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    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    A Frenzy of Exotic Pizzas

    ...I sampled a few of these when visiting relatives outside Bari, but so many more wait to be enjoyed:


    The Wild Pizzas of Southern Italy Have to Be Seen to Be Believed

    A restaurant critic and two chefs go on a pie-in-the-sky adventure to find exactly how far you can stretch the idea of pizza.
    By Richard Vines (Bloomberg)


    Pizzas at Di Gesù, a popular bakery in Altamura, Puglia.

    Photographer: Carol Sachs for Bloomberg Businessweek

    When do dough, tomato sauce, and mozzarella stop being mere ingredients and become pizza?


    It’s a philosophical question that has divided chefs and diners for decades. For some, only pies in the Neapolitan and Roman styles are acceptable—Sicilian, at a stretch. Others extend the goal posts as far as Chicago deep dish.


    But pizzas have been eaten in southern Italy for hundreds of years, and the rainbow of variations that can be found there—if you know where to look—rivals the rest of the world’s best efforts. Its proximity to North Africa means that flatbreads have been popular for centuries. Forget calzones—I’m talking about pizzas and pittas created specifically for breakfast, or marvels the size of entire tables, or baked spirals of crust begging to be torn into satisfying, savory chunks.




    Francesco Mazzei (center), with locals from the town of Cerchiara di Calabria.

    It’s not easy to discover these secret pizzas in the towns and villages; the economically troubled region doesn’t yet enjoy the number of tourists you find elsewhere in Italy. If you don’t speak Italian, you’re likely to struggle. When I go, I bring a guide: chef Francesco Mazzei, arguably the world’s leading ambassador for the cuisine of his native Calabria. His London restaurants include Fiume, Radici, and Sartoria, and he’s the author of Mezzogiorno (Preface Publishing, 2015), a celebration of southern Italian cooking. Even better, on this occasion he’s suggested bringing along Pierre Koffmann, the three-Michelin-starred French chef whose protégés include Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay.


    We pile into Mazzei’s Maserati for a road trip that starts in Calabria, winds through Basilicata, and ends in Puglia—the three southernmost provinces on Italy’s mainland. Our quest? To find the wondrous pizzas of his home culture, some of which have never been seen outside the region. We cover 250 miles over four days, sampling perhaps 20 versions. I’ll ultimately gain five pounds. Koffmann will tell me later that it took him months to get the weight off. “The pizzas were so good, I kept on eating,” he says. “We think we know all about pizza, but I’m still surprised by the variety.”


    Calabria

    Our journey starts in the rugged and parched province that provides the toe of the Italian boot. It’s a wild region of mountains and remote villages that bear little resemblance to the sophisticated cities and resorts most visitors know. Mazzei grew up here and learned to make gelato in his uncle’s shop. His family owns a tiny cottage on a hillside, with views across sun-scorched land to the Mediterranean. “Mezzogiorno means noon, half-day, or lunchtime,” Mazzei says. “But for me, it just means home.”

    When we visit, a forest fire is raging so fiercely, the billowing smoke brings traffic to a standstill on the highway. We join other travelers standing outside cars, watching the flames in awe.

    Mpigliati con le sarde


    An mpigliati con le sarde pie at the Petite Etoile hotel consists of dough coated with a mash of sardella, a rich fish sauce with red peppers, and tiny fish cured with salt and paprika.

    Deep in the countryside, at the Petite Etoile hotel in the town of Spezzano Piccolo, Gemma Constantino cooks us a salty, beautiful pie that looks like a bundle of bread roses. It consists of strips of dough coated with a mash of sardella, a rich fish sauce with red peppers, and pilchards (small, herring-like fish) cured with salt and paprika. The strips are rolled and stuck together before baking; to eat, you just tear off one of the rolls, which are great with an aperitivo. There weren’t many other patrons, but the staff laid out a feast for Mazzei, who’s a celebrity in the region. This pizza is a good example of the cucina povera of southern Italy, where humble local ingredients are used to create deeply flavored dishes. The sweetness of the bread and the spiky fish flavors make this a favorite of Mazzei’s. “You’ll find a lot of the best cooks we meet are women,” he says.
    Cullura


    Cullura uses dough made with pig fat, which is stuffed with broccoli raab; it’s generally served cold.

