Tag Archives: pizza

Pizza and beer at La Gatta Mangiona, Monteverde Nuovo, Rome

Tscho! beer at La Gatta Mangiona

When, just over two years ago, we moved to Rome, and specifically just-outside-the-city-walls west Rome, we soon heard about La Gatta Mangiona. This pizzeria in Monteverde Nuovo (Gianicolense), the neighbourhood adjactent to our Monteverde Vecchio, was recommended as one of Rome’s best.

So we went. And were kinda disappointed.

Despite the inventive toppings (alongside classics) created by the renowned owner Giancarlo Casa (at it since 1973) and his staff, and the dough reportedly made with a lievito madre (sourdough starter) and long-fermentation, the pizza was flabby, the service somewhat indifferent. The experts over at The Rome Digest did, earlier this year, highlight the issue of the place’s inconsistency. Then another Rome food expert, Rachel Roddy, went recently and told us that not only was the food good, but there was also an excellent beer menu. I don’t remember the latter from our previous visit – so either it didn’t exist, or you had to be sufficiently in the know to ask specially to see if.

This time, we were in the know, and went with some other beer enthusiast friends. And overall, the experience was much better.

I wouldn’t say it was the best pizza I’ve had, but it was still delicious, the beer menu is indeed great, and the suppli were among the best I’ve tried in Rome.

Suppli at La Gatta Mangiona

I love suppli, Rome’s delectable deep-fried rice-and-mozzarella balls, but many are pretty average, and probably not even made on premises. La Gatta Mangiona’s, however, were clearly hand-made, clearly freshly made, and they even do suppli-of-the-day. Though they don’t exactly seem to be seasonal. We went in September, way outside spring’s asparagus season, but they had suppli made with them and saffron. The other suppli-of-the-day was sausage and cream; Fran says “Mmmm, it was delicious.”

I just had a classic suppli, made with tomato risotto. It was a decent size, slightly wonky, crisp, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, with the mozzarella inside forming strings as it should. Yum. My pizza, meanwhile, was one of their specials, and was called “Four Onions”. Along with the onion frenzy, it also featured tomato, vaguely picante sardines, olives and flakes of salty pecorino.

Generally I’m from the school of thought that simplest, least cluttered pizzas are the best (and indeed we’ve got Italian friends who only ever eat Margherita), but this was great. Not as good as the suppli, but still great. Clearly, I was so excited to get started on it I failed to take even one in-focus photograph. Doh. (Check out Gillian’s Lists here for some excellent photos of Gatta Mangiona’s wares.)

4 cipolle pizza

Now, the beer. Being out with two Italians, one other Englishman and one Canadese, we didn’t demolish beer after beer as we might have done had we been out with solely boozy Brits, but we did try a couple from the menu. This menu is indeed extensive and far better than any other pizza place. Even Trastevere’s entertaining but kinda overrated Bir & Fud (geddit?) doesn’t have much beer by comparison, though they do have taps. Most pizzerie, including the great, bargain options Da Remo (Testaccio) and Ai Marmi (Trastevere) meanwhile, just offer wine or crappy industrial lager.

You can find La Gatta Mangiona’s beer and whisky menu from their site (click ‘Carta delle birre e dei distillati’ – a PDF; not entirely the same as the photocopy they gave us). The beers are divided into wheat beers, then light and dark beers of low, medium and high ABV (from 3.5 to 10.8). Clearly La Gatta Mangiona takes its beer very seriously.

As I’d previously written about Calibro 5, a beer made with Kölsch that is designed to go well with pizza, it seemed suitable to have another beer made with the same yeast and in a similar style. This was the unpronounceable Tschö! from Maltovio brewery in Campania –that is, the region with Naples as its capital. (I’ll be talking about Naples again in the next post, as we’ve just been there.) Maltovio’s site can be found here. I really hope the photos are tongue-in-cheek. They remind me of comedy duo Armstrong and Miller‘s sketches about catalogue models in their natural habitat (sadly, I cannot find video snippets online).

This was a very straightforward beer, with some aroma of grass and hay, a blonde, murky body and a simple taste, with some slight citrus touches and a dry mouth-feel. Indeed, it probably would have been a perfect accompaniment to pizza, but between the six of us we finished it quickly while we were eating our antipasti.

