LIKE A BIG PIZZA PIE

Napoli is known for many things … a broad spectrum from bad drivers and their colorful language to majestic Mount Vesuvius overlooking the blue bay to fresh fish and perfect pizza. We went for our anniversary a few years ago, and it is a special and unique city. After eating the toothsome delight that is lovingly tossed and topped and toasted there, the standard for pizza has been set considerably higher.

There are several pizzerie in our area, as there are in every town, but times they are a-changin’ … and a fear of flour-ing is taking over. I believe the crust should be subtle and at the same time sturdy enough to hold the toppings without being flimsy and have a thicker border to form a beautiful ring around the ingredients, with a texture enhanced by yeast-created bubbles and volume and slight chewiness. Today, many a pizzaiolo seem to make them thin, thinner, thinnest, sometimes so crispy they resemble pane arabie … the cousin of pizza that is decidedly and intentionally crispy-thin. Pizza should not crunch.

I didn’t set out to become a pizza princess, and I will admit that when whole wheat flour is available, I order it … which makes it decidedly un-Naples-y. But pizza is one of the most famous bread products in the world and that breadiness should be celebrated. Order a cutlet or a Cobb salad if you don’t want to tuck into bread. There, I said it.

Our golfer-friend Raffaele goes so far as to say that if the topping is anything other than Marguerite or Marinara or Napoli, then it shouldn’t even be called pizza.

So we always want to find good pizza. In fact, when our BBQ was rebuilt … the original brick one was weakened by encroaching tree roots and every storm saw it losing tiles and stucco … we included a pizza oven. We had made pizza in L.A. … on the Weber grill … and except for the first one that was noticeably, ummm, over-caramelized, they were rather good. David’s high school classmates will remember a reunion where I made half a dozen, using a large cookie sheet, inverted, to [swish] pull the pan out from under the dough and land the creation on the grill.

When we travel, it’s not only about table cloths and candles … though we savor those … but we are on a quest to find pizza worthy of the name pizza. And toppings worthy of our California heritage.

So I was cautiously pessimistic when our friends, Domenico and Antonella, said they found a new to them pizza place in Castelfranco Emilia. After a golf match, that’s where the four of us headed for dinner. The pizza is square! Well, rectangular … and you order by the meter. We saw a wooden plank at a nearby table, and it passed the initial coup d’oeil (quick look, as my friend Susan and I used to say about the cute boy in French class).

David and I were told to order half a meter … basically two pizze … with different toppings on each half. And so we did. They had a Neapolitan favorite and one we also love, friariella and sausage (friarella is local dialect for rabe … which is sauted with garlic) on part … prosciutto and carciofi on the other. It was chewy, it was flavorful, it was just right. And this was pizza made with farro flour! It gave me encouragement for the pizza we will make at home … that a great result is possible with flour other than the sacred 00. Ristorante-Pizzeria Caffe Grande … Castelfranco Emilia (MO).

The invention of tortellini …
Sunday in the park … at Villa Sorra.
The gardens around Villa Sorra …

We were encouraged for the future.

There’s a small chain of pizzerie in the Veneto, and this location was recommended by Pietro and Sandra, the gracious owners of the B&B Le Olme where we stayed in Mogliano Veneto. Here, too, was pizza by the meter. Here, too, we ordered half a meter with two toppings. Red sauce, mushrooms, mozzarella, and slices of porchetta added after the pizza came out of the wood-burning oven … the other was sausage, onions, and mozzarella. That’s what I’m talking about. Delizioso. Pork fat rules. Da Pino … Mogliano Veneto (TV).

Ten minutes east of Bergamo, our next slice was found on the beaten track. The pizzeria is in a mall that’s located on a roundabout surrounded by malls. Not sprawling open malls with large signs for all of the stores and shops and salons. Strangely shaped buildings, all somewhat angular and boxy, these were two story malls with small signs facing in odd directions … impossible for the driver and difficult for the navigator to see. We drove around twice just to catch a glimpse of the sign. In an upstairs window. Then we had to find the unmarked stairway. It felt like the set for a movie, walking by many out-of-business stores and an odd assortment of open ones … dog washing … military gear … sundries … beauty salon … electronics … clothing outlet. But find it we did. The barista who had recommended it … Emmanuale and his super-friendly border collie, Herbie … was right, the pizzaiolo was from Naples. We got exotic with our choices … a white pizza topped with small chunks of tender octopus, cubes of potatoes, mozzarella, and then sprinkled with fresh parsley … the other was red sauce, fresh anchovies, wedges of tomatoes, garlic, oregano, pepperoncini … and an oyster (served on the half-shell on a separate plate). Two seafood pizze, so we choice white wine. David picked a Fiano … if it grows together, it goes together … from Campagna. It had the right crispness to go well with each pizza. The saltiness of the anchovy played well with the subtle and chewy octopus.

In fact, we went back there the next night to try the Falanghina. And enjoy more great pizza. Our choices were truffle cream with branzi (a super-creamy cheese that was new to us) and stracchino (another super-creamy cheese that is a fan favorite), tomatoes and fresh basil. It was all creaminess, all the time, plus the earthiness of truffle. The other was double prosciutto, double grana, and arugula. It was great … with some of the grana grated after it came out of the oven so it retained its texture and crystalline mouth-feel. Its bolder flavors made it a good combination with the other pizza. The Falanghina was good, subtler and lighter than the Fiano … and was a better pairing when sipped with the truffle pizza than the prosciutto one. Galletto d’Oro … Curno (BG).

PizzaMan … he doesn’t need to deliver.

ZUCCHINI BREAD

Italians love that the American word for zucchini is … zucchini.

3 eggs
1-½ cup sugar
1-⅛ cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4-½ cups grated zucchini
4-½ cups flour
1 Tbl. cinnamon
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2-1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

- Preheat oven to 350° F (170° C). Butter and flour 9 x 13 pan … or Bundt pan … or put cupcake/muffin liners into 14 to 16 cups.
- In large bowl, mix sugar and eggs, then add oil, followed by zucchini.
- Stir in flour and other dry ingredients.
- Add walnuts and raisins.
- Pour into pan.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (muffins) 30–35 minutes (cake), until done.
- Cool … or enjoy one warm … then frost.
Enjoy!

FROSTING

16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

- Combine all ingredients.