By Ren Behan
Having just spent the week in Emilia Romagna, exploring some of the towns and cities nestled in the heart of the Tuscan-Romagna Apennine Mountains, I can happily say that we enjoyed going out for a pizza or two. Pizza is the perfect family-friendly food. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t enjoy tucking into even the simplest version; a fresh-from-the oven, meltingly-hot tomato and mozzarella topped pizza.
The words ‘deep-pan’ or ‘stuffed crust’ do not feature anywhere in the Italian vocabulary and though there are many variations when it comes to toppings, a traditional ‘Neapolitan’ pizza is what you are really after. For the most authentic taste of Italy, a pizza should be thin, crispy, hand-crafted and preferably cooked in a coal or wood-fired oven; in Italy called ‘al forno’.
The very best pizza of the week, and one which I can’t wait to recreate at home by making a basic pizza base, was a thin and super-crispy pizza ‘Bianca’ (made without tomato sauce) with grilled zucchini (courgettes) and porcini mushrooms. I was also able to try a pizza topped with some rare spring mushrooms, called ‘prugnoli’, which have a subtler flavour to porcini, but made an equally-delicious vegetarian pizza topping. In this particular region, truffles are abundant, too, and so pizzas often also featured a splash of truffle oil.
Grilled vegetables make the perfect pizza topping; so try griddling thin slices of zucchini (courgette) as well as slices of aubergine or red and green peppers, before scattering over a little fresh Mozzarella along with herbs such as oregano. Another great flavour combination to try is griddled vegetables or mushrooms with Gorgonzola cheese – perfecto!
I did chuckle to myself when I saw a ‘Pizza Inglese’ (English Pizza) on one pizzeria menu; they added it to humour my sister, who upon moving to Italy would often order pizza and a bowl of chips for the table. The chef at the local pizzeria was inspired to put the chips, or patatine fritte, on top of the actual pizza! I refrained from ordering one, though I’ll soon be trying Jamie’s recipe for pizza with Potatoes, mozzarella, rosemary, thyme and tomato.
Aside from griddled vegetables or mushrooms, more Italian-inspired vegetarian toppings include black olives, capers, chilli peppers, thinly sliced onions and artichokes.
For something really different, try Jamie’s pizza with Green and red grapes, rosemary, pine nuts and ricotta, which according to Jamie is great for breakfast or even dessert! And finally, on the subject of dessert, I’m off to reminisce in the kitchen and to make a sweet pizza with honey and Nutella for the kids.
Ren Behan is a food writer and mum of two. For more see www.renbehan.com