This month Gerla de Boer at Cambridge Food Tours, shares her favourite pizza restaurants in Cambridge
I can vividly remember, that my father came home one day and told my mother: “a restaurant has opened in Leeuwarden which puts grapes on their bread!” This was about 43 years ago in the North of the Netherlands where I grew up. The grapes were olives and the bread was pizza. The great breakthrough wasn’t until eight years later with the introduction of the deep pan pizza from Pizza Hut. I was living in London at the time for my final year of hotel management training in the Holiday Inn in Chelsea, where my Italian colleagues showed me how to twist the fork around the spaghetti and how to make an authentic spaghetti carbonara. I still use this recipe.
Pizzas have come a long way since then from the major players to the Italian pizzerias and restaurants. For somebody not in the know, a pizza is a pizza, a rounded shaped bread most of the time with tomato sauce. A pizza is Italian of course. Is it?
Part of my job is looking into the history of food and I find it fascinating. The so well-known Scottish egg is not that English at all but originates from India, also known as the Nagisa Kofta. Vindaloo is a pickle and not a curry! Don’t try to find a chicken Vindaloo in India, you will not find it.
Pizza is a flatbread, which originates from North Africa. Most of our well-known food originates from here. Even the British pie. Via Greece, the (flat)bread from North Africa ended up in Naples. Initially with no toppings until 1700 when they decided to add tomato sauce and cheese. Till then the Peruvian tomato was considered to be poisonous.
The pizza from the South is called the Neapolitan pizza and even has a certification. It has to be made with highly refined Italian type 0 or 00 wheat flour, Neapolitan or fresh brewer’s yeast (not dry yeast), water, and salt. It must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer and formed by hand, without the help of a rolling pin. The toppings are simple San Marzano raw pureed tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella from Campania and Lazio and then topped with fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil. Hence you often see Neapolitan-style Pizza advertised so they don’t have to comply with these requirements.
Since I have a pizza oven at home again, I have been experimenting a lot with different doughs and with just as with any good bread, there is no such thing as a quick dough! Recipes which tell you to make it an hour beforehand are not as tasty as the yeast in the dough has not had the time to ripen which enhances the flavour.
Aromi in Cambridge, who make Sicilian pizzas let their dough prove for three days. There is one exception though. Roma pizzas, which are thin and can be made just an hour beforehand. This quick dough tastes very different from the Neapolitan-style pizzas. Still, I prefer to let this one rest for at least a day to improve the flavour. Then there is the Focaccia. Often confused with a pizza-style bread as they can have similar toppings. The preparation is quite different as a good Focaccia should contain potato too.
So what about the toppings. One of my favourite toppings is ‘Nduja’ pronounced as “Andouille”. It’s a fermented sausage from South Italy, but there are big debates where it originates from. Some claim it’s from Spain, others say it comes from France. Whatever, it’s delicious! Roma pizzas are thin and only need very little topping. Neapolitan-style pizzas on the contrary need lots. Don’t try the quantity of the last one on the Roma pizza as it is not very nice at all.
I almost forgot to talk about the deep pan pizza. If you don’t have a pizza oven, then it is highly recommended to put the pizza in a cast iron pan and start it off on the stove then finish it off in the oven (grill). Hence the name; deep pan pizza.
My favourite books for pizzas are Katie Parla’s ‘Food of the South’ for the dough recipes. Try the Lardo and fig jam topping, it’s amazing! I also like Franco Manca ‘Artisan pizza perfectly to make at home.’ For the sauce? If the base is good, all is good. I like a bit of a kick so mine includes garlic, basil and chilli. It is Jaimie Oliver and Gennaro’s recipe (The Porkie Pizza). I use it for all my pizzas.