Grado Plato's Spoon River at La Gatta Mangiona

The second beer we had was Spoon River from Grado Plato brewery in the Piemont (Piedmont) region of northwestern Italy. The fact that it’s called Spoon River and not Fiume di cucchiaio fits in with this being in the style of a English bitter, or at least that’s what the Guida alle birre d’Italia 2013 (Italian Beer Guide 2013) says. Spoon River’s own site says it’s an amber ale that’s also (like Kölsch beers) good to “accompagnare a tutto pasto i piatti più svariati dai primi alle carni” – “accompany all meals, everything from primi (pasta, risotto etc) to meats.”

Its smell brought to mind toffee apples – so caramel malt and fruity. It’s got a medium body and yes, a very malty taste too, with some lasting bitterness.

I wish we’d tried more, but that’ll have to wait until next time.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, a gatta is a female cat, and a mangiona is a glutton. So the Greedy Lady Cat. For want of a better word for a female cat. Why don’t we have a name for a female cat in English? If a male is a Tom (well, an intact male), what’s the equivalent? Some suggestions are a Queen, or a Molly, or a Dam, though these terms aren’t in common usage, especially for non-pedigrees. The Gluttonous Dam sounds nice though.

Info
Via Federico Ozanam 30-32, 00152 Rome, Italy
+39 06 534 6702 | lagattamangiona.com
Open from 19.45 to 23.30; closed Monday

Maltovio brewery
maltovivo.it

Grado Plato brewery
gradoplato.it

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Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

Cinnamon and ricotta pizza

Ricotta. Generally, I don’t know what to do with this classic Italian “recooked” whey cheese. I’ve used it in cheesecakes before, and it is delicious eaten for breakfast with a drizzle of honey. But the sheer scale of its presence in Rome, where fresh stuff arrives by the tonne every day, indicates it’s used very widely indeed.

Shops like the likeable Antica Caciara in Trastevere have an entire window dedicated to baskets of the stuff. Farmers markets’ also tend to have several stalls selling bucketloads of the stuff. Since our farmers’ market was shifted out of Testaccio, and as it’s August and most of Rome’s markets are closed anyway, we’ve been frequenting our new Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop) near Ponte Testaccio. (Actually, it’s three outlets in one venue. See Info, below). They have a lot too, and on a couple of occasions when we’ve been stocking up on other goodies, they’ve given us some. It’s all about the freshness with Roman ricotta, so I suppose they just don’t want it hanging about – and they want to encourage our loyalty.

So what else do people do with the stuff? Well, I’m slowly discovering.

Fresh ricotta

It’s used in a few classic, simple pasta dishes, but to be honest, I don’t much like them; even with excellent quality ricotta such dishes seem oddly bitter to me. There’s a kind of cappuccino di ricotta according to ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli1, but I’ve never seen that. Manuelli also gives a recipe for ricotta condita that just involves the cheese, egg, sugar, cocoa and some booze. It sounds like a kind of trifle or tiramisu, but without any sponge. Other versions, such as in Oretta Zanini di Vita’s ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’2 use finely ground coffee instead of cocoa.

When I got the cookbook ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’3, one thing that caught my eye straight away was the budino di ricotta (ricotta pudding, or ricotta cake), which they make in a handsome ring form. So I gave it a go. It seemed simple – just ricotta, sugar, lemon zest, a little booze and some eggs, some separated, with the whites whisked to give the pudding some lightness.

Ingredients for ricotta and cinnamon pizza. Ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, dough. Basta.

It all seemed to go well. Until I turned it out of the tin. It deflated a bit. Okay, fine. But then I ate some. Really not my bag. I’m sorry to say I found it oddly nauseating, just unpleasantly whey-y, so I won’t be repeating the recipe here. I should have known really, as I’d made a baked ricotta pudding before, using ‘Cooking Apicius’ – recipes based on a collection from the late classical period4. That one involved lots of bay leaves and at first bite was amazing, but at second bite was exotically disgusting.

So I was back to square one with my slightly vexed question of what to do with ricotta.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza, before baking

And then Azienda Agricola Fratelli Nesta, one of the abovementioned three outlets, went and gave us another couple of etti5 of ricotta.

Luckily, ‘La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ has several other ricotta-based recipes. One of which is so absurdly simple I had to give it a try. It’s a sweet pizza, and would you know, I had some spare pizza dough.

According to authors Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré this is a “super-simple sweet that you can often find in the bakeries of Tuscia”. Tuscia is the historical region of the Etruscans (the Tusci in Latin), a large area of central and western Italy that now corresponds with most of Tuscany, northern Lazio and parts of Umbria. The recipe in is specifically called “Pizza ricotta e cannella di Tarquinia”. Tarquinia is an ancient Etruscan town near Viterbo, north of Rome.

