It started with pizza on the island of Capri
Posted on Apr 01, 2011
I remember well the first time I had wood fired pizza. I was 7 years old and my family had recently moved to the island of Capri and been blessed with an existing pizza oven to cook in. One of the workers who was helping with the home renovation turned out to be a skilled pizzaiolo and was promptly hired to produce amazing pie after amazing pie. And to top it off, another worker was part of a small group that loved playing traditional neapolitan music, so our parties had a fabulous sound track as well, filled with O Sole Mio and Funiculi Funicula' to a very romantic guitar and mandolin accompaniment.
At the time, I had no idea how lucky I was growing up on the island amidst rugged rock and breathtaking views; the blue, crystal clear sea below covering the ancient remains of an emperor's villa. The blue water was so inviting that come summertime I would run down the centuries-old stairs carved in the mountain, all the way from the top of Anacapri to the sea below, all 777 mythical steps and a few more miles to the Bagni di Tiberio or the baths of the emperor Tiberius. I would make my way back home by taking a boat and a bus, my skin tan and crusted with salt.
After days like that, no wonder the pizza tasted like food from the gods and that later in life I would try and try to recreate that flavor. There's no potable water on Capri, and rain is collected in large cisterns or water is brought in via ship, so this precious resource was used sparingly when growing vegetables, consequently tomatoes used in the pizza sauce were super sweet. To replicate this pizza tomato sauce from my childhood memories, I grow my own San Marzano and heirloom cherry tomatoes, or alternatively I add sugar to the store bought crushed tomatoes, sometimes adding a little tomato paste as well. Note that pizza sauce you must be cooked longer and slowly to to make a thicker sauce and avoid moisture getting into the pizza dough. (Try combining a home-made, extra-sweet tomato sauce on a pizza with small dollops of fresh burrata or of really good, soft mozzarella cheese, taking care to add the cheese after you slide the pizza out of the oven, garnish with fresh arugula.) It makes a for a nice juxtaposition of flavors with the warm, sweet tomato and the cool, textured mozzarella.)
Here are some favorite photos of this dreamy, mediterranean island by photographer Raffaelle Mastroianni. Perhaps they will make you want to visit soon...