A Lesson from an Italian Foodie
Nicoletta is the best type of foodie. She loves to eat and she loves to cook. She is also at an advanced level when it comes to taking photos of food which I admire greatly.
I watch people cook all the time. Yes, I do. But there's something extra about watching a native who takes food seriously. You salivate just a bit more because you KNOW it's going to be freakin' delicious.
In the midst of coronavirus lockdown, I watched as Nicoletta made homemade pizza from her home in Milan on her Instagram. I commented with two words - Feed Me.
I wasn't joking.
My best-case scenario would be that Nicoletta would just make me a pizza and I could just eat the pizza. But considering that she lives in Italy and I live in America, and there was a global pandemic and both of our countries were, let's just say, not doing very well in dealing with the situation, it turns out the actual best-case scenario was that she would share her recipe with me. Seriously, if you're gonna learn to make pizza, you learn from an Italian.
Am I right?
Warning: If you are hungry, you should get a snack before continuing on.
Nicoletta, where did your love of food come from?
My love for food comes from my father, whose family is from Calabria, a region in the south of Italy. I used to watch and help cooking my grandmother, who was really jealous of her kitchen, but she always allowed me to be by her side while preparing the meals. Since I was a little girl, around the end of August, I used to prepare with her the famous passata di pomodoro (homemade tomato sauce) and the sundried tomato for the entire year ahead (literally tomatoes dried by the natural sunlight). It’s still a real and true tradition nowadays.
How would you describe the importance of food in Italian culture?
Eating for Italian people is a ritual, you must take your time while cooking and eating. We do care about the quality of the ingredients used to prepare a certain meal – that’s why it’s really common for Italian people who live abroad to bring back from Italy pasta, tomato sauce and all sorts of food. I could write a book on stories about Italians stopped at airports because they had food in their cabin baggage or even worse (e.g. my mother in law in Rome-Fiumicino Airport who was carrying a 1.5kg of scamorza cheese in her purse!). That’s how important food is in Italian culture!
What's one thing the rest of the world misunderstands about Italian food?
I believe it’s hard to recognise real and high-quality Italian food especially abroad. I lived in London for 4 years and it happened to have dinner with friends in so-called Italian restaurants but sometimes the only Italian thing was the name of the place. Also, it’s really important when you cook Italian dishes to stick to the original recipe. Let’s make an example with pasta. Pasta is one of the easiest meals to cook, however, you can’t put ketchup on pasta because you don’t have tomato sauce :)...this is a total misunderstanding about Italian food.
Is there a particular dish or event that you enjoy preparing food for with your family?
Definitely during Christmas time. I love preparing both the food and the table where we’ll all be gathering around. My mother’s family comes from the north of Italy, and as I mentioned before my father’s family is from the south. In the north of Italy, it’s tradition to celebrate Christmas only on the 25th of December during lunch and the meal is based on meat. Instead, in the south of Italy, the celebrations start at dinner on the 24th and the meal is based on seafood. Every year I celebrated Christmas on both days preparing different kinds of food, spending time with my family and this is one of the best memories I have.
What do you like to eat/cook that is not Italian?
I think – no I’m sure – my favourite non-Italian cuisine is Japanese food. I mean, I’m in love with Japanese food! My last trip was last February before coronavirus spread. My husband and I went to Japan for almost two weeks and what we truly have been missing during the quarantine is eating a good Japanese meal. That’s why I challenged myself today and I made Japanese gyoza and they were delicious.
How many days have you been in lockdown? How has cooking helped you during this period?
Basically, since the end of February, so it’s almost 2 months. Cooking has been the only activity that allows me to relax and stop thinking about what’s going on outside the home. It’s something that comforts my soul and keeps me positive and energetic.
What do you love more - making food or eating food?
That’s a tricky question! I definitely love eating food but making food for other people and see them happy and satisfied, well it makes me feel good too!
When Italians eat pizza, do they eat only pizza or is it eaten with other things? Teach us : )
Pizza doesn’t need anything else! Just use your bare hands and enjoy it on its own.
You're gonna show us how you make pizza. Where is this recipe from and is it easy to make?
This is the recipe for the classic Neapolitan pizza that every grandmother handed down to the next generation. It’s easy to make however the practice makes it every time easier and easier, especially the manual skills will be perfected after the third time you try to make it – at least that applied to me.
How to make real Neapolitan pizza
Ingredients for the dough
250gr of 00 flour
250gr of Manitoba flour
250ml/gr of water
10gr of salt
35gr of extra virgin olive oil
5gr of fresh brewer’s yeast
Ingredients for the topping
400-500gr of tomato sauce
150-200gr of mozzarella cheese
If you like, you can add black olives too
Put 250gr of 00 flour and 250gr of Manitoba flour in a bowl. Dissolve 5gr of fresh brewer’s yeast in a small bowl with a spoonful of water. Mix the 2 types of flour with a fork and then add the yeast previously dissolved. Then add 500ml of water a little at a time and continue mixing with your fingers moving them like the whips of a mixer.
After adding all the water to the flour, add extra virgin olive oil and salt and continue kneading by hand. Once the dough is soft and well blended, spread a little flour on a flat surface such as a silicone mat. Lay the dough on the mat and continue to work it, until it is soft but compact.
If the dough is too sticky when you work on it, help yourself with the flour by putting it on your hands.
Slightly flatten the dough and make folds from right to left and from left to right by overlapping each side on the other, then form a ball with the dough. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts and place each part in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap.
Put the bowls in an oven with the light on. Wait about 2-3 hours and make sure that the volume of the dough has at least doubled. Once doubled, take out each bowl one at a time and put them on a flat surface such as a silicone mat. Flatten the dough and make folds as you did before. Afterward, form a ball with the dough. Cover the 2 doughs with a clean tea towel and let it rest for about an hour.
Roll out each dough in a baking tray, rectangular or square as you wish. The thickness of the dough should be about one centimetre. Add the tomato as you like and put the trays in a preheated convection oven at 180° for about 20 minutes. Remove the baking trays and add mozzarella and other seasonings as you like and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Bake again to complete the cooking for another 10 minutes.
Poof - You're Italian or at least you're gonna eat like one.