piZZa BIaNCa:
tHe TRue kiNg

Our food columnist makes a case against the marinara and encourages new toppings this summer

Words by Iona Judd

August 2020. Lockdown continues. I’ve entered my 200th Pizza oven competition on Instagram and have not won – again. Friends have started to suggest that I just fashion my own using reclaimed bricks and a tutorial from YouTube. I am sorely tempted. The next thing I know, it’s my birthday and I discover my house to be filled with friends for a surprise pizza party. There in the middle of the crowd was the oven – my oven! I am not sure who was more excited, me, or my friends realising that their Instagram notifications would now be spared.

It was reminiscent of birthdays held at Pizza Express as I grew up, face pressed against the glass as I watched the pizzaiolos craft American Hots and Four Seasons. At this 29th edition, marinara sauce had been lovingly hand-crushed by my housemate and another friend had secured what he claimed was the best dough he’s ever had. The secret ingredient, he said, was pure Puglian seawater. Now, as the weather warms once more, and more pizza parties are on the horizon (not that the weather has ever stopped me), I’ve been thinking about the beauty of pizza, its history, ingredients and my utter obsession with it.

Sausage & wild garlic pizza, featuring quality our canine quality control executive and the pièce de résistance - the Mortadella Pizza

The origins of pizza. A tricky subject, often disputed and the source of many passionate arguments. Most would say it’s a dish born from the magnificent chaos of Naples. The Romans would say otherwise. The key difference is their dough: Neapolitan pizza is light and fluffy, whereas Roman pizza is thinner and crispier. Many other regions have their own variations too, like the Sicilian Sfincione (think a focaccia with toppings) and the Puglian Panzerotto, a deep fried calzone not dissimilar to a Cornish pasty.

"tHe ORigINs Of pIZZa. A tRIcKy sUBjeCT, OfTeN DIspUTeD anD THe sOURce Of mANy pASSiOnATe ARgUmeNTs."

But whether you are biting into a pizza slice by the crystal clear water of the Amalfi coast or in the heart of New York City, the thing that really matters is the toppings. Neapolitan purists stand by the Margherita, named after Queen Margherita of Savoy and representing the colours of the Italian Flag. Very delicious. But, this is where things get contentious. I like a little more from my pizza. I like meat and cheese(s) and onions and anchovies. Truthfully, I haven’t met a topping I don’t like. The topping I love? The Hawaiian. There’s something about the combination of sweet and salty that I come back to time and time again. Perhaps, even more controversially still, I’d argue that the white pizza or pizza bianca is the king of pizzas. At this point, I’ve probably become the Katie Hopkins of the culinary world and am due to be cancelled. But before I am exiled let me tell you, dear readers, why.

Leek, gorgonzola, potato and chilli

A white pizza is like a blank canvas. Unlike a marinara based pizza, there are no rules or prerequisites. It’s a signal to your creativity – and your palette – to break out of traditional flavour combinations. Maybe it’s the art school student within me, but this seems like the ultimate assignment (and a challenge to use as many different cheeses as possible). Braised leeks are the perfect accompaniment to gorgonzola, sliced potato and pickled chillies. And what about the Quattro Formaggi? Or a potato and fontina number?

"tHe tHiNg THat ReALLy mATTeRs iS THe toPPIngS."

My most recent discovery, and possibly my favourite of the bianca family, is the mortadella pizza. A pistachio cream is spread on the base along with mozzarella and, when cooked, dressed with mortadella slices and ricotta. Ground pistachios are the crowning glory. Hard not to say Mamma Mia, really.

Hawaiian 

Don’t get me wrong, a traditional margherita, bubbling red, white and green has a time and a place – especially if you’re in its hometown of Naples. But next time, give the not-so-humble pizza bianca a look-in. You never know what flavour sensation you could discover.

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