x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A pizza nonsense?

A report suggests that Italy's favourite shop-bought pizza is made by a German company in the UK. We head to the supermarket to find out what makes this pie so popular.

The news is surely enough to have Italian nonne everywhere looking to the skies in disbelief, or at the very least, throwing their hands (covered in pasta dough) up in despair.

Last week it was announced that Dr Oetker's thin-crust Ristorante Pizzas are the best-selling shop-bought pizzas in Italy. Not only that, the figures that were released by Information Resources Incorporated suggested that the brand commands 20 per cent of the Italian ready-made pizza market.

 

It's hard to know what's more surprising here: that the famously food-proud Italians eat frozen pizza at all, or that their snack of choice is made by a German-owned company in a factory in the UK. And it's not just the Italians that are fans of this brand, according to these statistics, Dr Oetker apparently outsells its rivals in 33 other countries, too.

Now, perhaps I'm romanticising things slightly (and those dedicated to the famous Chicago-style deep dish will certainly disagree), but when I think of great pizza I imagine this: crisp bases, stretched thin, with scorched bottoms and chewy crusts, a vaguely sweet, sticky tomato sauce, full of flavour with hints of basil and garlic, and generous pieces of bubbling, milky white mozzarella strewn over the top. Throw in the odd anchovy to provide a flash of umami flavour and add a few capers for that all-important salty punch, and you've got something rather wonderful.

Executed badly (as takeaways and shop-bought versions so often are) pizza can be a woeful thing. At its very worst, the base will be thick and flabby with undercooked dough, the sauce metallic tasting and the cheese cheap, gloopy and oozing grease. And that's before you even start to consider the plethora of different toppings that it's possible to gild this particular lily with: tandoori chicken, sweet chilli sauce or fried egg, anyone?

Bearing all this in mind and having had a less-than-positive encounter with a ready-made funghi variety just a few weeks earlier, it was with a certain degree of caution that I approached the freezer section of my local Spinneys and purchased a Dr Oetker Pizza Mozzarella (Dh19.50) of my own.

The picture on the front of the packet didn't do anything to dispel my scepticism and neither did the rather lengthy ingredients list (which includes flavouring, food acid and glucose syrup). Once I took the pizza out of its plastic sleeve, it looked, to my mind at least, all too uniform – perfectly round circles of white cheese decorated the surface, as did uniform cubes of tomato and the odd blob of green herbs (from the ingredients list I gleaned that this is a mixture of basil, parsley and spinach). After 15 minutes in a hot oven, appearances improved slightly: the cheese (a mixture of mozzarella and Edam) had melted so it looked more appealing and the tomato sauce was bubbling away. After sampling a slice or two, I think it's definitely fair to say that this pizza tastes better than it looks. The base was nice and thin and, although it was a little pale and soft for my liking, it wasn't overly doughy or too heavy. The tomato sauce was inoffensive, if slightly watery (a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper perked it up nicely) and the cheese was pleasantly chewy. The aforementioned dots of herbs don't really bring anything to this particular party, but all in all, it's not a bad effort. It's also not too stodgy, so doesn't leave you craving a carbohydrate-induced snooze of a lunchtime.

So, while I think I'll steer clear of the processed meat toppings and will certainly avoid its pizza pasta (yes, you guessed it, pizza topped with pasta), Dr Oetker's pizza mozzarella was certainly not the worst I've ever tried.

It doesn't beat a home-made version, though, and for anyone willing to put in a little extra effort, Jamie Oliver has a particularly good "cheat's pizza" recipe in his 30 Minute Meals book. In truth, it might take you 40 minutes to prepare, but it will still knock the socks off anything that comes out of a packet.