I can’t find any mention of a ricotta and cinnamon pizza from Tarquinia or Tuscia,  or anywhere for that matter, online, but then, Italy hasn’t poured all of its vast and varied (food) culture onto the internet. So I’ll just give the two Maries the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, I’m not going to mess about trying to put it in grams or whatever as it really is simple and flexible. It’s all about the “qb”, the quanta basta, the “how much is enough”. That is, the right amount according to your intuition and inclination.

You just need to make some basic white bread or pizza dough; I won’t give a recipe here, as there are numerous recipes in other sources. Just find one that suits you. I’d recommend one with a nice long fermentation.

Ricotta and cinnamon pizza

The ricotta and cinnamon pizza recipe isn’t even a recipe per se, it just says:

Bread dough
Ricotta
Sugar and cinnamon
Extra virgin olive oil

Then mentions the bakeries of Tuscia, where “the bread dough often comes in a thin form, covered with ricotta, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. You bake it in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.”

And you know what? It’s delicious. I especially like the way the oily, sugary mix caramellises on the crust. Sure, it’s an example of those Medieval flavour mixes of sweet, spice and savoury that us Brits don’t use so much these days and, sure, perhaps it’s slightly confusing quite when you might want to eat it. Is it a main course, is it a dessert, is it for afternoon tea, or even a breakfast snack? But frankly, it’s so simple and satisfying, you can eat it whenever you want. I scoffed most of mine at 5.15pm as the hangry hour was approaching.

Info
Punta Vendita Aziendale (direct-from-farm shop), Via Bernadino Passeri 8, 00154 Rome.
Open Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 8.00-19.00,  Sun 8.00-14.00

Footnotes and stuff
1 ‘Cucina Romana’ by Sara Manuelli appears to be out of print. The copy I’m referring to was published in 2005 by Conran Octopus, ISBN 1 84091 407 6.
2 ‘The Food of Rome and Lazio’ by Oretta Zanini di Vita also appears to be out of print. The book I’m referring to is translatedby Maureen B Fant, and is listed on her website. First published 1993 by Alphabyte di Maureen Brown SAS, ISBN 88 86128 02 9. I’m not sure, but it may have been reprinted in 2003 by the University of California Press as ‘Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds: Recipes and Lore from Rome and Lazio’.
3 ‘La cucina di Roma e del Lazio’ (“The cooking/cuisine of Rome and Lazio”) by Marie Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré is, so far, only available in Italian. Published 2012 by Guido Tommasi Editore-Datanova, ISBN 978 88 96621 844.
4 ‘Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today’ by Sally Grainger. More information here from the publisher, Prospect Books, along with a PDF download with ” the preliminary matter, the introduction, the list of recipes and the opening historical discussion of Cooking Apicius”.
5 An etto (plural: etti), or ettogrammo is a commonly used measure in Italy, especially for buying market produce. It’s a hectogram/hectogramme – that is 100g, 0.1kg, or about 3 and a half ounces.

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Pizza al taglio di Eligio Fattori, Monteverde, Rome

Fine selection of pizzas at Eligio Fattori, Monteverde, Rome

Although it’s Gabriele Bonci that gets much of the acclaim in the Roman (and wider Italian) pizza scene for his Pizzarium outlet, in every neighbourhood in the city there are a gazillion other pizza al taglio (“pizza by the slice”) places quietly going about their business. Many of these are mediocre – though even then, they’re better than the majority of pizza to be found internationally. And some of them are even pretty good. Pizza al taglio di Eligio Fattori is one of them.

It’s found in the hinterlands between Monteverde Vecchio and Monteverde Nuovo, not that far from the Gianicolo (Janiculum) and the splendid open space that Villa Doria Pamphili park. For a long time, we’ve been giving our patronage to a pizza a taglio place closer to home (Da Simone on Via G Carini), but when a friend and fellow baker mentioned Eligio Fattori, and its famed long fermentation dough, we had to check it out. And we’re very glad we did too.

Pizza a taglio di Eligio Fattori, Viale di Villa Pamphili, Rome

Sometimes, I meet Fran after work, and walk up from Trastevere railway station, up Viale dei Quattro Venti, paying a visit to the beer shop that’s recently opened up there (number 265; it’s a branch of Gradi Plato), before turning off the main drag and up onto Viale di Villa Pamphili.

