingredients, along Slow Food lines. But I wasn’t entirely sold on the thick bases and felt the toppings tended towards overload. The latter can still arguably be the case, but they’re delicious nonetheless. I’m tired of the over-quoted Vogue soundbite about him that draws parallels with a certain Renaissance man and is included on his upcoming English book* but he’s certainly a master craftsman of the pizza and great ambassador for real food.

Pizzarium pizza bianca

I have mentioned Bonci before, as we did a pizza-making class with him last year. And he’s a big part of the scene I really enjoy here in Rome. Along with Baladin brewery’s Theo Musso and Leonardo di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo, he’s a co-founder of Open Baladin bar. The same trio is also behind the more recently opened bistro No.Au (another place we need to go before we leave). Bonci baked goods are available at both venues.

Pizzarium pizza

After a half hour walk in the hot October sun, along the Aurelian wall, then around the south and north Vatican walls, we reached Pizzarium, which is in the Trionfale quartiere. We were sold the moment we walked into Pizzarium and asked about one particular pizza. Or at least Fran was sold, as the pizza was cavolini di Bruxelles (Brussels sprouts, the first of the season) e mortadella, two of her favourite things. And seriously, who’d have ever thought of combining these on a pizza? That’s Bonci right there – he’s innovative and got a surprising sense of what will work.

We also had a pizza farcita  (filled pizza), a kind of sandwich with two layers of dough and a layer of primo sale (“first salt”, a young sheep’s milk cheese), rocket and tomato pesto between. It was delicious, with a lovely balance between the slight pepperiness of the rocket, the sharpness of the pesto and the smoothness of the cheese, itself an interesting alternative to mozzarella.

The other we had was the classic potato pizza. People may think, Hey – carb and carb? Really? But it’s delicious and quite possibly my favourite type of pizza, especially when there’s a bit of rosemary in play too. It was surprisingly light, with a good crunch where the dough and potato have caught slightly in the oven, with a pleasing, simple saltiness.

'Nduja suppli at Pizzarium

We also had some suppli – a classic and one made with primo sale and ʼnduja, soft spicy sausage from Calabria. Both delicious, but I’d still say the best suppli I’ve had yet in Rome was at La Gatta Mangiona. Though Bonci’s pizza pips theirs.

We ate all this sitting outside on the one bench, luckily having avoided the lunchtime rush, when we had been busy coercing the poor cats into the back of the people carrier and feeling mighty guilty and sad about it.

Most of the rest of the Pizzarium punters were foreigners, proving how Bonci’s reputation has made this small pizza al taglio hole in the wall a key stop of the tourist schedule for discerning food enthusiasts visiting Rome. I just wish we’d been a few more times, but it’s in a slightly awkward location up behind the Vatican. Well, awkward for us, as it’s not on a handy bus route, we’re not on Metro line A, and we don’t contribute to Rome’s excessive population of polluting cars and scooters.

Flour for sale at Pizzarium, Rome

Afterwards, not wanting to go back to a house that was like Tony Makarios without his daemon, we continued our long head-straightening walk. We headed back into town, and down to Open Baladin, near Campo deʼ Fiori. And drank much-needed restorative ales.

The sharp, firm hoppiness of my Hopbleoem, a special from Extraomnes brewery in Lombardy, with its notes of salty sweat, citrus and tomato plants, provided a good slap in the face though it was still sad going home, via another fight with our mobile phone provider (what does it take to cancel this account? Blood!? Si, certo), to an empty flat.

Open Baladin, Rome

Info
Pizzarium, Via della Meloria 43, 00136 Rome.
Metro Line A; station: Cipro
Gabrielebonci.it

 

 

* ‘Pizza – Seasonal Recipes from Rome’s Legendary Pizzarium’, due out this month. It’s a slightly more modest title than that of his Italian book: ‘Il gioco della pizza – Le magnifiche ricette del re della pizza’, ‘The Game of Pizza – The Magnificent Recipes of the King of Pizza’. I’m guessing the former is an English translation of the latter, but I’ve not seen it yet, so can’t be sure.

