Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pizza à la Cargèse

I used to be a pizza purist. A true pizza should (a) be hand-stretched, preferably hand-tossed, not rolled; (b) use mozzarella di bufala (buffalo-milk mozzarella); (c) be baked together with the toppings; (d) be baked in a wood-fire oven. While it's rather hard to obtain the requisite cheese in India, and a wood fire is quite out of the question, I tried to follow the other instructions. Sometimes the results were excellent, more often they were indifferent. The base would be soggy, the cheese (if "mozzarella") would be tasteless, or the toppings would be burnt.

Last summer I spent a few days in Corsica. On the first day my Italian flatmate, another Italian, and I went out to a pizza place (their choice, not mine) for dinner. They discussed the quality animatedly, before, during, and after the meal. "The French don't know how to make pizza." "Well, this is Corsica, it's almost Italy." "Yes that's true, but still." After the meal, their consensus was that it wasn't bad, but could be better. (Personally, I thought it was great. But I had spent two years in India, and two years before that in the US: while I wasn't starved of pizza in either country, I hadn't had a genuine Italian pizza in years.)

The next day my flatmate reported to me that he had found a truly excellent pizza place, as good as any he'd had in Italy. And it was no expensive restaurant. It was a converted van, somewhat bigger than an SUV but smaller than a minibus, parked (apparently permanently) right outside our flat.

Curious, I went there the next day, ordered a pizza, and watched the guy make it. He did indeed have a wood fire oven, right inside that van -- one of the more impressive sights I've seen. But as for the other purist requirements... he rolled the base with a rolling pin. He pre-baked it for a couple of minutes before adding the toppings. And he used emmenthaler and gruyère, not mozzarella.

And, yes, the pizza was superb.

So I've abandoned my purism. I roll the base with a pin. I pre-bake it first for a couple of minutes, then add the toppings and bake it again. I use the local versions of cheddar or gouda. (After the cheese is baked for a few minutes at several hundred degrees, it's hard to tell the difference. But avoid anything marketed as "pizza cheese", unless you like the taste of plastic.) It's so much easier that way.

It's still hit or miss, but it's a hit more often.


Tabula Rasa said...

you're making pizza these days? ah young love.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Hm.. didn't notice the date.