Pizza a taglio on Viale di Villa Pamphil Rome, Irish pub beyond

Located just past an unexpected “Irish pub” called Finn MacCumhal, Pizza al taglio di Eligio Fattori looks very ordinary. It doesn’t even have a name, just a little symbol with two illegible letters in the style of the General Electric logo (are they “E” & “F”? Dunno) and “Pizza a taglio” in large green letters. In the summer and fair weather, there are some plastic benches outside. When we were arrived an old couple and some mums and kids were there, finishing feasting on boards of pizza slices.

If you want pizza, ring the bell

Inside, it’s pretty small (Siamo un piccolo negozio con un grande prodotto – “We’re a small shop with a grand product”), but has some character. There’s a bell on the wall with a sign saying “If you want pizza, ring the bell” and there’s a framed quote by John Ruskin (in Italian). This is a nice touch for us, as we lived just off Herne Hill in south London for several years – and Ruskin used to live just up the road (before our time of course….). Here’s an English translation of the quote. Whether this Common law of business balance was even authored by Ruskin is debated, but clearly they’re saying if you feel you’re paying a little more for the Eligio Fattori pizza, it’s because you’re paying for better quality, though prize-wise it seems pretty on a par to other a taglio places.

Ruskin

I’ve got their business card here and it says they have “200 types of pizza” – though not all at the same time. They change seasonally. It also lists their accomplishments, including Pizza campione nel mondo – pizza world champion – 1991 and 2011. I’m not sure it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had, but for a neighbourhood a taglio place it’s great. This is in part because, where many places apparently use factory made frozen dough (Marco Farchioni, of Farchioni olive oil, recently told me), Eligio Fattori make their own – and even boast on their card that they make: L’unico impasto al mondo realizzato metà acqua metà farina, 1 gr di lievito ogni chilo di farina. Senza aggiunto di grassi animali con olio extravergine e soia. 72 ore di lievitazione naturale. That is, “The only dough in the world made with half water, half flour, 1g of yeast for every kilo of flour. Without added animal fats, with extravirgin olive oil and soya oil. 72 hours of natural  leavening.” This isn’t exactly a recipe, and 72 hours seems a little long – surely the yeast would exhaust itself? – but the results are very good.

Pizza a taglio di Eligio Fattori, Viale di Villa Pamphili, Rome

On our visit a few days ago, we had suppli (which were tasty, but not a patch on home-made), and a couple of different pizzas from their extensive choice, which includes many  stuffed styles. I had a one with cherry tomatoes and some chili – and it was delicious. Basic, without too many toppings, is often best as there’s no conflict among the flavours. Fran had speck with a gorgonzola sauce. I didn’t try it, but she said it was “creamy, lovely, with wood-smoky speck, and the sauce over the top, so the dough didn’t get soggy.”

Our platter

I kinda wish we’d got more. I’m making myself hungry just writing about it.

Info:
Pizza a taglio di Eligio Fattori, Viale di Villa Pamphili 46A, Monteverde, Rome
Tel 06 581 2208

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Requisite Bonci post

If you’re based in Rome, and have a blog, and that blog talks about food, there seems to be an unwritten rule that at some stage you have to talk about Gabriele Bonci and his pizza. Far be it from me to break that rule.

A couple of weeks ago, I did Bonci’s two-evening pizza course. The day after the first class, I wrote a somewhat fevered draft about the experience. It wasn’t very level-headed (the working title was “Making pizza and taking the pizz”. You get the picture). The day after the second class, I wrote another piece. It was more level-headed, but little more than notes. So this is my third attempt. Hopefully it’ll be an honest appraisal, and sufficiently level-headed. (That’s not always my forte.)

Anyway. The course was a birthday present. A somewhat generous one, as it was really flipping expensive.

For those who don’t know who Gabriele Bonci is, here’s a little background. He’s a pizzaiolo (pizza-maker). He’s an celebrity chef. He has an acclaimed hole-in-the-wall pizza a taglio (pizza by the slice) place behind the Vatican called Pizzarium. He also recently opened a bakery, Panificio Bonci, nearby. He’s a big bloke, like a rugby player who’s enjoying the clubhouse more than the pitch.

