One of our large group, maybe on my suggestion, ordered an unusual pizza: “Sgombro, cipolla e burrata” as it is listed on the menu. Along with the mackerel in substantial pieces, it had buffalo mozzarella, burrata, mascarpone, halves of small perfectly ripe tomatoes, pickled red onions, pieces of basil and gratings of reserve Grana Padano cheese arrayed in nearly perfect circle of dough bounded by a high crown. There was not just fish on the pizza but in the traditionally thought-to-be-unholy in Italy combination of fish and cheese; fish and grated cheese, too.
I swapped a quarter of my pie for the sgrombo and company one. It was different, but not too different. The firm pieces of the mackerel were mild, so the pizza was not assertively and offputtingly fishy tasting like the cheap anchovy pizzas of my distant youth. That it was from an establishment of a top chef and in a city known for its seafood in restaurants, helped ensure that the fish was of good quality. The bit of acidity from the pickled onions and fresh tomatoes provided a nice complement to the fish – though I might have liked a lemon wedge on the side for some more of that – and the trio of different cheeses rounded out the flavors going with the fairly sturdy crust.
That wasn’t the only fish on pizza during the recent two weeks in northeastern Italy. Just across the autostrada from Soave where we spent a terrific day tasting wine is San Bonifacio, home of I Tigli, the fourth best pizzeria in all of Italy according to the reputable and useful 50 Top Pizza, which, unfortunately, did not fit into the schedule that evening or another. It has long served a Polenta and Baccalà pizza, a version of the popular regional appetizer, whipped salted cod over polenta. Among the fifty or so pizzas at the excellent Al Cantonet in Conegliano that I stumbled into one night were four seafood-topped ones. A couple with swordfish carpaccio and a couple others with shrimp including that surprisingly named Tony Esposito also with pesto, tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t have anything like that when he was expertly tending goal for the Hawks in the Chicago Stadium, or on the road for that matter.
I was surprised to encounter fish on pizzas during this trip, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. Fish on pizza, at least in a tamer and more famous form, has been around for forty years, ever since Wolfgang Puck put smoked salmon along with crème fraiche and caviar on a pizza for the actress Joan Collins on the road to stardom.