Oh, and PS, when we did our course, we met a half-English, half-Italian guy called David who talked about opening a place called Pizzarium Sutton, in Sutton, south London. I’m not sure this ever happened. If I find out, I’ll of course post about it.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Pizza

Back to the scene of the crime: some beer and snacks in Naples

Naples street food

Last time we went to Naples we enjoyed the pastiera and didn’t so much enjoy the pickpocketing. This time round there was, thankfully, none of the latter. Though because of the earlier experience we didn’t take a camera, and I kept neglecting to take photographs with my (crappy replacement-for-stolen) phone. Hence this one isn’t very well illustrated. Sorry – I realise food blogging needs fancy photography but, well…. Boh. È già.

Street food
Naples is a great city if you like stodge. Sure, it has amazing restaurants too, but the most tangible food, the food you’ll probably notice first – especially if you’re visiting the centro storico – is the street food.

Along Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali are dozens of places selling, basically, deep-fried stodge. Who says Glaswegians invented deep-fried pizza? Apparently, there’s been stodgy, fried street-food in this ancient Greek then Roman town for millennia.

We tried a bread-crumbed, deep-fried pasta patty, a crochetta (potato croquette, with bits of mystery meat), and a sausage (with provolone in it) wrapped in dough and… deep-fried (possibly called “wurstel in camicia” – “vienna sausage in a shirt”). I love stodge and deep-fried food, but even I felt a bit wobbly after these items. (I would have been even wobblier if I’d been forced to try the tripe and lemon juice we saw for sale from a cart down by Castel dell’Ovo on the seafront.)

Naples street food

Ale
Later on, I fancied some beer (ofc). I’d tried looking up real beer places in Napoli, but I couldn’t really find any in the centro storico. Then we wandered past La Stanza del Gusto on Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli. It’s basically in Piazza Bellini, which is a great spot for an evening drink, amid the dilapidated, graffitied, litter-strewn grandeur. Most of the other bars there, however, only serve industrial beers, which gave La Stanza the edge for us as it had a good selection of international real beer.

I always prefer to eat and drink local, though it’s especially nice to be able to do this with beer. When we asked for something Italian, and local, the helpful guy went behind the bar as if he was digging into a special stash and gave us a slightly strange sales pitch. Fran had a Lemonale, which he referred to as a bit “gay” (so not exactly PC).

Lemonale and Trentatre at La Stanza del Gusto, Naples

This is a top fermented beer from Birra Karma brewery, which is based in Alvignano, 45km north of Napoli. It’s a 5.5% ABV beer that’s made with water, malted barley, rye, organic honey, Fair Trade cane sugar, hops, spices and yeast: but no actual lemon. Despite this, it was very citrusy, a little sweet, with a smooth, even body and some coriander. Karma’s own site says it’s in the style of Belgian blanche. Very refreshing.

I had a Trentatré (33) Ambrate from AF Birra/Aeffe – another local Campania brewery, this time based near Salerno. Aeffe’s site describes it as a “Scottisch Ale” while the good old Guida alle birre d’Italian 2013 says it’s 6% ABV and made with Maris Otter barley malt, and refers to it being a beer “inspired by the English tradition”. Italians really aren’t very good when it comes to the whole English-British thing, with many using the former as a synonym for the latter (I’m constantly telling a highly educated historian friend there was no “English army” in WW2, it’s the “British army”).

Anyway, Trentatré  Ambrate has a rich amber colour, with a nicely balanced, deep, slightly fruity flavour of malts and bitter hops. Just to continue his un-PC strain of jovial chat, the waiter said this was a better beer to “picchiare la moglie” (ie, he was calling it “wife-beater” – a name used in England for Stella Artois, for some reason).

Just to get the most out of our aperitivo, we tried Karma’s own amber ale, called Amber Doll. This wasn’t quite as full-bodied as the Trentatré  and had a distinctly coppery flavour, with touches of chestnut.

Karma brewery's Amber Doll

Pizza
The following day, we met some friends. They live in Rome, but have local family, and they took us for a pizza for lunch. This was at Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, which is located by the old gate Porta San Gennaro on Via Foria, a large road to the north of the centro storico and one of the many places one can see the city’s famed modern art installations that look just like massive piles of garbage. They’re uncannily realistic.

The pizzeria itself is one of the many where you’ll see a sign saying “Vera Pizza Napoletana” – Real Neopolitan Pizza – with a picture of the city’s famed folk figure Pulcinella. This guy, with his clown-like white garb and black mask, is the predecessor of Britain’s children’s entertainment psychopath Mr Punch, with his proclivity for killing (his wife, their baby, the arresting police officer). Encouraging you to eat pizza is certainly a more benign activity. The signs are organised by the AVPN, a not-for-profit founded in Naples in 1984.