Bonci 1

I first met him, briefly, at Open Baladin, the wonderful beer bar run by Italy’s biggest microbrewery. It was last autumn, and I’d been experimenting with making bread with chestnut flour. When I chose a chestnut beer (Borgo’s Castagnale), I got chatting with a friend who works in the bar, and mentioned I’d made the bread. She called over Bonci, who looked at a photo on my phone, made some encouraging noises, then wandered off to resume his duties (his outfit provides the bar with its breads). My friend said he’d suggested I do one of his courses, which seemed like a good call – except my Italian was non-existent then. After a year or so, I thought it might be ok – after all, a course is not just about the spiel, it’s about the demonstrations. And what I really wanted to learn was about how to handle very wet doughs (his starts with about 750g water to 1kg flour – ie 75% – then he adds more to bring it up to about 85%).

It was a foolish assumption, however, as my Italian really wasn’t adequate. Never mind the fact that Bonci talks in a Romanesco growl. Though I did manage to get more of an understanding of what Bonci stands for. I’d already investigated him a little when I first heard of Pizzarium, but broadly his message is much along the lines of my feelings about food: a rejection of industrial production; a blend of knowledge and instinct; an emphasis on  seasonal and traditional ingredients (eg he uses a natural leaven and einkorn flour at Pizzarium; we used easyblend yeast in the classes, as it’s nominally easier); no fear of innovation.

Bonci’s greatest achievement, perhaps, is the latter. The Italian obsession with food involves: eating; talking enthusiastically about food; patronising foreigners by default with the assumption we don’t cook and know nothing about food; and telling everyone that there’s only one way to do something in the kitchen. That way is the way your mum, or grandma, did it. Broadly, Italian food culture is anti-innovation. And yet Bonci does innovate and he’s made a success of it. He’s not afraid to experiment with the toppings of a pizza. Or indeed to variants with filled or upside-down pizzas. On the second evening he started by making a load of meat-fests: a leg of lamb, some garlic and rosemary all wrapped in pizza dough; ditto with chicken legs; ditto with sausage meat and artichokes. All baked slowly. (Though this technique is actually steeped in traditional too. Apparently, it’s an old rustic way of cooking: in an era of communal village ovens, it masked the cooking smells of your meat so your neighbours wouldn’t come blagging.)

Bonci 3

Anyway, it’s a solid, encouraging message: experiment with pizza dough, toppings and fillings.

For a Brit, and someone who’s always experimented in the kitchen, this is no great revelation but the enthusiasts crammed into the Tricolore kitchens on Via Urbana for the course, this message was received like the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, there’s a profound level of sycophancy around Bonci. US Vogue called him “the Michelangelo of pizza”, and it’s impossible to write about him without reiterating this. I’d just like to point out now, however, that this is clearly hyperbolic bollocks. Very, very few people could spend years lying on rickety scaffolding painting vast expanses of ceiling, or wrangling with hefty chunks of marble and making incredible works of art like The Deposition or the Pietà. But anyone can learn to make pizza. Indeed, Bonci’s message is just that – try it yourself! Practise! Experiment! Enjoy!

I wonder whether he’s embarrassed by the “Michelangelo of pizza” thing. He seems like a decent guy, though he probably can’t help getting caught up in  the whole rock-star thing. For example, his recipe book, The Game of Pizza, is modestly subtitled Le magnifiche ricette del re della pizza: “The magnificent recipes of the king of pizza”!

His message is great and his pizza is quality, but the course itself was somewhat farcical, especially considering the not inconsiderable cost. Sure, it included eating and taking away as much decent pizza as you could hope to eat, but it really falls down with the location, format and facilities.

The Tricolore kitchens are tiny, enough room realistically for about six or eight students. Yet a dozen are crammed in. We each had about a square foot of work space, but mine was at the back of the class, in a busy thoroughfare. Sure Italians like the huddle more than Brits (who have this strange concept of “personal space”), but paying hundreds of Euros to get in the way of the staff was a bit shit. I mentioned this inconvenience, and the manager moved me for the second evening, but then I was right in the way of one of the main ovens so had to keep moving again. Apparently, it’s hard to find a decent teaching space with enough ovens in Rome. Really? In the capital city of a country that prides itself on its cuisine, there’s no better teaching space? It’s hard to believe.

This has turned into more of a ramble than I planned, so I think I need to summarise.
Bonci and the Bonci pizza courses.
Pros
Great overall message (you can do it!).
Solid technique demonstrations (don’t be afraid of 85% hydration; I’m getting there…).
You make a lot of pizza, you eat a lot of pizza, you take home a lot of pizza.
Cons
Expensive for six hours of lessons.
Especially expensive considering the tiny, totally inadequate space.

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