Thursday 21 February 2013

Top Toppings - what the chefs go for...

A couple of weeks ago I was asked what my favourite topping is:

"Well you can't beat a well made sourdough margherita, then again, I'm a sucker for anchovies and find it hard to look past them on a menu..."

some time later

"...recently I've been making more white pizzas (without the tomato sauce) and brussels sprouts on a pizza was a revelation..."

their eyes have now well and truly glazed over

"MEATBALLS!" they rouse, "Kale, potato, have you tried them on a pizza?"

I clearly wasn't in a particularly decisive mood although it also highlights that you can't define perfect pizza, it's different things, to different people, at different times. What you can work towards is truly great pizza, memorable pizza, and that's what all the guys below specialise in. After my inability to pick a single favourite I got in touch with some of my favourite pizzerias to see what the top pizzaiolos in the UK choose when they have blank canvas of dough.

In no particular order, here's what the pros said:

Restaurant: Story Deli
Chef: Lee Hollingworth
In their words:
"We do pizza. Pizza's fun to make & fun to eat, but we're not about pizza it's just a vehicle that we use we're about organic food and earning a living from using organic food to support farmers & growers who are out there saving the soil. Everything we buy is 100% certified organically grown with the exception of the spring water we use to make the dough - it can't be called organic, but it's drawn from certified organic land, which is the closest I can get & sea salt - it also can't be called organic, but the brand we use is certified by the soil association as suitable for use in organic cooking. I don't use yeast - because there isn't an organic one. There are seven organic pizza flours in Italy having tried them all the one I use is the best for the way we cook @ 405c or 410c. People seem to like our product so I'm pleased.

Me - when I'm by myself - my partner & kid usually hijack the recipe. I always make a pizza around 3 basic ingredients egg, garlic roasted, fresh baby spinach & birds eye chillies adding an ingredient here & there"

Restaurant: Pizza East
Chef: Brian McGowan
In their words:
"My personal favourite pizza topping here is our Veal Meatball pizza. We use a white panna base. The pizza is then topped with torn San Danielle and our own Veal meatball mix. We make our own mix in house each day. Some chopped sage is sprinkled over the top and the pizza is placed in the oven. We hold our ovens at a lower temperature to traditional ovens as our dough has a far higher water content when compared with usual pizza dough. If the temperature is too high the crust will burn on the outside before the pizza is cooked through. The cooking time is normally between five and six minutes. The pizza is then sliced and finished off with some freshly grated lemon zest. Heaven.

This is my personal favourite but our biggest sellers are the Margarita, Salami and our Cotto pizzas. I cannot stress enough the attention that should be paid to the quality of the dough and the freshness of the toppings. If you keep this in mind at all times then you’re well on the road to producing the best pizza possible."

Restaurant: Pizza Pilgrims
Chef: Thom and James Elliot
In their words:
"I think our favourite topping of the last year has to be Nduja [edit: aka The Ninja as I insist on calling it]. It is a spicy sausage from Calabria in the South of Italy, made from the belly and cheeks of the pig, along with a (very) high proportion of Calabrian chilli (sometimes around 50%). It is then smoked and cured. We discovered it on our "Pizza Pilgrimage" at the end of 2011 in a small town called Spilinga.

The fatty cut of meat used means that it also has the strange property of being spreadable. This also makes it amazing on pizza - as the Nduja melts in the hot oven and releases pools of hot, spicy, meaty oil. It needs to be used sparingly for this reason, and we often don't add any olive oil to the pizza to compensate. It works well on a bianca base, but we think it is hard to beat just added to a sourdough Margherita."

Chef: Rachel Seed
In their words:
"As you may know, we have a very small main menu (6 pizzas) as we use the best quality (local wherever possible) ingredients and make everything ourselves. We also always have two weekly specials, and the most popular have been the pulled pork and BBQ sauce (inspired by our trip to Orlando where we had fabulously gluttonous trip gorging ourselves on delicious street food!) and Chaumes, trompette mushrooms and smoked garlic (all ingredients purchased from a trip across the channel to visit some french markets)."

Restaurant: Santa Maria
Chef: Lucio Miano Petta from Naples
In their words:
"The main thing is...that we are sort of against toppings. For us the best topping is just the fior di latte mozzarella. We are pioneers of the "less is more", the less you put on a pizza, the better. Only this way, you can taste the freshness and lightness of the dough, and the tomato sauce. Toppings would hide the underneath flavours!

Fave topping: just tomato sauce with garlic and origano (Marinara) fior di latte mozzarella (margherita) or going for the buffalo mozzarella (bufalina). Nothing else.

Fior di latte mozzarella, typical neapolitan mozzarella, has a very delicate and light taste. Combined with the tomato sauce, reaches the perfect combination. Has to be cooked in a 450-485 degrees oven for 50 seconds. Over doing it, will become liquid. Buffalo mozzarella, made with buffalo milk typical of the area of Mondragone and Battipaglia. Has a very strong taste, the texture is nearly rubbery and chewy. It's the deluxe version of the regular fior di latte."

Monday 18 February 2013

Topping tasting

Less of a post, more a set of pictures from the weekend's tasting session.

A couple of good friends came over on Saturday and we used the excuse to test out a few toppings we'd been wanting to try. I'm not going to ramble on about which was our favourite, not just because each of us ended up picking a different one, but more because I've got a much more interesting topping related post in the pipeline which should be coming your way soon...

In the meantime here are some pictures of the weekend's creations:
Photos credited to said good friend

Sunday 3 February 2013

Due Sardi

It'd been ages since we'd made pizza, too long, ages since we'd even had pizza. But a Friday night in recovering from the dreaded lurgi seemed like the perfect excuse to try out some of the delivery places in the area.

The restaurant of choice was Due Sardi, the takeaway arm of Amici Miei (reviewed much more eloquently here) where we'd had a couple of excellent meals previously so our expectations were high. Things started well, I called through our order and it arrived, warm, within half an hour. Here's what we went for:

Margherita - Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Basil.

The benchmark for any pizzeria. A prize to anyone who spots the basil

Napoli - Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Olives, Anchovies
 Another classic and personal favourite.

Completa - Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Pepperoni, Gorgonzola, Onion, Avocado & Cherry Tomatoes

More out of curiosity than anything else.

They looked quite good, some reasonable blistering and signs of charring although overall I'd have preferred another 30s in the oven. The toppings weren't bad either, generous quantities and a good salt kick from the anchovies and gorgonzola on the Napoli and Completa. For me the jury's still out on the role of avocado on a pizza and as well as looking a bit brown by the time it arrived it didn't really add anything here.

The real let down was the crust though, perhaps my favourite part of a pizza, this was a real disappointment. Dry, bland, chewy to the point of distraction and lacking rise or fluffy texture.

Having said all that these were still a reasonable set of takeout pizzas and given we demolished them all they can't have been that bad. I sometimes wonder that I've been spoiled of late and that combined with my initial high expectations probably worked against them. So perhaps I should give them another try?

Here are the details:
Cost: A very reasonable £23.65 including delivery
Verdict: The dough was the let down.
Will we be back: Perhaps, the excellent meals we've had at Amici Miei previously have probably earned them a second chance