Things are moving in the pizzerias! This dish, whose authenticity is strictly monitored and for which a misplaced piece of pineapple can lead to conflict, is in the process of development, especially here.
Pizza is an iconic dish in culinary history. Like many popular dishes, it comes from a time when food was not as plentiful as it is today. Therefore, it was necessary to find creative solutions so that nothing was lost. His recipe that finds its own origins in the slums of Naplesallowed the mother to use the leftovers from the previous day’s meals.
In the middle of the last century, this delicacy was exported outside La Botte, to conquer the whole world. The soldiers there loved the liberation of Italy, and the many Italian workers who migrated to the rest of Europe and throughout America took their love of pizza with them. Since 2017, the Neapolitan, with its delicate and easy-to-fold dough, has been on the list of UNESCO Universal Heritage.
But as is always the case when it comes to food culture, with that popularity comes a lot of change. With us, the quality of pizza has never been so high, thanks to the authentic ovens brought from Italy, but also thanks to the qualified pizza makers who are increasingly developing their creativity.
It needs a facelift
Let’s start with the basics. Most pizzas rely on one of two original classics: the marinade with tomato, garlic and oregano, or Margarita with tomato, mozzarella and basil. From there, variations are made by adding different ingredients: olives, anchovies, capers, mushrooms, sausages…. And it is in this topping that the pizzerias give free rein to their imagination.
Known in Leuven for its innovative Ristorante Rossi, Italian chef Felice Miluzzi opened a pizzeria last year under the name Gutsi with which he was “determined to revolutionize pizza”. “Since my childhood in Italy, this dish has always been my biggest passion. However, I felt that this historic dish needed a facelift without denying the tradition. Above all, I wanted a tastier dough thanks to the yeast, leaving it to rise for 48 hours to make it more digestible. I also wanted customers to find the full range of flavors from my restaurant in one pizza.” To do this, he creates new combinations of ingredients. Such as a gastronomic version with cherry tomatoes, Sicilian red prawns and prawn bisque. Or the one with fresh and dried mushrooms and homemade fennel flower sausage. Another with parmesan, black truffle, lardo, shiitake and arugula. And even a variation topped with burrata, yellow tomatoes, marinated mackerel, tuna roe and some lemon zest. “But be careful, he warns I’m not one of those chefs who thinks you can put anything and everything on one pizza. The pizza maker must also follow the essence of Italian cuisine: to obtain maximum flavor with a minimum of ingredients. Without forgetting to respect the seasons when choosing his products.”
Organic and local
As for the ingredients, organic and local trend also penetrated this area. After working as a banker in London, Belg Sebastian Dupont was inspired by the modern pizzerias of the British capital to open Nona, in the heart of Brussels: “From the beginning, I wanted to connect the tradition of Italian pizza with Belgian organic products, in particular those of the producer Dries Delanote, who also supplies starred restaurants.”
Not far from the 2-star restaurant Janein Antwerp, Pizzeria Standard uses organic vegetables and herbs from local rooftop gardens.
Besides the toppings, the base of the pizza is crucial. And the trend of sourdough bread also appeared in special addresses. Like Lapiolain Brussels. “A self-respecting pizza maker today uses slow-rising sourdough dough instead of yeast for its base,” explains owner Francesco Paolo Martini. Only then can you achieve the desired result after a few minutes in the oven at 300 or 400 degrees.» Moreover, the person in question reached eighth place in the European ranking of the 50 best pizzas last year.
This reward cannot be obtained without perfect dough and crust. “Even among Italians there is a debate about the aspect of the base and the edgehe says. Most Belgians prefer a crispy crust, but this is actually a Roman tradition. In Naples, where I come from, pizzas have a soft, springy base and rim that some find too soft. I’m looking for a flavorful, creamy center and soft-crisp dough contours. I am a bit between Rome and Naples. Our guy also makes pizza chia the edge of the dough is filled with ricottaa, great example of pizzaiolos know-how. And some customers come to him specifically for his calzone, that lesser-known folded version.
