Saturday, 2 August 2014

Squaring the circle: Pizza Rossa brings pizza al taglio to London

Obviously, pizza is very popular in its native Italy, and we Brits can't get enough of it, either. However, there is a street food tradition of buying pizza by the slice in Italy which we haven't quite embraced. "Pizza al taglio" is intended to be a portable slice of bready deliciousness which can be eaten on the go.

Pizza Rossa's founders love that "al taglio" tradition and wanted to bring it to London. Sadly, it isn't a simple task. Making good quality pizza bread, topping it with authentic premium toppings, making it fresh for each customer, so that it is portable and fast presents a number of challenges.

Firstly, the pizza must be portable. This is achieved by a square slice. A wedge taken from a circular pizza tends to flop, making it a poor portable meal. We've all been there, the crust doesn't quite support the heavy, moister middle. I think this is why we tend to eat pizza using cutlery, rather than grasping the nettle and using our hands.
Secondly, it must be freshly made for the customer, so that the pizza tastes at its best. We've all had pre-prepared pizzas sitting under hot lamps to keep it hot. The topping ingredients start to dry out, and the texture of the crust gets ruined. If using topping ingredients which have been chosen for their high quality, the customer wants to enjoy them at their best, not dehydrated mozzarella developing a thick skin on top or parched vegetables.

Thirdly, the pizza should be light. It shouldn't feel stodgy when eating and should not leave you feeling heavy after you've eaten. 
Pizza Rossa talked me through their process, from which I learned a lot about how to make my own pizzas at home. Although, for reasons which will become apparent below, not all of their techniques are suited to the home cook.

The ingredients used are good quality flour (ordinary wholemeal flour and durum wheat flour), fresh yeast, premium olive oil and sea salt.

Luca, our pizza chef, told us that using fresh (living) yeast was particularly important for a light, bubbly base which is crispy yet yielding. If put in warm water and allowed to revive itself for a few minutes before use, the yeast will be in prime condition. The aim is to use as little yeast as possible to achieve the proving and rising. Increasing the amount will cause the base to be overly flavoured of yeast and results in that heavy and bloated feeling you sometimes have after having eaten a pizza.

The flour and yeast water is mixed first. Then the salt and olive oil are added and then mixed thoroughly. The dough is then brought together into a ball. 

Luca at work!

 The dough is left to prove, wrapped in cling film, to allow the yeast to respire.

The dough is then rolled out, shaped to fit a baking tray, trimmed, and then rolled with a piercing tool to create little dips. These increase the surface area to volume ratio, which serves to make the base crispy on the outside after baking.

Because Pizza Rossa are not making home style pizzas, and because their pizzas are cooked to order for their customers, the base is given some initial cooking in the oven. Enough to make it spongy and to make it rise a little. It can then be put aside for the rest of the day for use later. 

Pizza Rossa's target customer is someone who loves good food, but doesn't have a lot of time. Essentially, a working customer seeking lunchtime or late afternoon sustenance.

Each pizza is made to the customer's order with toppings added just before a final blast in the oven.

 The final article, with a variety of topping combinations:
- Mozzarella and aubergine
- Artichoke, peppers, mozzarella and olives

What's my verdict?

The base was completely different from any pizza I have had before, either here or in Italy. It was very crispy and extremely light. There was a definite crunch when biting. The lightness of the overall pizza means I could enjoy a slice of pizza at lunchtime without feeling guilty about having gorged on something I would ordinarily consider as unhealthy. Although the base had been cooked initially and stored until later, that did not come through in the taste or texture. 

I liked the fact that the final blast in the oven was very short, it meant that the mozzarella has been melted, but the vegetable ingredients were not overcooked, dried or limp. 

The slices cost a pocket-friendly £2.95 - £3.95, making them as inexpensive as a pre-prepared sandwich. I know what I would prefer.

So I'm hoping that Pizza Rossa will come to my work neighbourhood over in "midtown", the Holborn area. 

They are currently at a pop up location in the City, just outside Leadenhall Market, but will be opening permanent restaurants very soon. You can find out more here:

Snigdha visited as a guest of Pizza Rossa.

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