It's no secret where I think you get the best pizza in Cape Town. Made with passion and delivered by an Italian with a reassuringly strong accent, Massimo's Pizza Club in Hout Bay is king of the pizza world for me. Massimo's wife Tracy is brilliant as front-of-house and when you arrive you feel like part of the family. I recently sat down and asked them a few questions on what makes their pizza so special. As with most Italians, getting him to talk wasn't a problem at all. Getting him to stop? Well...
JW: Let’s start with the boring stuff. What part of France are you from?
M: haaa monsieur, je suis Italiano! But we lived in beautiful Dordogne, France, for 7 years before moving to SA. That’s where the Pizza Club was born, in the garden of our 400 years old farmhouse.
JW: Okay, relax. Bloody hell. Italy then. Now…Italian cooking is very regional, with each area claiming to have their own version of some pretty famous dishes. What were the meals you can remember eating growing up, and did they differ from the way they would’ve been prepared in other parts of Italy?
M: Not only every region, but every village! I come from Piemonte, north west region, near the mountains. My family grew their own vegetables, made wine and had chickens and rabbits running around.(I remember once a year buying a pig and making salami), so for me ‘free range’, ‘organic’ has always been the natural way to eat. In my family, like in most Italian families, every meal, lunch & dinner was cooked from scratch. Normally there’s a pasta or risotto or soup, followed by a main meat course with vegetables. I recall with affection my Mum’s coniglio alla cacciatora (rabbit casserole) and ‘illegally’ distilling grappa with my Dad.
JW: So Italian cooking is just as romanticised as it appears on the BBC Food Network then? Tracy, maybe you should answer this one…
T: Well yes. When Massimo talks about food everything sounds romantic! TV is becoming more true to life though and at least it’s not all designer kitchens. In my opinion Italians eat well but they’re not adventurous with new foods. I have introduced Asian foods to my-in laws and as my father-in-law LOVES what I cookwhich has landed me in trouble with my Suocera (mother-in-law)!!!
JW: Beautiful. Does it irritate you that most people interpret authentic Italian food as being red-and-white tablecloths and red pasta sauces?
M: It does. But what irritates me more is the amount of salt and pepper people put on my pizzas before they’ve had the first bite! How do they know is not already salted to perfection?! There is an annoying habit here of people adding extra toppings to already perfectly balanced pizza recipes. I don’t get it; this never happens in Italy.
..another thing that irritates me (and I don’t want to take the place of another CT restaurateur famous for this...) is when small children waste my food… I’m used to Italian kids who learn to sit at the table and appreciate proper food!
JW: Which brings us onto pizza. I’m not just saying this because you promised me free pizza forever after this appears on my blog but I have never tasted anything that even comes close to your creations. So…what is more important: the quality of the flour used for the dough, the quality of the tomato sauce or the toppings? Or is it everything?
M: The quality of the flour is certainly important, and I use only the best Eureka mills (before I decided I went one morning at 5am to see what they were using at Ile de Pan in Knysna). We use only Fior di Latte Mozzarella and not the processed pre-grated stuff that is standard in most other places. But the most important thing is certainly the woodfired oven and the high temperature the pizzas are cooked at. On average a pizza is ready in 90 seconds and on some evenings it can take as little as one minute. This allows the toppings to remain fresh and maintain all the individual flavors.
JW: Aaah, the wood-burning oven. I see you are now baking your own breads in there. What’s the vibe with that?
M: My grandfather was a baker but unfortunately he retired before I was born and my biggest regret is to never have asked him his secrets. At an Italian table you can’t start eating if the bread basket is not full... and you never leave a plate with some sauce left on it! You use the bread to do a ‘scarpetta’ (mop it up). I try to bake bread one morning a week, when the temperature of the oven is perfect (it would be too hot in the evening after the pizzas) and I love every moment of it. I’m still experimenting with lots of different recipes, it’s not as easy as you would think, but the result is unique, like nothing you could buy.
JW: I see you are now doing a mezze platter using this bread...
M: I serve my bread with the Piatto di Legno, which is a selection of simple, fresh ingredients and recipes from my mamma. Like the giardiniera (summer vegetables cooked in a tomato sauce) and the zucchini in carpione (slices of fried courgettes in agrodolce).
JW: And Tracy, you handle the salads?
T: Yip. Even we get tired of pizza and can appreciate that customers will sometimes feel like something lighter.
JW: I hear you. So guys, how often do you eat pizza then?
M: We eat pizza at least 4 nights a week.
JW: Ha ha, living the dream. That's awesome. What are the favourites?
M: Every night we try a different combination (and when it works it becomes part of the menu), but we tend to prefer vegetarian combinations. Lately we love the one with goat's cheese and salsa verde, pear & pecorino cheese, or just a simple Margherita with home-made pesto. The secret for a great pizza is to have few, but tasty ingredients.
JW: Okay, one more question. When I stop by for a pizza what should I wash it down with?
M: In Italy we prefer to drink beer with pizza. We have recently started stocking some interesting beers like Birkenhead and the &Union range.
JW: Glory. Can I have a menu please?