    The team at Petite Etoile also serves up a pizza dough made with pig fat, layered with cime di rapa (broccoli raab), rolled a bit like a strudel, and then formed into a circle. Cullura is generally consumed cold and works as an everyday snack for farmers to take up into the mountains. “This is like a meal in itself,” Mazzei says. “We Italians usually don’t eat breakfast, so around 10:30 a.m., you are just ready for something to keep you going until lunch time.”


    Pitta
    Pitta is a Calabrian flatbread that’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside; it includes toppings such as tomato, peppers, and herbs. We sample slices from one monster loaf served at a bakery in Castrolibero. When we arrive in the small town, the mayor and some residents turn out to greet us. About 25 people join us as we walk the narrow streets before finding ourselves in a room for a reception with pitta, cakes, and wine.


    The city of Matera in Basilicata.

    Pizza al taglio
    This square pizza has a variety of toppings. It can be baked for a whole family to share, or bought by the slice. The one we devour is from the Pan Caffè in Fontanesi-Santa Lucia, near Castrolibero, where large groups gather to share giant pies. “This is street food at its best,” Mazzei enthuses. “You go out with your friends and eat all you can eat.” Although remote, the room is filled with happy diners dividing their time between the food and the soccer match on a big screen. Mazzei steps into the open kitchen at one end of the room and rustles up a spaghetti dish with garum, an anchovy paste, and basil. Several diners abandon the match to film and photograph Mazzei on their phones. The wine flows: It’s party time.

    Falagone

    This half-moon-shaped treat, like a small calzone, is usually eaten cold, but we sample some fresh from the oven at a new roadside bakery, Il Forno dei Sapori di Martorano Vincenzo, outside the hillside town of Cerchiara di Calabria. It’s unusual to find such a spotless and well-equipped bakery beside a road out here, where your best hope in another country might be for a gas station with a convenience store. The owner greets us and describes his food with pride, though (as keeps happening) the actual chef is a woman. Falagones are popular in Calabria, where they’re allowed to rest so the juices seep into the bread. Parents pack them for a seaside trip or for children going to school. Ours are filled with Swiss chard, onion, and sweet paprika. Another one comes with roasted peppers, potato, and onion.
    Pitta rustica


    A pitta rustica with prosciutto, caciocavallo cheese, and salumi between pitta-style bread.

    Also at Il Forno dei Sapori di Martorano Vincenzo, we discover prosciutto, caciocavallo cheese, and salumi sandwiched between two discs of pitta-style bread. It’s popular for parties or as an afternoon snack. “This is a simple pizza made with whatever you find in the fridge,” Mazzei says. “Every mum makes this for the kids.” I retreat to a corner to drink some crisp, light wine made locally from the ancient Greco bianco grape. The Calabrians are so hospitable, it’s an all-you-can-eat pizza fest, over and over.
    Pasta da forno


    Pasta da forno, a popular breakfast food at Panificio Mauro in Calabria, has no tomato sauce, no mozzarella, and no onion—just crushed tomato with salt, oregano, and olive oil.

    Forget the “pasta” name; this is a pizza, and it’s popular for breakfast. There’s no tomato sauce atop the dough, no mozzarella, no onion. It’s just crushed tomato with salt, oregano, and olive oil. This one is served to us at the smart Panificio Mauro, also in Cerchiara di Calabria. (In Italian, panificio means bakery.) Traditionally, pasta da forno comes in a round, black tray and is served cold. The absence of sauce helps keep the base crispy, making this a perfect snack to carry to school or to work.
    Puglia

    The heel of Italy is developing a reputation for its wines, and the food isn’t far behind. Again, we’re struck by the beautiful countryside and the ramshackle historic towns, such as Altamura, with its narrow alleyways and medieval city wall. And then there is Bari, a buzzy port city second only to Naples in the south of Italy.
    Focaccia altamurana


    The thick focaccia altamurana is studded with tomato and green olives.

    We enter Di Gesù, a popular bakery in Altamura, to try this pizza with dough made only with semolina flour and baked in the city’s oldest oven. Di Gesù is a thriving business now but traces its history to a small shop that opened in 1838. You can sense the pride put into the bread as it’s pulled from the oven. This is thick, like a deep-dish pie, with tomato, green olives, and extra virgin olive oil. “People who haven’t spent time in the south of Italy don’t know how good the food is,” Mazzei says. “We have the best fish, the best meat, the best fruit. You don’t need fancy cooking or luxuries like foie gras. You need to keep it simple and cook from the heart.”


