Naples invented pizza. Now he’s reinventing pineapple on pizza

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Italy is a land of deep culinary traditions, where anyone worth their salt knows the set of unwritten rules about what, when and how to eat (preferably with others).

It is also a country where people are firm and united in their beliefs about what not to eat.

For years, Hawaiian pizza invented by Canada – featuring pineapple, bacon, ham and mozzarella cheese – tops the list.

Until a brave Neapolitan pizzaiolo, or pizza maker, recently presented his own version, sparking a heated national debate, TV coverage and headlines about “breaking taboos.”

“Pineapple pizza was a revelation for me,” said Gino Sorbillo, perched at a table in one of the three central Naples pizzerias that bear his last name. (There are around twenty others throughout Italy and the world.)

Wearing minimalist, boldly framed black glasses, Sorbillo looks more like the head of a Milanese fashion house than the third-generation owner of a family-owned Neapolitan pizza chain.

Like most Italians, Sorbillo had heard of Hawaiian pizza, although he said he had only a vague idea that it was a Canadian concoction.

“Mostly what I heard was that it was terrible,” he said.

A man with short, dark hair, wearing black clothing and black-rimmed glasses, stands outside a restaurant.
Gino Sorbillo, the latest generation of the Neapolitan family pizza chain Sorbillo, seeks to create new versions of non-Italian pizza recipes to bring them in line with Italian culinary rules. His latest effort is a pineapple pizza. (Megan Williams/CBC)

Perfect the recipe

An accomplished culinary innovator, Sorbillo says curiosity led him to determine whether it was the pineapple itself that was the problem on the pizza, or the ill-advised pairing of ham and cheese with the fruit.

For three months, he experimented with different ingredients and ways of preparing pineapple before settling on the recipe for pizza all’pineapple, as it is called in Italian, now on the menu of family restaurants throughout Italy.

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Sorbillo’s version is a “pizza bianca” — a “white pizza” stripped of tomato sauce. The ubiquitous red fruit introduced to Italy from South America in the 16th century, he explains, is a redundant acidic element that conflicts with pineapple, as any Italian will tell you.

“You would never add tomatoes to pear and ricotta, which pair perfectly on their own,” he said. “You also wouldn’t add tomatoes to figs and prosciutto on focaccia, that would be gross.”

The end result of Sorbillo’s culinary trials is a round tart that glistens with no fewer than three kinds of smoked and seasoned cheese: provola, made from cow’s milk in the nearby town of Agerola, and “micro-chips » of two cacioricotta cheeses, including one from Sardinian goat’s cheese. and the other buffaloes that graze south of Naples.

Workers prepare pizzas in an Italian pizzeria.
Pizzaiolo, known in Italian as Pizzaioli, work at a Sorbillo pizzeria in Naples. Pizzaioli are part of a centuries-old tradition in the ancient city. In 2017, the Neapolitan art of pizza making was included in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Megan Williams/CBC)

The pineapple—fresh, not canned, and sliced ​​into rounds—is cooked twice to produce a buttery touch of burnt sugar and a deep golden glow. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a tender pinch of basil leaves and a pinch of black pepper finish it all off.

Even on the surface, it has little in common with its North American counterpart – a flagship Giorgio Armani pineapple pizza store in a world of Walmart. (The price, however, around $10, is about as Walmart as it gets.)

Tasty or irritable? Reactions are divided

It’s a version that proved to be a hit with a group of American tourists seated nearby.

Although they admitted that they happily eat pineapple pizza drizzled with barbecue sauce and jalapeno peppers at home, they say the taste between smoked cheese and baked pineapple was much more nuanced, but just as delicious.

Neapolitan Marco Esposito, sharing a pineapple tart with his girlfriend at another table, was more cautious in his assessment.

“I prefer traditional Italian flavors, but caramelized pineapple is an excellent compromise,” he concedes after slipping a cut triangle into his mouth. “But it’s really a pizza for socializing, eating with a group of friends over cocktails or as a sweet snack. Not as part of lunch or dinner.”

WATCH | For better or worse, we owe the pineapple pizza to Sam Panopoulos:

Canadian inventor of Hawaiian pizza dies at 83

Sam Panopoulos, the Canadian restaurateur credited with the sweet – and controversial – idea of ​​putting pineapple on pizza, has died

On the street, the manager of the Atri Osteria and the Pizzeria, around the corner from the Sorbillo establishments, distributes leaflets for his restaurant and says loud and clear what he thinks of the new tropical kid on the block.

“Pineapple pizza you’ll never find (on my menu)!” shouted Vincenzo. who did not want to give his last name. “Because pineapple pizza sucks!”

He says Sorbillo invited him to taste the new offering, but he declined.

“I tried Hawaiian pizza when I lived in the United States and once was enough.”

A few steps away, in the Spanish working-class neighborhoods of Naples, a banner outside Pizzeria Augusteo boasts that it is ranked No. 2 of all Neapolitan pizzerias on the travel site Trip Advisor.

A man and a woman are sitting at a table in a small restaurant and eating pizza.
Ileana and Michele Testa, owners of Pizzeria Augusteo in the heart of Naples, say pineapple has no place on pizza, especially not in their hometown of Naples. (Megan Williams/CBC)

Inside the small restaurant, owners Ileana and Michele Testa sit at a small table and enjoy a late lunch of pizza bianca, loaded with toppings similar to Sorbillo’s pineapple pizza, minus the fruit.

“Neapolitan pizza is a food for the poor, made with simple, local ingredients,” Michele said. “Pineapple comes from the other side of the world. Do what you want with pizza, but don’t do it in Naples.”

First Hawaii, then the world

But Sorbillo says he is unfazed by skeptics, calling his introduction of pineapple pizza to Italy a culinary “zero year” or “zero year,” a revolutionary change.

His next project is to roll out a range of Italian versions of non-Italian “world pizzas” – translating what he considers bastard ingredients into local ingredients and respecting the myriad cultural rules of Italian cooking and food pairing. wines.

Next on his menu, he says, will be a Neapolitan take on the North American pepperoni pizza.

“We show that even an ‘Americanata’ – an American gastronomic hodgepodge – can be accepted here if recreated correctly.”

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