Do you remember your first pizza?
I don’t specifically but I do remember when my love affair with pizza began.
West End of Glasgow, in the early 1980s. The University Café, Byres Road. A diner style restaurant run by Italian Scots.
They made their own pizza. I can still taste the sauce. Tomato and oregano, I think.
They made their own chips too. I can still taste them.
They knew what they were doing.
It was in their genes.
A good pizza and a cold beer is surely one of life’s greatest culinary pleasures, though in those days it was coke in a plastic cup.
We went there maybe once a month as a treat. It is one of my favourite childhood memories.
What a thrill!
And there is also the context of pizza when you’ve been having it as long as I have.
As a student after working nights in an off-licence, I used to get a salami pizza and chips weekly from the chip shop opposite.
I probably wouldn’t do it now as I wish to live a bit longer but it retains a sense of pure pleasure and, the miracle of taste memory;
I think about and I’m back again in that moment. Savouring it, whilst watching Only Fools and Horses.
The problem ultimately with pizza is it’s often badly done. Turned from a thing of wonder to a thing of horror. In Scotland, they deep fry them. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Actually, it probably is though I always enjoyed the odd one from the Chip Chik Inn in Clarence Drive.
They were Italian too. It’s probably a coffee shop now with smug hipsters serving vegan muffins.
Returning to pizza, authenticity and quality have been sacrificed with mass production, high-street takeaways, chain restaurants, modern technology e.g. frozen pizza; in other words the demands AND culture of modern life.
Pizza, from a quality perspective, at least, is a victim of its own success.
It’s ease of production.
When I was around eighteen, I started experimenting. I’d buy a pizza base and add my own toppings.
It wasn’t until my mid-thirties, however, that I started making my own base from scratch. You can understand why it’s become arguably the world’s most popular fast food. It’s insanely simple and cheap.
Yet simplicity doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Each individual part, plays a part and must be excellent to optimise the experience. The base, the tomato sauce, whatever toppings you choose.
Personally I prefer a minimalist approach. Overloading it with toppings seems rather rash. Blame American excess for that.
On a recent visit to Mascalzone in Edgware, North London we were lucky enough to have the opportunity of seeing our pizzas made before we ate them.
I get that in my local kebab shop, I hear you say.
Well this is not quite the same.
I just have friends in high places. Not really.
They have an open kitchen and the pizza chef, Erkan will gladly show you his skills and answer any questions.
About the pizza that is.
Tossing the dough in the air it floats effortlessly and energetically. No surprise as it’s been proofing for at least 24 hours.
I felt a childlike enthusiasm watching him.
Sadly, my attempt to put the pizza in their oven failed.
I remain an enthusiastic amateur.
What did we have? It was tricky, so many to choose from.
I had Braccio de Ferro, the lady had the classic, Napoli. Both delicious, with that feeling and taste of authenticity. How else could it be?
All the ingredients come from Italy. The beer, Baladin, a small scale artisanal beer available in three versions that is imported specifically from beautiful Piedmont – home of Barolo, the king of wines – is delicious. We were happy.
Authentic imported culinary delights such as lady sponge fingers on the shelves, a large TV playing football, Italian staff – all very friendly and fun. The place feels low-key modern Italian.
You could be in Milan.
Well, until you look outside and see Edgware High Street.
And for those of you who like a little heat there is a fresh chilli and olive oil sauce made with leftover peperoncinis.
It has a kick. I like a kick. And no waste.
It’s the way it should be.
The genius of pizza lies partly in its simplicity. But it’s more than that. It’s technique and precision.
Those two things create alchemy and what is alchemy? Well. It’s magic. The ambience helps. Oh and the tiramisu didn’t last long either.
Grazie Mille, Mascalzone, Edgware!
Author: Lewis McKie
Graduate in French Language and Literature from Glasgow University. Thirteen years in wine trade. Currently developing film scripts whilst blogging on other passions including Wine and Nature.