    Basilicata

    Basilicata, the instep of Italy’s boot, straddles two coastlines. It’s absolutely charming, for both its splendid beaches and ancient towns in which Greek, Spanish, French, and Arabian influences from the times of traders and invaders still remain.

    Panzerotto di carne and panzerotto fritto



    Panzerotto di Carne at Luale

    These two pie pockets look like calzones but smaller. The first is filled with minced pork and spices, then baked and seasoned with thyme, rosemary, and oregano while the melted fat is still hot. It’s popular as a street food and also comes in a fried version, panzerotto fritto. The one we wolf down contains rich strands of mozzarella, sweet tomato, and basil. Luale, a bakery on the edge of a shopping mall in Policoro, serves both. It looks like a fast-food joint, but the store is clean and efficient, the food rich and layered. It’s the kind of modern store you might easily pass as you hunt for charm.
    Strazzata


    Strazzata, a summer-style pizza with peppers, tomato, and extra virgin olive oil, from Ristorante Pizzeria il Fosso, a small shack in a forest near the Basilicata village of Noepoli.

    We drive so deep into a forest, we feel certain we won’t find our way out, let alone the way to the small restaurant we’re seeking. But we do: Ristorante Pizzeria il Fosso is housed in what looks almost like a shack, yet it’s the most charming of the 20-plus spots we visit. Maria Ferrara is in charge of the kitchen, where children play inside and dogs run amok. Mazzei tucks into the strazzata, a fresh, crispy summer pizza with peppers, tomato, and extra-virgin olive oil, then delivers his verdict. “I love this place,” he says.

    Last edited by tomcat; 16-03-2018 at 06:59 AM.
    Majestically enthroned amid the vulgar herd

  2. #2
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    Sure lookin' good...

  3. #3
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    Wot, no hot dog sausages, sugary sauces and mayonnaise?

    I'd love to try some of them and The Panzerotto di Carne reminds me of arayes in Lebanon while the last one is similar to lahmacun/pide in Turkey, but without the meat. Very interesting when you think of the spread of the humble flatbread throughout the area and the regional adaptations.

  4. #4
    Utopian Expat
    Chittychangchang's Avatar
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    Looks damn reasonable TC.
    Jeez I'm hungry now

  5. #5
    Thailand Expat misskit's Avatar
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    ^ I'm hungry now, too. Too bad I can't find any of those fantastic looking pizzas here!

  6. #6
    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misskit View Post
    Too bad I can't find any of those fantastic looking pizzas here!
    ...agree: every restaurant seems to offer the same pizzas...where is imagination in this city of foodies?

  7. #7
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    ^Here's something a bit different, a half Hawaiian (with crispy bacon, YUM) and half Taco pizza (double YUM).



    10 out of 10 for my taste but is there any food that divides people like Pizza does?. Put 6 people in front of 6 different styles of Pizza and there's no way the vote for the best one would be unanimous. For starters, some people like pineapple on their Pizza but to others that's akin to putting sugar on a prime rib.
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    Italy really is gods country. A real slice of heaven in more ways than one.

  9. #9
    Thailand Expat misskit's Avatar
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    Unfortunately, I've never visited the place. One day soon I hope.

    Remember the poster, I think he was a truck driver from the UK, who went on holiday in Italy and complained he never found anything decent to eat? That was a laugh.

  10. #10
    Utopian Expat
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    Truck drivers live on pies

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by misskit View Post
    Remember the poster, I think he was a truck driver from the UK, who went on holiday in Italy and complained he never found anything decent to eat?
    I remember and he later in fact flounced before returning in drag posting as a female. Put Italy at the top of your list in fact all of Europe really must be seen. Should be mandatory for all people to visit at least once in a lifetime.

  12. #12
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    Some of them look pretty good. Way to much dough on most. All that dough just soaks up the grease...good if ur a fatty....thin crust is the way to do it

  13. #13
    hangin' around cyrille's Avatar
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    So did I imagine a thread where buriramboy and tc agreed pizza was for plebs?

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by uncle junior View Post
    Some of them look pretty good. Way to much dough on most. All that dough just soaks up the grease...good if ur a fatty....thin crust is the way to do it
    agreed

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    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Headworx View Post
    a half Hawaiian (with crispy bacon, YUM) and half Taco pizza (double YUM)
    ...sometimes fusion is a failure...

