Pazzo Rollo - an April Fool's Pizza!
It seems that even Mother Nature can't resist a prank: April Fool's Day in Minnesota dawned early and monochromatically bright with a couple of inches of snow on the ground and more flakes falling. At least I'll be safe from any other tricksters as I plan to hunker down at home and prepare for a Friday anthropology exam - unless the dog has plans for some mischief.
Poisson d'Avril (from Civilisation et Société)
Although the origins of this day of shenanigans, gags and assorted antics are unclear (the Museum of Hoaxes gives a nice summary of possible theories), there's no doubt that this quasi-holiday is celebrated by many, from Poland's Prima Aprilis to France's Poisson d'Avril, or April Fish (source: Wikipedia.org). The spirit of levity also features in other cultural holidays and festivals that occur during this time of year, notably the Iranian celebration of Sizdah Bedar, which marks the last day of Norouz (Persian New Year) with a day of lighthearted enjoyment outdoors, and the Hindu festival Holi, also known as the Festival of Colours, during which celebrants gleefully throw brightly colored powder and water at each other. Fun is definitely had by all except, perhaps, for some in Italy who are fervently wishing that a bit of recent food news is nothing more than a bad joke:
Pizza-making Machine Has Chefs in a SpinRome (Reuters) - A vending machine that bakes fresh pizza in minutes for a few euros has got Italian chefs in a whirl before it hits the streets in the coming weeks.The bright-red "Let's Pizza" machine uses infra-red rays and technology developed at the University of Bologna to knead flour and water into dough, spread it with tomato sauce and a choice of topping, and cook it - all in less than three minutes.
As far as pizza purists are concerned, the man behind this concept is il pesce d'Aprile - the April Fool - but Claudio Torghele is more akin to a Rube Goldberg-in-reverse: he has created a contraption that turns the complexity of Italian pizza-making into a simple, minutes-long process and this has gotten some aprons in a twist. In a country that gave birth to the Slow Food movement and has an accrediting body to preserve the standards of true Neapolitan pizza (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana - AVPN), the marriage of a deeply-held food tradition and modern technology is an unholy union.
Pizza machines (Photo from Reuters.com)
Generally speaking, the main critique of vending machines is that their contents are pre-processed and preservative-laden facsimiles of food. Torghele's machine, however, defies that stereotype by actually making pizzas per order from 'scratch' - mixing flour into a dough and adding toppings before baking. The outrage for pizza chefs is that a national culinary treasure is being reduced to a novelty for the sake of low-cost, low-quality convenience.
"[Pino] Morelli [head of the Association of Italian Pizzerias] said that real pizza-makers 'certainly do not fear competition from any machine' but the invention could damage Italy's image as the home of Mediterranean cuisine. 'The pizza is the symbol of "Made in Italy" brand and we should let it live and prosper in peace', he said."
Ironically, another of Italy's culinary traditions - the art of caffè - has already succumbed to total automation: according to a recent New York Times article, it leads all other European nations in vending machines, most of which dispense espressos, cappuccinos and all varieties of coffee. This distinction doesn't appear to have affected the enduring image and stature of the Italian coffee culture but that may be due to an important difference between a caffè macchiato and a pizza Margherita: the human touch.
It may be easier to accept a cup of coffee from a vending machine because it's only a short step from the largely automated process of brewing already common at home or in a coffee shop. And although there is certainly a great deal of artistry and skill required to pull a perfect shot of espresso or to steam milk to a flawless foam, rarely do bare hands actually touch the ingredients or final beverage itself as utensils are well-integrated parts of the process, even in the most traditional methods.
Pizza Margherita (photo from wikipedia.org)
With pizza, however, it's all in the hands - mixing, kneading and forming the dough into a round base before carefully adding handfuls of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil (as in a Margherita). It is by touch and by accumulated experience that a pizzaiolo, or pizza-maker, knows when the dough is the right consistency, how much topping to use and when the pizza is perfectly done. This is the heart that's missing from the Tin Man: the preparation of food - cooking - is a uniquely human characteristic which no other organism on earth shares. Perhaps the vilification of machine-manufactured, pre-packaged foods is rooted in a subconscious recoil from the idea that one of the most basic necessities of life is provided by lifeless machines. I've watched enraptured as the pizzaiolo at our local AVPN-certified restaurant deftly makes my pizza; he may be a stranger but he is a person and that may be the most important part of a 'personal' pizza.
We will have to wait and see what becomes of the "Let's Pizza" machines in Italy but I suspect that any impact it might have on the nation's culinary reputation would be that of a feather against a granite wall. Next to the prospect of metal, glass and computer chips preparing this icon of Italian cuisine, perhaps I can be forgiven for offering the following equally convenient, wildly inauthentic yet prepared-by-my-own-hands version of pizza.
Focaccia's Pazzo Rollo
What could be more appropriate for an April Fool's Day post about pizza than one that has been dubbed 'crazy roll'? I first had this preparation at focaccia, a charming and casual Italian eatery in Makati City, Philippines. Filipinos love Italian food but they also love adding a Pinoy twist, hence the infamous Filipino Spaghetti, made with hot dogs instead of ground beef. In the same vein, the Pazzo Rollo was unlike any pizza I'd ever had - it was rectangular in shape, had an extremely thin yet flexible crust and was made without tomato sauce. It was served pre-sliced into long strips to which fresh arugula and bean sprouts were added and then rolled up. Authentic? Not even close. Delicious and fun to eat? Without a doubt.
(Note: I do not include amounts because it's really up to you!)
1 pkg egg roll wrappers (trust me)
Artichoke hearts, chopped small*
Sundried tomatoes, sliced thinly or chopped small**
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Fresh or dried herbs (basil, oregano, parsley, etc.)
* I used a jar of marinated artichoke hearts
** For best results, do NOT use the kind in olive oil - it makes the crust soggy!
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees;
2. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, place one layer of wonton wrappers, edges overlapping each other so that it appears to be one large piece;
3. Very lightly brush olive oil on the wrappers. Do not saturate them as it will result in a soggy rather than soft crust;
4. Evenly distribute chopped garlic, artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes on the crust;
5. Liberally sprinkle cheese over the entire crust - as the cheese melts, it will keep the egg roll wrappers soft and flexible. The outer edges, in particular, are likely to become crisp so be sure to cover with cheese. Sprinkle with herbs;
6. Place in pre-heated oven and bake until cheese becomes bubbly and begins to brown;
7. When done, remove from the oven and immediately slice in long strips about 1.5" wide;
8. To serve, top each slice with arugula leaves, roll up and eat immediately. Buon Appetito!
And if you find yourself in Makati City, try the original Pazzo Rollo at:
focaccia - a slice of Italy
Ground Floor of A. Venue Mall
Tel: +632 729-9403