By Maddie Rix
I was lucky enough to spend the first five years of my life in Italy, and what I ate in those formative years has most certainly shaped my palate and the way I eat.
My first food memory is undoubtedly of pizza. We lived in a small town on a lake about 45 minutes drive north of Rome called Trevignano in the region of Lazio. Here you can get big slabs of pizza just about anywhere; most typically pizza bianca or pizza rosso, which directly translates as white pizza or red pizza. Pizza bianca is similar to an unleavened focaccia, made with unhealthy amounts of olive oil and salt, with a crisp crust and airy texture. Pizza rosso is the same but with a thick, sweet tomato sauce baked on top. You can eat them just as they are or fold them over and stuff them with meat or cheese. One of my earliest memories is having picnics at the lake or in the Abruzzi hills with big slabs of pizza, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto cotto and amazing ripe tomatoes.
Once my taste buds started to mature a little, I began to enjoy all the other toppings Italy had to offer. The crisp slabs of pizza we would always top with my now much-loved buffalo mozzarella and Parma ham, but I also started adding earthy Porcini mushrooms, delicate courgette flowers, salty capers and anchovies, and even thin slices of potato with rosemary. We also ate many of the classic wood-fired pizzas with an ultra-thin crispy base and an array of toppings. All were delicious and I could never decide which one to choose.
Now I’m all grown up, pizza is still one of my absolute favourite foods. A couple of years ago I went to the Amalfi coast down South, where the pizza is completely different to that of my childhood. The Napoli bases have a thick chewy crust and are beautifully charred due to the high temperature of the wood oven. The tomato sauce is sweet and tangy from the incredible tomatoes and the whole thing just tastes better.
The best pizza I have ever eaten was in the coastal town of Atrani. It came from a little hole-in-the-wall, carved out of a cliff on the beach. The base was perfect and crisp, with no tomato sauce but clouds of soft buffalo mozzarella, the sweetest cherry tomatoes, salty Parma ham, wild rocket, rich first-press extra virgin olive oil and torn basil. We ate it lying on the beach with cold beers – it was pretty special.
You can, of course, make your own pizza and get great results. In this month’s Jamie magazine Jamie tells you how to do exactly that, as well as sharing his all-time favourite toppings. We also have some great recipes on the website, including a great simple dough.
However, if I can give you one piece of advice when it comes to pizza, it’s to go to Italy and eat it as much of it as you possibly can.