  16. #16
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    Pineappun on pizza.....where's Anna

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    ^ was just thinking of Anna when I read that about the pineapple

  18. #18
    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David48atTD View Post
    No stories about Italy?
    ...to re-track this thread: I visited relatives near Bari years ago. I flew to Rome, took a train to Bari and rented a car there for the drive to my grandparents' town. In order to find the family that was hosting me (second or third cousins), I checked in at the local Carabinieri station hoping they knew where the house was. As soon as I uttered my first words in broken Italian: "Sono l'Americano..." an incredibly handsome member of the force jumped out of his seat and proclaimed that he had been expecting me. I followed his car to my relative's apartment complex where I was introduced. What happened next was a whirlwind of family greetings and a frantic search for Franco (a fine looking young cousin who had studied in London was eventually pressed into translation services). Hugs, kisses, embraces and a stroll around the town square with my great-uncle followed as he introduced me to local dignitaries, all of whom were located in one bar or another. It was in one of those establishments that I was introduced to Cynar, the most distasteful aperitif ever to pass my lips. On a tour of the immediate region with family, I tried one of the pizzas mentioned above (the pitta rustica). I left for my job in Iran 2 days later with a suitcase full of homemade liquors, salumi and cheeses...and a packed lunch for 6 to be eaten and shared with other passengers on the train ride back to Rome...memorable experience...

  19. #19
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    Nice
    I like Cynar but then I like bittersweet.There aren't many artichoke apertitifs in Slyam.


    Italians are lovely and with cash you can have a great life there.

    It's nice to be liked, lucky you have such hospitable family in the mezzo giorno, others have facebook !!
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    I used to have a job at a calendar factory.
    I got the sack because
    I took a couple of days off.

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    Thailand Expat David48atTD's Avatar
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    ^ TC ... great stuff.

    I've never lived in Italy, but have travelled through there when I lived in Europe.

    Favorite place was Assisi ... as in St Francis of Assisi.


    Credit

    Other place was Pisa ... climbing the Tower before it was closed for egress.

    Our fingerprints never fade from the lives we touch

  21. #21
    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    ...^such a beautiful country, such wonderful cuisine...such chaos...

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    a cookin' an' a bookin' Luigi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Tomcat View Post
    ...to re-track this thread: I visited relatives near Bari years ago. I flew to Rome, took a train to Bari and rented a car there for the drive to my grandparents' town. In order to find the family that was hosting me (second or third cousins), I checked in at the local Carabinieri station hoping they knew where the house was. As soon as I uttered my first words in broken Italian: "Sono l'Americano..." an incredibly handsome member of the force jumped out of his seat and proclaimed that he had been expecting me. I followed his car to my relative's apartment complex where I was introduced. What happened next was a whirlwind of family greetings and a frantic search for Franco (a fine looking young cousin who had studied in London was eventually pressed into translation services). Hugs, kisses, embraces and a stroll around the town square with my great-uncle followed as he introduced me to local dignitaries, all of whom were located in one bar or another. It was in one of those establishments that I was introduced to Cynar, the most distasteful aperitif ever to pass my lips. On a tour of the immediate region with family, I tried one of the pizzas mentioned above (the pitta rustica). I left for my job in Iran 2 days later with a suitcase full of homemade liquors, salumi and cheeses...and a packed lunch for 6 to be eaten and shared with other passengers on the train ride back to Rome...memorable experience...
    Fantastico.

    You've got me yearning for home.





    Try saying those (even in your mind) without an Italian accent and pinching your fingers in front of your face.

  23. #23
    a cookin' an' a bookin' Luigi's Avatar
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    Edito.

  24. #24
    Thailand Expat David48atTD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tomcat View Post
    ...^such a beautiful country, such wonderful cuisine...such chaos...
    If you have travelled there ... favorite place?

    Agreed about the chaos. They play 'piano' with the car horn.

    "The economy of Italy is the 3rd-largest national economy in the eurozone, the 8th-largest by nominal GDP in the world,"
    WIKI

    Go figure!

    I do know they buy a lot of crocodile skins from Australia for the leather.

    As an aside, one of the hottest woman I've dated was a Lassie who's Mum was Italian and Dad was Russian.
    Met her about a decade to early.


    Where's Lulu ... he should be all over this!
    EDIT:- ... spoke too soon!

    (OH ... BTW ... apologies for the wee fracas above ... detracts from the thread.)

  25. #25
    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David48atTD View Post
    favorite places?
    ...ftfy...in some ways, Rome is like the bkk of Italy: I love it...also love Venice and its history: can never get enough of that city...

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