Pizza: A book by Pizza Pilgrims by James and Thom Elliot

Pizza by Pizza Pilgrims

What’s the USP? The ultimate book about pizza! As well as recipes, Pizza offers up interviews with figures central to the pizza-eating world, pop cultural insights, and lessons in etymology and maths.

Who wrote it? Brothers James and Thom Elliot, who are best known as the founders of Pizza Pilgrims – a small chain of restaurants that evolved out of a single street food stand in London. Named after a toe-to-top journey through Italy that the brothers undertook in 2011 as an attempt to discover the secrets of great pizza, the brand has since become one of the most celebrated names to hoist a margherita upon the British people.

Is it good bedtime reading? Look, this is nothing if not filled with bedtime reading. In fact, it’s probably better not to think of Pizza as a cookbook, but rather food writing with added recipes. The book comes in just shy of 270 pages, and yet features only 26 pizza recipes, plus some pizza-adjacent ideas that bring the total recipe count to 30.

It’s hard to know exactly how to feel about this number. Pizzas are relatively intuitive things once the dough is made, and the overwhelming majority of the recipes that make the cut are both innovative and enticing. There are only so many pizzas one needs to be told how to make, after all. I’m not convinced there is much need to spell out how to put together a Hawaiian, for example, so it’s hard to fault the brothers for excluding it.

The rest of the content falls broadly into one of three categories. Firstly, there’s the genuinely interesting stuff, like a deep dive on the perfect pizza dough, and the city guides that champion the best pizzerias in Naples, Rome, and a smattering of other cities across the world.

Secondly, there’s the missed opportunities. Chief amongst these is the four-page section that looks at collaborative pizzas the Pilgrims have created with other restaurants over the years. Given the relative lack of actual pizza recipes in the book, it seems a tremendous waste to list twelve delicious sounding hybrids like the Dishoom-inspired Bacon & Egg Naan Pizza and not provide the means to create them at home.

Finally, there’s the filler – and, frustratingly, much of the book falls under this category. In an attempt to create a definitive text on pizza, the Elliots have included some genuinely useless sections. A two-page spread entitled ‘Pizza-Loving Celebrities’ lists thirteen famous people who have publicly professed to liking one of the most popular foods on the planet. There are four pages on the best fictional pizzerias and, later on, a further four pages on pop culture moments for the dish. Both of these amount to little more than a slightly wordy Buzzfeed list. Home Alone gets significant coverage in each.

Occasionally, the book gets really desperate – a gallery of pizza box designs customers have drawn up over the years, an advert for their ‘pizza in the post’ DIY delivery service and, most bafflingly, one-dimensional interviews with corporate figures from Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. There might be some interesting insights to be found in the development kitchens of these brands, but half a page with the UK operations director of Domino’s ultimately amounts to nothing but empty calories.

Oof. So you’re not a fan, then? Well, see this is the problem. Perhaps eighty percent of this book is useless to a serious home chef – but the twenty percent that remains is brilliant. The recipes frequently show the value of the brothers’ initial pilgrimage through Italy, demonstrating a depth of knowledge and understanding that results in genuine learning opportunities.

My favourite choice at my local takeaway is a light ham and sweetcorn affair that is revealed here to be a version of the Mimosa pizza. I had no idea that it was something of a nostalgic favourite in Naples, where children think of it in much the same way that Brits might think of fish fingers and chips.

The Elliots also champion the frying pan as their preferred method for cooking pizzas at home – an idea I might have been unconvinced by before, but will likely be my standard going forward. These sorts of revelations are worth the price of admission by themselves.

I’m not going to deny, either, that there will be audiences who lap this up. The style of the book reminds me of cash-in influencer titles at times, and for better or worse, it will appeal to plenty of people as a result. It might also offer an excellent entry point for pizza lovers who perhaps haven’t previously considered making their own at home. 

What will I love? The recipes are faultless, even if there aren’t all that many of them. Alongside those inexplicable big brand takeaway interviews, there’s also a lovely conversation with Antimo Caputo, who makes flour that enjoys a cult status in pizza circles. It’s worth taking a moment, too, to celebrate the inspired cover design, which mocks up a takeaway pizza box with joyful, tactile precision.

What won’t I love? The recurring feeling that the publishers are trying to make the book thick enough to charge twenty quid for. The frustration that instead of achieving this by including more recipes, they threw in filler pages with titles like ‘Pizza Facts’. The sheer incredulity you feel when the first fact on the ‘Pizza Facts’ page – that the pepperoni pizza emoji is the most used emoji in the US – is so obviously, quantifiably not true that it renders the entire page pointless. It’s the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji, by the way, and you (or the publisher’s fact checkers) can confirm that with one four word Google search.

Killer recipes: There are no duds amongst the recipes, but the Mimosa, Datterini Filetti and Mortadella & Pistachio pizzas are particular highlights.

