Sunday 10 July 2011

A Slow Pizza

                              The brick oven at Franco Manca       photo by Patrick Carpenter

Last week I had a double whammy with the Slow Food UK. On Friday, I worked as volunteer at the Big Feastival helping kids and adults to think about food (you won’t believe the amount of adults who mistake broccoli for asparagus, peas and strawberry for pomegranate or watermelon, oh dear). I had a fantastic time.

On Tuesday night, I went to a dough demonstration in one of the best pizza places in London. Franco Manca is my kind of pizzeria! The owner Giuseppie Mascoli is from Positano, Italy, and he opened his first pizza restaurant with his partner Bridget Hugo in Brixton, in 2008. Giuseppe takes his pizza very seriously and is obsessed with dough. Before opening Franco Manca, he and his partner spent months trying to perfect the recipe.

The pizza is made from slow-rising sourdough, with a starter culture which Giuseppe and Bridget were given by a friend who stole it from a bakery in Ischia (a small island off the coast of Naples). He claims that this starter dates back from at least the 1730s! You have to love it! Shame I didn’t have a container to bring home some of that starter, but I will be back!

The pizza is baked in a wood-burning brick oven made by a specialised artisan in Naples. This oven produces a heat of about 500°C and the pizza is done in 40 seconds.

I was lucky enough to learn from the master how he makes the dough for his famous and delicious pizza (I must say, it’s one of the best pizzas, if not the best, I’ve ever tried in this country). The dough was elastic with a dense consistency and the crust had a beautiful charred woody/smoky flavour.

Giuseppe and his partner source their produce with great care and it shows when you see and taste his food. The mozzarella is made especially for Franco Manca at the organic farm Alham Wood (see on my directory list); the sheep’s cheese is from Wootton organic dairy in Somerset; organic extra virgin olive oil comes from Sicily; flour from Molino Caputo, Naples; organic tomatoes from Salerno, picked when they are on season; organic olives and organic chorizo are from a producer in Spain; and the organic wine, from Piedmont. Some of the ingredients change due to seasonality.

What I love about their pizza it is its simplicity and taste. The flavours are all balanced out by the good ingredients they choose.

There are just six pizzas on the menu (see below) and every single one is mouth watering.

I met lovely people at Franco Manca’s, all members of the Slow Food UK and interested in good food: Kat, the PR for Slow Food; Ben, an enthusiastic foodie; John, a future artisan baker; Gerrard, a friendly German, the Japanese food teacher and her husband (whose names I forgot, sorry!); and other people who I didn’t have the chance to talk to. It was a very pleasant evening, and Giuseppe and his team spoiled us with their delicious organic wine and food. Grazie!

Welcome drinks. The organic wine from Piedmont and the
house lemonade that is made with Amalfi lemons
the "18th century" starter from Ischia
Giuseppe demonstrating how to make the dough
adding the starter to the flour
and kneading it for about 10 mins
the pizzaiolo preparing the pizza
it takes 6 months to learn how to manouvre  
the pizza onto the peel
Ready to bake
this brick oven has a temperature of 500°C

Sourdough  for pizza (a recipe developed by Giuseppe Mascoli and Marco Parente) 


1 litre of water
1.7kg flour

30g starter culture or 1g dried yeast or 3g fresh yeast*

3 Tbsp salt

*If using dried yeast or fresh yeast, mix it in tepid water, and, once mixed with flour, leave it proofing overnight.

A small starter culture is mixed with the water until dissolved. Add this mixture and the salt to the flour, working it until you have a soft dough. Knead it for about 10 minutes, cover and let it rest overnight for approximately 20 hours, in a warmish room.

After resting, roll out the dough, knead a bit more and let it rest for 30 min more. Then, shape the dough into individual balls of 270g. Leave them proofing for 1 hour and then they will be ready to be made into pizzas. This dough is very elastic so be gentle when flattening it to create your pizza base, but don’t worry if it doesn’t look like a masterpiece. It takes about 6 months for a pizzaiolo to 

master the right moves to make a nice looking pizza base.

Choose the best toppings you can find (i.e. a good tomato sauce, olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, wild broccoli, oregano, capers, garlic, pecorino cheese etc) or see Franco Manca’s menu to get inspired.

home cured organic ham, mozzarela, 
buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms
tomato, cured organic chorizo and mozzarela

Is pizza healthy? Some diet dictocrats and health radicals may not think so, but I beg to differ, and my answer is: it depends on how the dough is made, what you have on it and what lifestyle you lead! It depends how balance your diet is - and that goes for any food you I go again, it's about balance!

If you can, choose pizzas that are made with good quality flour, even better if it's wholemeal (it contain complex carbohydrates). Olive oil can reduce bad cholesterol; a good tomato base is high in the antioxidant lycopene; garlic contains vitamins C and B6, selenium and sulphur; basil contains flavonoids and vitamin K. Here is just an example of the usual toppings you find. 

Pizza is pretty much part of a Mediterranean diet, rich in fibre, olive oil, flour, fruits, vegetables etc. Dr Silvano Gallus conducted a study at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmaceutical research in Milan and claims that eating pizza regularly can provide significant protection against tumors and reduce the risk of developing oesophageal cancer by 59%, colon cancer by 26% and mouth cancer by 34%. It seems that the tomato sauce with its high levels of lycopene could offer protection against certain tumors.

These findings could be interpreted as good news for the pizza-lovers among you, but, hold on people!, this should not be seen as a go ahead for indulging in margherittas everyday. Balance and common sense, right?

Till next week!   




  1. Totally mouthwatering. Nice piece, Margot!

  2. Three teaspoons (tsp) of salt for this amount of dough is very little. Did you mean tablespoons (Tbsp)? Thanks.

    1. Hello Joy, somehow your comment got lost in my inbox and as I also took a long break from the blog I've just came across to it now, sorry. But I am now back with lots of new recipes to share. You were right, it was a typo on the recipe and it was indeed 3 Tbsp of salt instead of tsp. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I really enjoyed this post, great to see the pizza being freshly prepared! We also published our Franco Manca London review, sadly we had a disappointing service but perhaps it was just that day?


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