Dare I make a bold statement? Can I say that this is the #1 most popular food on the planet? Forget the purists, that insist this most Italian of foods needs to be made following the strict methods of the first pizza artisans from the city of Naples. Remember that pizza has been reinvented so many times over, in so many different guises, whether you adhere to the strict Italian principles or not, it has become the most universal food on earth.
I come from the school that believes that less is more (with pizza, that is) The simpler the toppings and the better the quality of the ingredients, is what makes one truly great. So, I do somewhat agree with the traditionalists. But I understand the variations and have discovered some very fine alternate examples, with a myriad of unusual ingredients, that on paper, I would never have imagined working.
Pizza may seem a simple creation, but far from it. Part of what makes it so delicious is not just the base crust (thick, thin – however you like it) and the toppings, it’s the even, controlled cooking at 400 degrees celcius, in a wood-fired oven, for only around 90 seconds. It’s the way the ingredients work together, baked in unison amongst the melted mozzarella and creating what can be a masterpiece of flavour.
Which brings me to one version that sits somewhere between the traditional and the modern, that has become amongst the most popular of them all. And I just don’t get it. It’s what I call the “lazy pizza”: Pizza con Prosciutto en Rocola – Parma Ham and Rocket Pizza. It sounds exotic. For me however, I’m left looking for the love. The base, beautiful (hopefully) and just as you like it, thick or thin. But then the ingredients that make this what it is, often appear to be an afterthought.
This heavily ordered dish in pizzerias around the world, has got away with too much, for too long. This is as basic as pizza gets. A simple Pomodoro (tomato paste), warm, lovely, and topping a fine, perfect base. In it goes to the fiery hot wood fired oven. But then, what about the star ingredients of this pizza – the prosciutto and the rocket?
Well, they arrive at the very end, long after the base and Pomodoro have been cooked through in the oven. Strips of prosciutto and a mountain of rocket are added on top, and (if you’re lucky) some shavings of parmigiano reggiano to finish.
Here we have a major juxtaposition. Warm base ingredients, and chilly toppings. Often, the prosciutto and the rocket are ice cold, straight from the fridge, then added. The temperature variation of this “classic” pizza is enough to frustrate me. That lovingly cooked, warm base and rich tomato topping, followed by ice-cold, raw, “star” ingredients. Where is the togetherness?
This popular pizza has always made me feel I am getting less than I deserve. There is no proof of the quality of the prosciutto, as there are so many variants on the market today. And rocket, well, don’t get me started. Whoever decided it is the perfect accompaniment to prosciutto? It really isn’t a match made in heaven.
Rocket is the most overrated salad leaf of all. It has been for years. If you want pepperiness, then just add pepper. This mass produced leaf that lands, scattered over dishes the world over, is as dull as any lettuce can be. The combo of rocket and parmesan, as a salad, was once the flavour of the month. Well, that month has long passed. A flash in the pan and yet another excuse to charge more for less than prime quality ingredients.
It is also one of the most expensive pizzas you will find on menus. After all, this is the king of Italian meats, Parma Ham – prosciutto – expensive and delicious. Well, don’t be fooled. Those that top pizzas are not the cream of the crop.
This is why, for me, it’s truly the lazy pizza. Anyone can throw it together. It’s a cheap fraud. The least interesting item on a pizzeria menu, made with little love, and easily constructed to create something considered “luxe”. But it’s the opposite. It is simple, but not in the way the classics are. Generations of Italians have toiled long and hard to create the best of what is undoubtedly a patriotic, national cuisine. This pizza, masquerading as one of the prime exponents of this beloved food, should not fool anyone.