On the Road… To Finding the Perfect Pizza
On the Road… To Finding the Perfect Pizza
The city of Napoli divides a crowd. For some it is dirty, dangerous and not-lacking in petty crime. For others its downsides and utter chaos pale when compared to its enthralling – even intoxicating – vibrancy filled with an abundance of treasures in the form of art, architecture and history. Yet what is almost universally agreed upon is that the pizza of Naples – with its unctuous mozzarella di buffalo and delectably sweet pomodori di San Marzano – is absolutely, categorically, the best in the world.
I’m the kind of person who enjoys questioning authority and interrogating beliefs that masquerade as facts. But even I had been moved by the countless, lyrical descriptions of the ways that three simple ingredients – the local D.O.P. tomatoes cultivated in the volcanic soils of the infamous Mount Vesuvius, the water buffalo mozzarella of Campagna, along with a fistful of fresh basil leaves – combine in a special Neapolitan pizza oven to create a culinary experience of near-religious proportions. As I sat at one of Naples’ recommended pizzerias with my travel companions, two of our Basilico store managers, sipping a cold local beer, I felt no need to be cynical – just excited about the delicious pizza alla Margherita that was to come.
It was through the very first bite that the lofty myth of Neapolitan pizza disintegrated on my palate. It wasn’t horrible, surely better than most of what one might find in a London pizza restaurant. It just neither lived up to the hype, nor was it a ‘good’ pizza by any definition.
Hoping this was just a one-off, we visited another pizzeria. And then another. We ate our way through Pizzeria d’é Figliole and then Pizzeria Dal Presidente, from one celebrated Naples pizzeria to another… and it was all pretty ordinary. Many edges collapsed and many bottoms were burnt. In truth there may have been a decent pizza here or there, but a far cry from the otherworldly delights for which Naples was allegedly famous.
So what went wrong?
Somewhere along the way, it seems that Neapolitan pizza culture has gone slightly off the rails. We saw crispy deep-fried pizzas that were the polar opposite of the fresh and fragrant Margheritas of Neapolitan legend. We also saw what I would call ‘frantic attempts’ to appeal to families and children of locals and tourists, alike; the most offensive of which were pizzas topped with hot dog – or wurstel, as they call it – and French fries.
My team and I were distinctly unimpressed and frankly put off. So we jumped in our Fiat Cinquecento and headed south to the neighbouring region of Calabria (the ‘toe’ of Italy) to catch up with some of Basilico’s suppliers, sincerely hoping that the second leg of our ‘pizza research trip’ would go significantly better than the first. (Yes, if you haven’t yet heard, we import our authentic Italian ingredients directly from Italy.)
Calabria is one of Italy’s poorest regions, and yet it offers some of its most stunning and esoteric ingredients. Foodies in London will be familiar with its spicy nduja sausage, but I can assure you that Calabria has even more to offer than this delicious morsel. The sweet and tasty cipolla rossa di Tropea (local red onion), Calabrese sardines, caciocavallo cheese and robust Calabrese olive oil are all gorgeous ingredients. So, to get the taste of hotdog pizza out of our mouths, we stopped along the way for some tasty treats… and we made a discovery. Crema di fave! Broad bean puree may not sound as sexy as some other Italian ingredients, but all three of us agreed that it would be absolutely amazing on a pizza. A shame for Naples that Basilico thought of it first!
Our journey culminated in two special meetings. The first of which, was a visit to our capocollo supplier, Madeo, the family establishment who single-handedly reinvigorated the traditional production of this famous ham with the native Calabrese pig – il Suino Nero di Calabria. After a tour and a traditional 4-course Italian meal, we were on to Favella, who are in my view Italy’s best producer of buffalo mozzarella, and whose delicious cheese enhances several Basilico pizzas.
Over a glass of local Greco di Tufo with our hosts at Favella, we politely shared our disappointment at the pizza of Naples, and enthused about all the delicious ingredients with which we had become reacquainted in our Calabrian road trip. Not to mention all the perfect pizza permutations (some traditional, some a bit fava-bean-wacky) that they might create for Basilico’s loyal customers back in London.
Like any good journey we encountered a few bumps along the way, but perhaps predictably found just what we were looking for right when we weren’t expecting it (I mean, when was the last time you had crema di fave on pizza!). Basilico’s faithful customers, get ready for some exciting new pizzas based on our trip… Coming soon!
prosciutto crudo is an italian dry cured ham made from the hind leg - not to be confused with proscuitto cotto which is a traditionally cooked ham.
ecuadorian cocoa is known for its amazing floral aroma and notes of dried fruit. combined with fresh full milk and white cane sugar, the result is an ice cream with a lingering complex flavour.