Italy invented the pizza.
By a mile – by several miles in fact – it’s the country’s favourite fast food, and pretty well wherever in Italy you might find yourself, you’re probably no more than a few minutes from the local pizzeria.
Or several of them.
In my quest for hard facts, I actually Googled: “How many pizzeria in Italy ?”
Google couldn’t answer. Probably couldn’t count that high.
Anyway, you get the general picture. There are a lot.
So when Gambero Rosso – Italy’s equivalent of ‘The Good Food Guide’ – decides that from this huge array, one of our very own local pizza places is among just seven in the entire country it rates as ‘Best Pizzeria of 2016’…
…and when it’s the only one in all Abruzzo to get a maximum 3-star rating…
…and when one of the offerings on the menu gets a special award as Italy’s ’Pizza of the Year’…
…it clearly merits urgent investigation.
Tucked away in a residential side-street about half-an-hour from us in Guardiagrele is La Sorgente.
Outside – deceptively normal. Inside – anything but.
And this is where it starts getting difficult, because in answer to the question, “What makes pizza at La Sorgente so special ?” the answer is because you might not recognise or regard much of what you find on the menu as pizza at all.
Or maybe they technically are pizza – but confound everything you’ve ever believed what a pizza should look like, and taste like, by presenting you with something absolutely and deliciously unlike anything called ‘pizza’ you’ve ever eaten before.
Rather than tie myself up in verbal knots and confuse you even more by trying to explain further, let me show you some pictures – which, of course are worth a thousand words…
We went to La Sorgente with our American friends Kurt and Lauren; and David and Britta, which allowed us to give full rein to greedy fantasies by having a tasting of five different pizza, and allowing our waiter to make the choice on our behalf.
And in the order in which they were served – one at a time – here’s what we had…
Number 1 was called ‘Roman Street Food’ and right away you can see it looks nothing like what you might call a ‘regular pizza’. Instead, here were slices of the lightest, crispiest, flakiest ciabatta with a filling of home-made porchetta – a traditional Abruzzo classic – tomato and onion.
This was the evening’s first surprise. Pizza ? Really ? From first taste, a dawning realisation that here was something out-of-the-ordinary and special…
Number 2. Ah ! A real pizza ! But with the twist of a base made of an ancient Italian wholewheat flour called Farro, topped with cheese and leeks. Just by looking at the golden-edges of the crust, you can tell how crispy and savoury it is.
I should’ve made a note of what type of cheese it was. Sorry. I didn’t. I’m thinking some kind of buffalo mozzarella. If a cheesey-oniony taste combo appeals – you’ll love this. We certainly did.
Number 3. Riempizza Ventricina. Another ciabatta, cunningly hollowed-out and filled with ventricina – a spicy Abruzzo salami – with rocket and ricotta flavoured with citrus and saffron. Also on the platter little discs of ventricina, ricotta, rocket and tomato. Normally in this kind of arrangement, you’d find the centre portions well-filled, with the two ends getting a bit short-changed. Not so here. The filling generously and democratically spread over the entire length.
Creamy, lemony ricotta and ventricina is an inspired pairing.
Number 4. The only thing we tasted that was a bit so-so. Definitely not for you if you – like me – don’t much like fatty meat, but this was so thinly sliced; so similar to another delicious abruzzese fatty treat called lardo; so redolent of tangy woodsmoke; and on a focaccia base of such crispness, that a bite or two seemed not that much of a risk.
Pretty sure the idea was for the heat of the freshly-baked base to melt/soften the fat a little and release aroma and flavour, which kind-of worked, but not sufficiently to turn a bite or two into three or four. An experimental slice was interesting though…
And so to Number 5. The star of the show. And not surprisingly, for this was the famed La Provocazione – ‘Provocation’ – according to Gambero Rosso, the best pizza in all Italy you’ll find this year.
And to be honest, if there is a better pizza anywhere out there, I’d like to try it, because this was superlatively good.
Smoked buffalo mozzarella; a little red onion; a little ventricina; a shard or two of fennel; a sprinkle of very finely-chopped almonds; and the merest drizzle of orange blossom honey. An amazing combo of taste and texture.
Take a look at how thin the base is; and you can see how crispy the crust is too. Why is it called ‘Provocation’ ? Guessing, perhaps it’s perhaps because it challenges the normal idea of what a pizza should be like.
‘Temptation’ might’ve been better, but if they’re happy with ‘Provocation’ – fine by me.
I snaffled two slices. OK – three. Bloggers license…
Oh…and dessert. Chocolate. Wrapped around a pistacchio-crumb base; a dinky little chocolate name tag; and you see that cream-coloured disc stuck in the top ? That’s white chocolate and salted caramel.
Pauline ordered this and I had a taste. Quite a big taste in fact.
So. End of meal. Sit back and reflect. Do toppings/fillings on anything other than the traditional flat, round base really count as ‘pizza’ ?
Bearing in mind that many pizzeria – at least round here – do also offer filled, oven-baked ciabatta and foccacia – which after all, are both just flour/water/yeast-based variants – I’d certainly say yes.
And if you’re happy to accept that premise, will you be equally happy to accept taste combinations in the toppings you’ll never have come across before – a zillion times removed from what you might be used to in a ‘normal’ pizzeria ?
And will you be happy to pay for the pleasure ? Our tasting selections came from the ‘gourmet’ range, and while La Sorgente’s take on ‘regular’ pizza are available too, you’re going to be paying more than you’d normally expect.
How much more ? Round here, I’d usually expect to pay €25-30 for a couple of pizza, with wine/beer. Our bill La Sorgente worked out at €46 per couple.
And to put that into context, that’s around what you’d expect to pay in this part of southern Abruzzo for a three-course meal for two with wine in a good standard local restaurant.
But not for a pizza…
Of course you don’t have to have the tasting menu. Limiting your choice might knock €5-10 of your bill. But not much more.
One factor I would take issue with is that there’s no house wine available by the litre/half-litre. It’s bottle only. And a quick glance at the wine list seemed to indicate that the cheapest bottle was €12.
Beer’s pricey too – a small, 0.2L glass is €4; a large 0.4L glass – about a pint – is €8. Which is hefty for a pleasant, though hardly outstanding, Forst Draft. However, draft beer is available by the jug, (which to be honest, never occurred to me to ask for), and which is probably better value.
Would you be prepared to pay this kind of money for a pizza, no matter how good ?
Maybe not on a regular basis, but the offerings here are so inventive; so skilfully prepared; and – and here’s the bottom line – so astonishingly and delightfully delicious, that the humble pizza is lifted into the realm of fine dining.
Not something you’d necessarily want every time you went out for a meal, but a definite contender when you fancied something a bit special.
And La Sorgente is just that…