After a year spent in Italy, Elizabeth and Alessandro take us on an Italian food journey with their new business, Pezzella’s.
You recently lived in Italy for a year. Can you tell us a bit about your stay and why you found the Italian culture so inspiring?
We spent a year in Italy, volunteering through a program called “Workaway”, which allowed us to travel through all of Italy essentially for free. We worked four – five hours a day, and in return received free food and accommodation. The work was always interesting and gave us an authentic experience of Italy, far from tourists, cities and public transport. We picked olives in Umbria and grapes in Piedmonte, made tomato sugo in San Benedetto and pruned citrus trees in Calabria. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
You’ve started your own pizza business called Pezzella’s. How did this come about?
The Italian food is incredible – so much so, that it has reached every corner of the globe.
However, from being in Italy, and from Alessandro’s family being Italian, we learnt very quickly that the Italian we have here in Australia is usually an altered version or a “western” version. We really wanted to share the tastes and experiences we had in Italy, and share this in its most authentic and traditional form. Pizza became our staple diet in Italy, verging on an obsession. But the pizza in Italy is so immensely different to what we have here; we really wanted to share the true Italian pizza and our obsession with everyone back home!
Can you tell us about pizza’s origins and what you learnt from the Italians?
Like many of Italy’s famous dishes, pizza originated in the beautiful chaos that is Naples.
The most incredible thing about Italian food is its simplicity – like many of their famous dishes, it originated as “poor man’s food”, when times were tough and meal options were limited. Dough is flour, water, yeast and salt and the most famous (and our favourite pizza) is the Margherita, which is just red sauce, mozzarella and basil. One of the most significant things we learnt from the Italians is the enjoyment in life’s simplicity and of course, to never take anything too seriously and to drink good wine.
What is it about Italian food you admire?
Food in Italy isn’t just something you put in your stomach to curb hunger, nor is it a chore or a nuisance. Food is passion, life and a reflection of hundreds of years of culture. The meals we ate in Italy were either grown from the dirt in the backyard, or shot by a local hunter. Olive oil was hand-picked and crushed in the local “frantoio” and the wine was drunk so quickly, there was no need for sulphates, as it wasn’t around long enough to need preserving.
To us, the Italian cuisine is a reflection of Italians’ passion, persistence and their deep appreciation and knowledge of agriculture.
What makes your pizzas different from others?
We would like to think our pizzas are a reflection of the authentic Italian pizza that we enjoyed so much in Italy. The biggest difference I would say is the base, toppings and the cooking process. Our pizza base is very light and elastic, with a thin base and large, airy crusts. A true Italian pizza should flop down when you pick it up! Another difference would be the toppings, which should always be quite minimal, no more than three – four toppings. And lastly, our pizzas are cooked in a 465 degree wood-fired oven for no longer than 60 seconds!
What process do you go though in order to make your dough, and what’s the secret to a crispy crust?
Our dough is prepared 72 hours before being cooked in the ovens. It’s cold proofed between 3 – 5 degrees, which slows down the process of fermentation and develops deeper flavour. As I said earlier, a light and airy base is crucial for our pizzas; this is achieved during this proofing period, as the yeast eats the sugar in the dough and converts it to carbon dioxide, producing air in the dough, making it light.
Crispy isn’t necessarily what we aim for; however, Napoletana pizza does have beautiful charcoal spots around the crust called “measles”, which is achieved by the high temperatures of the ovens.
What delicious toppings do you have, and are they organic?
At this stage we source everything locally, except for tomato tins – one reason being that tomatoes from Naples have a unique flavour, a result of the rich and fertile soils from Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that overlooks Naples. Any pizzaiolo would tell you these tomatoes are crucial for Napoletana pizzas!
Our other produce is organic and locally sourced, including buffalo cheese from Burraduc Farm and other cheeses from Comboyne Cheeses. Vegetables and herbs are sourced from either our own garden or local markets. Our flour is Australian organic bakers flour, and our meat is sourced from Mentges Meat Market.
You cater for weddings and events. Can you tell us a bit about your packages and the menu available?
We have a forever changing menu, as it is based off what is seasonally available, but generally when we cater for a wedding or event we offer a few options. A full menu that includes: 1. Antipasti – all authentic Italian dishes, such as arancini, stuffed zucchini flowers and meatballs 2. A pizza menu of red base (tomato sauce base) and white base (cheese based) options, and
3. A dessert menu.
Or, we offer a smaller, pizza only menu, which is what we generally offer when we attend markets.
Where can we experience this culinary delight or find out more information?
We have regular markets we attend, including Taree Secret Markets, Rudi’s Market, Pacific Palms Market, Black Head Bazaar and Wingham Market. We are constantly trying to expand our reach, so we hope to also attend markets in the Newcastle region and Port Macquarie region. For more information, we have a Facebook page: Pezzella’s, an Instagram account: pezzellas1 and our website: pezzellas.com.au – all have further information on catering options, upcoming events we are attending and lots of stories and photos of our pizzas and our time spent in Italy!
What are your true feelings about the ham and pineapple pizza?
Ha ha! The tough question! I would be lying if I didn’t say I once loved the Hawaiian pizza. Alessandro has always eaten an Italian diet from living in an Italian household, so never thought highly of pineapple on pizza. Our time spent in Italy has definitely created a lot of biases towards food, one being swaying away from western styled pizza. Not everyone enjoys our style of pizzas, just as we don’t enjoy western pizza, but at the end of the day eating brings people together and brings people joy. Pizza preferences are subjective, and we just want people to eat good, wholesome food, so if that for you is pineapple pizza – we say, go for it!
Thanks Alessandro and Elizabeth.