My understanding of Italian cuisine was limited to pizza with Ketchup and overcooked pasta until I met Marta in 2010. Marta is a beautiful yet arrogant Italian who believes that God himself is made in Italy. This particular year marked the beginning of a major culinary transition in my own cooking when I got to experience authentic Italian cuisine by all means: a rich variety of cheese selection and cured meat; different shapes of pasta; sophisticated mushrooms; catch of the day from rabbits to fish and pigeons; liquors and holy cannoli.
During the 18th century, Italy was blessed with significant changes with the introduction of potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and corn.
Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, which is why the ingredients of the north distinguish from the ones in the south.
For instance; the regional cuisine of Lombardy is based upon ingredients like corn and rice. The best known dish is risotto.
Piedmont is a region where gathering nuts, mushrooms, hunting and fishing take place. And we owe it forever to Piedmont for its production of Nutella. All together: Yeaaaaaaa!
My favourite fantasy land is Emilia-Romagna, specifically Bologna for pasta dishes like tortellini, lasagne, and tagliatelle. Balsamic vinegar and parmigiano reggiano cheese are made only in the Emilian cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The region is also famous for its meat products that include: Parma’s prosciutto, pancetta, salami and bella mortadella. You might want to reconsider, if you are vegetarian.
Street food is more popular in the south. Traditional street food specialties from Sicily include arancini and granita. Whatever the season and no matter where you are on this island there is always something to eat. Every town and village has its patron saint. Celebrations take over the streets, with plenty of devotional food that even the most admired saint may be forgotten once food takes over. You got to have your teeth well sharpened!
Campania is well-known for its mozzarella production and big boobs (very useful when kneading a dough to perfection). Naples is traditionally credited as the home of pizza. The Margherita pizza was named after Queen Margherita of Savoy after her visit to the city.
A typical day in the north tends to have a hectic feel. People are in elegant Gucci dresses and uncomfortable Prada suits; lunch is consumed in the office, and after a long day of racing with time and technology; north Italians barely make it to the bedroom and are happy to collapse on the sofa. Meantime in the laid back sunny South, it’s 6am and Carmella just finished reciting the Rosary. After stirring the ragù sauce for 6 hours, lunch is ready; she screams: “A tavolaaaa!”. Antonio and Maria are on the table, four are still missing: Francesco, the oldest, went to pick up some lemon and got extremely preoccupied with squeezing the luscious well matured “oranges” of his girlfriend Rosanna. Giorgio is pushing the dead car of zio Salvatore, Angela is stuck in the church, cleaning the statue of La Madonna after being caught kissing Nino by padre Emilio in the confessional booth, and Fiorella is in the piazza, licking gelato.
Sydney has witnessed a sort of an Italian renaissance in its cuisine, while some restaurants dared to sell Pineapple pizza (Blasphemy!) other restaurants retained genuineness and brought to us heaven on a plate.
My favourite gurus are:
- Cipro, Pizza al Taglio in Alexandria – an Award Winner! for all the good reasons.
- Via Napoli in Lane Cove – a little Napoli, great place to learn some bad words for beginners.
- Rosso Cavallino in Mosman – if the boys can roll a pizza in one hand and take phone orders in the other, they can definitely feed you and please you.
- Enopizzeria in Neutral Bay – Good for smart casual Pizza
- Fourth Village Providore in Mosman – a little puzzle of Sicily, another great place to learn an upgraded level of bad words, I love it!
- Mad Pizza e bar, spread all over Sydney – not only makes great pizza but also guarantee an awesome atmosphere and free limoncello woohoo!
I have tried many times to make my own Margherita. Due to my impatience in letting the dough rests enough, I managed to produce a rock ‘n’ hard pizza.
Below is a simple recipe, provided that you have the patience that I don’t. Get your hands dirty and:
Mix 800g strong white bread flour, 200g fine ground semolina, 1 tablespoon of sea salt, 14g dried yeast, and 1 tablespoon of caster sugar. Make a hole in the middle and pour 650ml of lukewarm water. Mix all together very well. When the dough comes together, flour your hands and knead it backward and forward until you have a smooth and elastic ball shape dough. Place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let double in size for about 45 minutes.
Meantime, finely slice 1 clove of the garlic. Pick a handful of basil leaves Heat a saucepan on a medium-low heat and add a splash of olive oil and the garlic. Cook gently until the garlic starts to turn golden, add most of the basil leaves, and 400g of fresh diced tomatoes, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cook gently by mashing the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon as it cooks to form a sauce. Sprinkle a bit of oregano for a little kick.
Bring the dough, sprinkle the surface and the dough with a little flour, and roll it out into a rough circle about 0.5 cm thick. Tear off an appropriately sized piece of tin foil, rub it with olive oil, and place the pizza base on top. Preheat your oven to 250°C.
Add the sauce, and tear over 85g of mozzarella and scatter with the remaining basil leaves and some extra pieces of fresh tomatoes. Drizzle with a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until the pizza is golden and crispy.
Now you can grab a beer, enjoy the pizza, and die happy!