Vera Pizza Napoletana sign

Our friends said there were only really three genuinely Neopolitan pizzas on the menu: notably the Margherita, which legend says was created for Margherita of Savoy, queen consort of Italy’s King Umberto I, during a visit to Naples in 1889. (Here’s the full, historical story.) Another was a calzone made with ricotta and prosciutto, which Fran had. She says “It was delicious and surprisingly light.”

Not so light, apparently, is the deep-fried version, which our friends warned us off – and indeed it looked massive, and coronary-inducing, when some other punters ordered them. I had another calzone, but this time with provolone, black olives and scarola (that is Cichorium endivia, curly endive, a form of chicory). Very nice it was too – with the olives providing a sharpness to contrast with the cheese and wilted greens.

Calzone at Cessano, Naples

Pastry
The following morning, we tried just one more local speciality before we moved on down the coast to get a bit of sun and reprieve from the urban madness. This involved going to Giovanni Scaturchio, a famed historical (“since 1905”) pasticceria (pastry shop) in the head of the centro storico, on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.

Our friends insisted we have sfogliatelle. These pastries come in a few forms, though the most famous in Naples is the sfogliatella riccia, a name that literally means “curly many-leaves/layers”. And indeed the pastry is not unlike say filo, in that it’s been rolled and stretched very thinly, before being layered and rolled, and filled with a mixture of ricotta, almond paste and candied peel. We had one riccia and one made with pasta frolla – shortcrust pastry. The latter, at first glance, looks more like a brioche bun, but when eaten is clearly pastry not enriched bread dough, and is also filled with ricotta and peel.

We were so busy talking about it all, then trying to get the waiter to bring a knife, then cutting them up, that by the time I thought about taking a photo there wasn’t much left. So instead, here’s the picture from Scaturchio’s site:

Sfogliatelle from Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio

If you’re only in Naples for a few days, and fancy trying a distinctive local snack, I’d really recommend a good sfogliatella, or two. Slightly more refined than the deep-fried pizza sold on the street stalls. I’m saving that treat for next time we run the gauntlet of this astonishing city.

Info
La Stanza del Gusto, Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 100, 80138 Naples, Italy
+39 081 401 578 | lastanzadelgusto.com

Birra Karma brewery
+39 0823 869 117 | info@birrakarma.com | birrakarma.com

AF Birra/Aeffe brewery
+39 081 516 2434 | info@afbirra.com | afbirra.com

Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, Via Porta San Gennaro 2, 80138 Naples, Italy‎
+39 081 456 421

Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio, Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 19, 80134 Naples, Italy
+39 081 551 7031 | info@scaturchio.it | scaturchio.it

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Filed under Ale, beer, Bakeries, Misc, Pizza

Pizza and beer at La Gatta Mangiona, Monteverde Nuovo, Rome

Tscho! beer at La Gatta Mangiona

When, just over two years ago, we moved to Rome, and specifically just-outside-the-city-walls west Rome, we soon heard about La Gatta Mangiona. This pizzeria in Monteverde Nuovo (Gianicolense), the neighbourhood adjactent to our Monteverde Vecchio, was recommended as one of Rome’s best.

So we went. And were kinda disappointed.

Despite the inventive toppings (alongside classics) created by the renowned owner Giancarlo Casa (at it since 1973) and his staff, and the dough reportedly made with a lievito madre (sourdough starter) and long-fermentation, the pizza was flabby, the service somewhat indifferent. The experts over at The Rome Digest did, earlier this year, highlight the issue of the place’s inconsistency. Then another Rome food expert, Rachel Roddy, went recently and told us that not only was the food good, but there was also an excellent beer menu. I don’t remember the latter from our previous visit – so either it didn’t exist, or you had to be sufficiently in the know to ask specially to see if.

This time, we were in the know, and went with some other beer enthusiast friends. And overall, the experience was much better.

I wouldn’t say it was the best pizza I’ve had, but it was still delicious, the beer menu is indeed great, and the suppli were among the best I’ve tried in Rome.

