Despite the fact that I was born in the UK to Italian parents, Italian food and the rituals that go with it is part of my life.
Essentially Neapolitan food is not Italian in the sense that it is a national food. It is a mix of outside influences-the French and the Spanish in particular- that moulded a people and its culture.
The region of Campania is blessed with the sea on one side with all that it offers and on the other side, mountains and farmland rich in a variety of vegetables such as broccoli and olives. No wonder the Northern Italians called the Neapolitans mangiafoglie or leaf eaters!
One day one resourceful Neapolitan had a bright idea to spread a juicy red tomato from the New World over a flat bread, add a little cheese and call it Pizza! Like with much of this cuisine it started off as peasant food but was soon adopted by nobility.
The pizza Margherita was named after Queen Margherita who visited Naples with King Umberto I soon after Italy became a united country in 1851. A smart pizzaiolo made a pizza with just 3 simple ingredients tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, the 3 colours of the Italian flag. The Queen loved it and the dish was named Pizza Margherita in her honour. The rest is history.
Pizza Margherita – Serves 8
If you want to create a real Neapolitan pizza a wood burning brick oven is essential, but we don’t all have one of those so lining the middle shelf of your oven with unglazed terracotta tiles is a good substitute. Just be aware that you have to pre-heat the oven for at least double the usual time because the tiles must be very hot. Do not flour or oil the tiles or wet them with cold water. The terracotta lining not only bakes the pizza perfectly, it gives off the particular intense smell of pizza baked in a professional wood burning brick oven. Pre-heat the oven to 230C 450F Gas Mark 8.
Place the flour in a mound and make a well in it. Dissolve the yeast in water, pour it into the well, and add the salt. Using a wooden spoon, first stir the salt into the yeast mixture, start adding flour from the rim of the well. When a thick batter is formed, start working with your hands, incorporating more flour, until a large ball of dough has been formed. Transfer the dough to a very well-floured bowl, and cover it with a dish towel. Leave it to rest in a warm place away from drafts until doubled in size for an hour.
When the dough is ready divide it into 8 pieces and knead each piece for about a minute. To stretch the dough into a disk that is very thin in the centre and thicker around the rim, or cornicone is an art. If you are adventurous stretch the dough over one of your fingers and rotate it into the air to achieve the perfect shape. If that’s not for you, use a thin short rolling pin in the beginning then stretch the dough with your fingers.
Once the dough is stretched to your liking, transfer it to a paddle dusted in flour and arrange the topping you have chosen over the dough. Remember to keep the topping inside the rim. In the oven, the rim will puff up and all the topping will stay in the centre. Be sure the bottom of the pizza is completely dry and with a quick movement, slide the pizza off the paddle and onto the hot tiles. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes and serve hot.
WINE SUGGESTION: 2011 Trigaio Beneventano Rosso, Feudi di San Gregorio
Grape Varieties – 85% Aglianico
15% a blend of indigenous grapes.
Opaque ruby red in colour with tinges of purplish-blue. The nose is fruit driven and packed with cherry and raspberry aromas and hints of fresh strawberry leaf. On the palate the wine is medium bodied and highly expressive of its Mediterranean up-bringing; – rich red and black fruit flavours and hints of spice dominate the flavours and there is a soft, integrated structure which stretches the palate out into a well-defined finish.
Delicious with roasted, crackling Somerset pork belly, roasted rack of lamb or simply a good quality Pizza Napoletana!
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