Perhaps the ones who have gone the farthest in disrupting pizza tradition are the former owners of Ellis Gourmet Burger. So they imagine a creative concept under the name ofAutomatic, in collaboration with the brand Duvel, whose brewer’s yeast is used to leaven the dough. The toppings are original and sometimes typically Belgian, such as vol-au-vent and waterzooi. They’re not even afraid of pickled pineapple or the chocolatier’s “triple chocolate” version Dominique Person… Blasphemy for the Italians, but the young audience likes it.
Although many restaurants are struggling to keep their heads above water during the pandemic, pizza remains ultra-popular. It’s a perfect take-out dish and for many it ranks well in the comfort food section. In the United States, demand was such that the Domino’s chain had to hire 30,000 additional employees.
Even today, after the health crisis, the pizza meets all the requirements of modern catering: simple, fast, cheap, nutritious, divertable, shareable, portable and deliverable. Valentina Gattia former fashion journalist knows this very well, she who founded the pizzeria Eat love, in Ghent, and always keeps a close eye on new trends. For example, she was the first to serve pizza with two different toppings. A precursor, in a sense, to the sharing trend, which pizza also lends itself to perfectly. More and more often we see tables of four people getting a different pizza, who then all split up so everyone can try everything.
Besides, what better place than a pizzeria to satisfy everyone from carnivores to vegetarians, including flexitarians and vegans? The dough itself is prepared with only flour and water, and the filling can be adapted according to individual wishes. No other kitchen offers this option. Finally, things got moving wine country. If in the past pizzerias did not pay attention to this, displaying only low-quality drinks, now more and more of them offer good selection of bottles. Adding even more to the enjoyment of delicious pizza.
Meanwhile in the world
From Buenos Aires to Chicago and from Singapore to Reykjavik, pizza has taken the world by storm. Of course, many pizza makers follow the classic Neapolitan rules, but the dish is also adapted to local tastes and customs. In Rome, for example, the pizzas are much crispier and thinner than in Naples. The capital offers a wide selection of takeaway squares for those who prefer to eat while walking around the city, this is called the art of passeggiata. At Bonci they are eaten with pumpkin and squid, potatoes, burrata with smoked salmon or even steak. While in Naples we value authenticity, Roman chefs venture into more radical innovation. The bianco pizza with mortadella rochioli, without a gram of tomato, is legendary. Restaurants like La Gatta Mangiona, Sbanco and Giulietta are experimenting with gourmet toppings: figs marinated in chili butter, caccio e pepe with a centimeter and a half of grated pecorino, or zucchini tapenade, anchovies, bottarga and courgettes.
When pizza crossed the Atlantic, the new pizzaiolos brought their touch. In Chicago since 1943, we’ve been enjoying a deep version, with a thicker base that would make the city’s winters more bearable. Hawaiian pizza was invented in 1962 by a Greek immigrant to Canada. Recently, chefs like Nancy Silverton of La Mozza in Los Angeles have perfected this simple dish with Italian inspiration. Its version with cream and fennel sausage is legendary. Chefs around the world adapt pizza to local cuisine. In France, they choose a cheese like Comté or use baguettes instead of dough; in Japan, miso is used in the sauce and eel is a popular garnish; in Argentina, chefs are generous with cheese, and Scandinavia is known as the region with the strangest flavors. We’re thinking options with banana, ham, peanuts and curry powder… or smoked venison.
The “gastronomy” of pizza is a trend that is happening all over the world. While toppings were once as cheap as they come, today’s chefs are daring to offer complex ingredients. Heed this advice from Gabriele Bonci, the great Roman pizza maker: choose a maximum of three ingredients, otherwise it gets too complicated.
Do you want to know more? The Modernist Pizza Compendium tells you everything you ever wanted to know about this dish in 1,708 pages, and 1,016 recipes range from the most authentic to the most experimental. “Pizza is multicultural because we find this dish in all countries of the world, each with its own version,” can we read. But it’s also magical. “Flour, water, yeast or sourdough and a few simple ingredients produce something much more complex than the sum of the parts.” From Japan to Brazil and from plain to gourmet, this book truly takes you into the world of pizza.
By Nathalie LeBLanc
Modernist Pizza, by Modernist Cuisine/ The Cooking Lab, French version, released in July, €392.