I must admit I knew about Franco Manca for almost two years before visiting for the first time last week. It’s not that I don’t like pizza or that Chiswick (or Brixton) is very far from where I live. What happened is that since I’ve moved to the UK I have not yet encountered a decent pizza, let alone a decent Italian pizza (there is an exception to this – an amazing butternut squash and caramelised onion pizza at bar room bar in Birmingham two years ago… unfortunately it was a special and I never tasted it again)*. I mean I lived in Brussels for almost ten years where Italian restaurants and amazing simple pizzas are a common sight in every neighbourhood. Even in Lisbon, a place not wildly known for its breadth of Italian restaurants, I can direct you to at least 3 very good pizzerias. And so… after three years of failing to find any good pizzas, I had kind of forgotten about it. The other day, while shopping around Chiswick High Road I passed Franco Manca and saw lots of people having what seemed like great pizza in their outside tables. My faith in pizza was almost restored and I decided to come back later in the week… and I am so happy I did.
We were greeted by a huge pizza oven and hams and garlic hanging from the ceiling and were seated quickly. We started with the two panouzzi (flame baked bread) – one with Serrano ham from Brindisa and the other with artichokes, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes. While the ingredients were fresh and incredibly tasty the bread was more flame than baked. However, I think I would have this again just for the toppings. This was followed by a glass of Madregalo Rosso (a combination of Sangiovese and Montepulciano, two of my favourite grapes) which was very good – if a bit too light – and great value at £3.30. We quickly moved on the main event of the night, the pizza…
Mr Salted Cod went for a tasty Ham, Mushroom, Ricotta and Mozzarella pizza, while I stuck with more classic flavours in what can only be described as puttanesca on a pizza – olives, capers, anchovies and tomato – with the addition of mozzarella. As you can see in the picture this pizza ticks all the ‘perfect pizza’ boxes: fresh and simple ingredients, puffy crust, charred bits and thin base. My ‘puttanesca-like’ pizza was incredible – a perfect mix of salty from the anchovies and olives and sweet from the tomato sauce and the cheese. While I liked the other pizza too, I prefer to stick to more classic flavours when it comes to a tomato-based pizza (I just think it goes better with the sauce). On top of this, this pizzas tick the extra ‘perfect pizza’ box, price! At less than £7 each this is what I expect a pizza to be – fresh ingredients, thin crust and an acceptable price tag, just like in Italy, Belgium or Portugal. So thank you Franco Manca for restoring my faith in pizza in the UK – I feel like this will become my local.
Franco Manca Chiswick
144 Chiswick High Road
Rating: 9 meatballs out of 10.
*Also I must admit that I have had some very good pizzas from
Osteria Basilico, but these are quite expensive and I only have them as a takeaway so don’t really count as a great pizza.
EDIT: Osteria Basilico and Basilico the delivery service are not the same, sorry for the misunderstanding.
Today I will be hosting a dinner at my house with, amongst others, Miss Meatball herself as my guest. Therefore, today you are getting both a recipe and a review of the meal. This post should be called: how to make a perfect pizza, then go on to burn your friend’s finger, destroy your oven, cook pizza in a frying pan with a wok on top, and then revive the oven and make really good pizzas again. So, skip the burning your friend/destroying the oven bit and make really easy home-made pizza.
- Self-raising flour (good flour!)
- Warm water
- Olive Oil
This pizza dough needs to rise for a few hours, so it’s best made the night before or the day before, you want it to rise as much as you can. I don’t really measure anything for this recipe and just kind of add as I go. You should probably be doing something like 200g of flour and 30cl of water for about two big pizzas, but it’s easier to measure it by looking at it. So you start by putting the flour in a bowl and making a little hole in the middle. Then you start adding the warm water, little by little and mixing in the flour and the water with a wooden spoon. Do this until the dough is mixed and can be kneaded with your hands.
Move to a dry surface and knead for 10 mins, adding salt little by little so it mixes well in the dough while you’re kneading. Form the dough into a ball-shape and rub olive oil all over. Put it a bowl which has previously been rubbed with olive oil, cover with a tea towel or any fabric you have in hand and let it rest for a minimum of three hours. While the dough is rising go buy some toppings and start making some tomato sauce. Our first pizza was made of tomato sauce, parma ham, caramelised onions and goats cheese, so I’ll give the recipe for the sauce and the caramelised onions.
For the sauce you will need:
- 1 tin of good quality chopped/whole tomatoes (if you’re a student like me it’s a good idea to buy them in bulk when they’re on a deal at your local supermarket as it really makes a difference to have good quality tinned tomatoes).
- half a glass of red wine (plus more to drink while you’re making the sauce).
- olive oil
- garlic, finely chopped (as much as you wish, I usually go for three cloves).
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- good quality tomato paste (they have some really good ones in waitrose, and they last forever).
- salt & pepper
Start by chopping the onions and frying them in a little bit of olive oil, on a medium temperature, for about 10 mins until they become soft. Add the chopped garlic, turn the heat up a bit and fry, while constantly stirring (so the garlic doesn’t burn) for about 3 minutes, just enough for the garlic to release its flavour. Turn the heat up a bit more, add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Add the chopped tomatoes, half a glass of water, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to very low, put a cover on and simmer for as long as you can. Season with salt and pepper, and maybe add a bit of sugar if the sauce tastes too acidic. This sauce gets better with time, so ideally you want to cook it for 1h30 hours. You can also double or triple the recipe and freeze it. While the sauce is bubbling on the side you can start making the caramelised onions.
You will need:
- 3 red or yellow onions, or shallots if you’re feeling fancy (white onions don’t really work)
- A non-stick pan
- Olive oil
- some balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze (this is optional).
Start by chopping the onions into strips, it doesn’t need to look perfect. Fry them in olive oil on a high/medium heat for 5 minutes then lower the heat to the slowest setting on your hob and let it cook by itself, stirring from time to time. You can add the balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze to accelerate the process or you can just let it cook until it looks dark and well caramelised on its own.
When all this is done and the dough has doubled in size, you can start kneading again (or you can find someone with strong arms and hands aka. Miss Meatball herself to do it for you). Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then you need to start rolling the dough using a rolling pin (or an old wine bottle if you’re a lazy student like me). Roll it as thin as you can and transfer it to a sheet of tin foil. Your oven should be heated up to its maximum temperature, to simulate the heat of a pizza oven (although, if you have an oven like mine, it might overheat and die after half an hour, leaving you to make pizza on a frying pan and burning your friend’s hand in the process).
Start spreading the tomato sauce and add your toppings, leaving the cheese for last so it melts on top of everything. Now you can either put it in like that or fold it to make a calzone. Leave it in the oven until it’s crispy and all the toppings look cooked/melted. Serve with lots of wine and special Belgian beers 🙂
Now Miss Meatball’s review: This dough and sauce was delicious, so I am only going to comment on it by saying that this will be my dough recipe of choice for making home-made pizza next time. The sauce was dark and rich, and the dough resulted in thin, crispy beauties coming out of the oven (albeit in a asymmetrical sense perhaps). My favourite topping was the first mix, as the smooth goats cheese went so well against the salty crispiness of the parma ham and the sweetness of the caramelised onions. Drizzling a little bit of truffle oil on top of it made it the winner by me. However, the other guests seemed keener on the calzone with chorizo and lots and lots of mozzarella. It being in the shape of a calzone made it gooey and sumptuous and not the slightest dry. All in all, lovely thin pizzas. And making them provided us with plenty of action and entertainment.