On our Tamariu holiday there is plenty of tapas and seafood to try but, like virtually everywhere, there are also pizza and pasta restaurants. I suggest that there is so little to go wrong in cooking either that they are the safe bet places to eat. By the same token it’s hard to stand out with excellence too. Many years ago I ate pizza in Italy – there is my basic qualification for discussing pizza quality. I’ve also made a decent pizza dough and I know that the hardest thing about making a pizza is the handling of the dough – but it’s all pretty basic stuff.
My theory is that the toppings have got more and more outrageous as a way of differentiation whereas the different crusts are an abomination. I did get caught in the deep pan pizza tide when I was younger and sillier. Now there are stuffed pizzas, square pizzas and ones with holes in the middle. Watching an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives the other day someone made a cheeseburger pizza – regular dough with a topping of ketchup and hotdog mustard topped with burger cheese, ground beef and topped with some dill pickle slices. Is nothing sacred? The moment someone puts pineapple on a pizza they may as well put a cocktail umbrella and candles on it… It’s no longer a pizza.
As someone who loves pastry and bread I’ve never understood anyone who leaves their crusts of anything – it’s where the texture and the best flavour is! There isn’t a lot to a pizza and so you have to eat the whole thing. It must start with a thin crust which should be crisp throughout and should bear the scars of the pizza oven – some charring and semolina. The restaurant must have an open kitchen with a person capable of throwing the dough into the air for no other reason than because he can – I’d love to be able to do that.
I’m not fussy about the tomato topping. There is a lot of tosh spoken about family recipes and how long it is left on the stove to reduce. For me it needs to be packed with fresh tomato zing and applied in just a thin layer to provide a tasty glaze because otherwise the whole thing gets soggy. When you lift your slice up you don’t want it to wilt and drape itself across your fingers. I’ve enjoyed the white pizzas too whenever I have had them with a bechamel sauce replacing the tomato and with caramelised onions and herbs as the topping.
The other toppings should be in proportion too. I like to be able to taste little islands of flavour when I have a pizza so that each bite has a slightly different flavour combination from the same palate. Traditional is best with some combination of mushroom, ham, olives, anchovies, and onion. They appear everywhere just because they work so well together. Mozzarella cheese should be applied in blobs rather than covering the whole thing. Too much cheese and you can end up with the whole topping sliding off when you have a slice as you struggle to release the moorings. In summary I like my pizza lightly dressed not like a Victorian lady with no base showing. Never have seafood and never have fruit on a pizza.
Which brings me to La Pasta. All the guidelines above are what I prefer – not always what I do. I went for the La Pasta Pizza which is a marguerita basic with bacon and egg. I find that if you go to a restaurant they often have a dish names after the restaurant. Sometimes it’s just a deluxe version of something – adding venison or foie gras and making it the top priced item on the menu. On other occasions it looks genuine using basic ingredients and sitting amongst the pack with prices.
It was OK. First impressions were that the base was nice and crispy but it failed the islands test – everything was cut small so that it spread evenly over the plate. The egg was interesting – it was somehow spread like a very flat fried egg in the heart of the pizza – almost like it went on whole and then halfway through it was broken and spread. The taste was fine – just a bit muddy due to the mixing. As I said – there’s not a lot that can go wrong with a pizza its just hard to make it great. Maybe, like the humble sandwich, it’s best at its simplest and therefore greatness can never be achieved.