Suppli at La Gatta Mangiona

I love suppli, Rome’s delectable deep-fried rice-and-mozzarella balls, but many are pretty average, and probably not even made on premises. La Gatta Mangiona’s, however, were clearly hand-made, clearly freshly made, and they even do suppli-of-the-day. Though they don’t exactly seem to be seasonal. We went in September, way outside spring’s asparagus season, but they had suppli made with them and saffron. The other suppli-of-the-day was sausage and cream; Fran says “Mmmm, it was delicious.”

I just had a classic suppli, made with tomato risotto. It was a decent size, slightly wonky, crisp, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, with the mozzarella inside forming strings as it should. Yum. My pizza, meanwhile, was one of their specials, and was called “Four Onions”. Along with the onion frenzy, it also featured tomato, vaguely picante sardines, olives and flakes of salty pecorino.

Generally I’m from the school of thought that simplest, least cluttered pizzas are the best (and indeed we’ve got Italian friends who only ever eat Margherita), but this was great. Not as good as the suppli, but still great. Clearly, I was so excited to get started on it I failed to take even one in-focus photograph. Doh. (Check out Gillian’s Lists here for some excellent photos of Gatta Mangiona’s wares.)

4 cipolle pizza

Now, the beer. Being out with two Italians, one other Englishman and one Canadese, we didn’t demolish beer after beer as we might have done had we been out with solely boozy Brits, but we did try a couple from the menu. This menu is indeed extensive and far better than any other pizza place. Even Trastevere’s entertaining but kinda overrated Bir & Fud (geddit?) doesn’t have much beer by comparison, though they do have taps. Most pizzerie, including the great, bargain options Da Remo (Testaccio) and Ai Marmi (Trastevere) meanwhile, just offer wine or crappy industrial lager.

You can find La Gatta Mangiona’s beer and whisky menu from their site (click ‘Carta delle birre e dei distillati’ – a PDF; not entirely the same as the photocopy they gave us). The beers are divided into wheat beers, then light and dark beers of low, medium and high ABV (from 3.5 to 10.8). Clearly La Gatta Mangiona takes its beer very seriously.

As I’d previously written about Calibro 5, a beer made with Kölsch that is designed to go well with pizza, it seemed suitable to have another beer made with the same yeast and in a similar style. This was the unpronounceable Tschö! from Maltovio brewery in Campania –that is, the region with Naples as its capital. (I’ll be talking about Naples again in the next post, as we’ve just been there.) Maltovio’s site can be found here. I really hope the photos are tongue-in-cheek. They remind me of comedy duo Armstrong and Miller‘s sketches about catalogue models in their natural habitat (sadly, I cannot find video snippets online).

This was a very straightforward beer, with some aroma of grass and hay, a blonde, murky body and a simple taste, with some slight citrus touches and a dry mouth-feel. Indeed, it probably would have been a perfect accompaniment to pizza, but between the six of us we finished it quickly while we were eating our antipasti.

Grado Plato's Spoon River at La Gatta Mangiona

The second beer we had was Spoon River from Grado Plato brewery in the Piemont (Piedmont) region of northwestern Italy. The fact that it’s called Spoon River and not Fiume di cucchiaio fits in with this being in the style of a English bitter, or at least that’s what the Guida alle birre d’Italia 2013 (Italian Beer Guide 2013) says. Spoon River’s own site says it’s an amber ale that’s also (like Kölsch beers) good to “accompagnare a tutto pasto i piatti più svariati dai primi alle carni” – “accompany all meals, everything from primi (pasta, risotto etc) to meats.”

Its smell brought to mind toffee apples – so caramel malt and fruity. It’s got a medium body and yes, a very malty taste too, with some lasting bitterness.

I wish we’d tried more, but that’ll have to wait until next time.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, a gatta is a female cat, and a mangiona is a glutton. So the Greedy Lady Cat. For want of a better word for a female cat. Why don’t we have a name for a female cat in English? If a male is a Tom (well, an intact male), what’s the equivalent? Some suggestions are a Queen, or a Molly, or a Dam, though these terms aren’t in common usage, especially for non-pedigrees. The Gluttonous Dam sounds nice though.

Info
Via Federico Ozanam 30-32, 00152 Rome, Italy
+39 06 534 6702 | lagattamangiona.com
Open from 19.45 to 23.30; closed Monday

Maltovio brewery
maltovivo.it

Grado Plato brewery
gradoplato.it

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