Should I buy it? This is definitely a browse-in-the-shop-first book. Anyone really passionate about homemade pizzas will benefit from the advice here, and I suspect this would be a great book for a young person who is getting increasingly ambitious in the kitchen. More confident cooks might want to consider if they can really afford to give up valuable space on their cookbook shelf to a title that barely fits the description of ‘cookbook’ in the first place, though.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginner home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Buy this book
Pizza: History, recipes, stories, people, places, love (A book by Pizza Pilgrims)
£20, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Green Pizz’ from Big Momma Cucina Popolare

121 Green Pizz.jpg

Rapini (broccoli rabe) cream, finocchiona, mozzarella and pecorino pizza

Per 1 pizza

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Resting time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredienti

2 bunches rapini (broccoli rabe) or Tenderstem broccoli (broccolini)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
1/2 quantity (250 g/9 oz) Pizza Dough (see below)
5 thin slices of finocchiona or salami
90 g/3 and ¼ oz fior di latte (or mozzarella di bufala), roughly cut
70 g/2 and ½ oz (3/4 cup) grated pecorino, plus a few shavings to garnish
Salt

Come fare

Chop half the rapini (broccoli rabe) stalks (stems) and remove the leaves. Cook the rapini for 2 minutes in a large pan of salted boiling water. Drain, then immerse them in a large container of ice water to stop further cooking. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Make the rapini cream. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a high heat. Chop the remaining rapini stalks and fry with the anchovies for 15 minutes over a medium heat. Process everything in a food processor until you have a smooth cream.

Preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9. Cover a baking sheet with baking (parchment) paper. On a floured work surface, roll out the pizza dough into a circle about 30 cm/12 inches in diameter and about 2 cm/ 3/4 inch thick.

Place the pizza base (crust) on the baking paper. Cover it with the rapini cream and drizzle over the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake for 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and add the chopped rapini, finocchiona slices and mozzarella. Bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the grated and shaved pecorino. Don’t wait, serve and enjoy immediately!

Cool to know
Finocchiona is a type of traditional Italian salami from Tuscany. Its name comes from ‘finocchio’ – meaning ‘fennel’ in Italian – which, along with pepper, gives this salami its distinctive flavour.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough
A tip from Giuseppe Cutraro

Per 2 pizze

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Rising time: 8 hours

5 g/1/8 oz (13/4 teaspoons) fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon fast-action dried (active dry) yeast
300 g/11 oz (2½ cups) soft (pastry) flour, such as Italian type ’00’
1 generous tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons fine salt

Come fare

Dissolve the yeast in 200 ml/7 fl oz (scant 1 cup) of lukewarm water. Sift the flour and add half to the water. Work by hand for 10 minutes, without leaving any lumps, gently mixing the liquid with the flour and kneading the resulting dough well. Incorporate the remaining flour,olive oil and salt.

Continue to knead by hand for 15 minutes until the dough is very smooth and comes off the work surface very easily.

Put into a bowl, cover with a wet cloth and leave to rise for 2 hours in a warm room (about 24°C/75°F).

Dust a rimmed baking sheet. Divide the dough into two and put the dough balls onto the baking sheet. Cover with a cloth or lid without touching the dough and leave to rise in a warm room for 6 hours. The pizza dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 3–4 days.

How to stretch pizza dough

Neapolitan pizza-making is an art form (now recognized as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO). Giuseppe Cutraro, our chief pizzaiolo, ‘made in Napoli’, explains how to stretch the dough. Professional tips below…

You begin by dusting your work surface (preferably marble to keep the temperature at about 20°C/70°F) with flour.

Put the dough on the work surface and start by stretching it with your hands to form a circle about 30 cm/12 inches in diameter. And here’s where things get a little tough: twirling the pizza with your hands. Unlike what you might think, you don’t toss the dough high into the air, even though it looks like a really cool thing to do. This can even be done on the work surface: make the dough into a circle by rotating it, or by repeatedly lifting it with the left hand while holding it with the right. These actions allow the dough to be stretched uniformly.

Then lay the dough on the work surface and start pushing it from the centre towards the edges with your finger, which pushes the air to the edges and creates a raised lip that is light and puffed when cooked. We pizzaioli call it a cornicione (‘cornice’). It’s the hallmark of genuine Neapolitan pizza – generous edges, about 2 cm/¾ inch, which puff up at 430°C/800°F in the wood-fired pizza oven.

Giuseppe started learning the trade at the age of 15, at the historic Starita a Materdei pizzeria in Naples. We will probably never equal his pizza-making skills, but we can at least pretend.

Cook more from this book 
La Gran Carbonara
The Incredible Lemon Pie

Read the review 

Buy this book
Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes
Phaidon, £27.95