Pizza has always been an important part of my family’s culinary life, so I suppose it was inevitable that one day I would set a story in a pizza restaurant. One Summer in Rome, out on the 9th May, is set in Pizzeria Dolce Vita run by the friendly but secretive Rossi family. It was inspired by a restaurant I visited on holiday in Rome, in 2016. The food was delicious and we soon finished and wanted to order dessert. The waiter didn’t approve and said “Piano, piano,” – in other words, slow down and enjoy the eating experience. We’d been told!
But he had a point. Food isn’t just about food. It’s about sitting close and sharing, it’s about the laughter or confided problems that result from eating together. I grew up in a family unit that loved pizza and now have my own unit that is just as smitten – although to my disbelief it took quite a few years for youngest to get with the programme! I can still remember the first time my mother curiously brought a ready-made one home from the supermarket, in the 70s. Convenience foods were just taking off in Britain. We were all immediately hooked even though the simple ones produced for the British market, back then, tasted nothing like the real thing.
I was lucky enough to travel widely as a child and have warm memories of sitting outside European pizzerias in the dark, breathing in the aroma of oregano and tomato and watching chefs spin dough in the air. It all seemed very grown-up and exotic and I realised the ones we’d been eating back home were pale copies of the authentic thing. In 1980 we went to Florida – American burger and pizza restaurants still hadn’t taken off massively in the UK. We went to a well-known pizza chain and our eyes were on stalks at the size of the deep pan pizza we ordered.
Of course, over the years, takeaway and eat-out pizzas have become more sophisticated, offering toppings such as spinach or goat’s cheese. And these days we are well aware that we need to be making healthy choices. But I’m a firm believer in everything in moderation – exclude a food item and you’ll only crave it. Plus restaurants are adapting and one chain serves a light version with the middle cut out and filled with rocket.
One of the best pizzerias I have ever visited is in the South of France. Half way through the evening the chef started spinning dough bases in the air. Then to our surprise he threw them across the restaurant, like frisbees, for guests to catch and throw back! Many ended up stuck to the ceiling like badly tossed pancakes.
Pizza has been at the centre of many happy family moments. When we were living together, before getting married, my husband and I ran around 20 miles a week. We could eat what we wanted and at the time that meant four different takeaways a week. I have fond memories of getting home after a long run, showering and sitting devouring a large pizza together.
It’s a good reliable if guests turn up unexpectedly or someone’s not feeling well enough to cook. There’s no washing up afterwards and to contribute to your five-a-day you can get vegetables added on top. It’s the perfect good times treat that can easily be shared when getting together with family, friends and colleagues and it’s that warm sentiment that inspired One Summer in Rome‘s setting.
Pizza – the smell, the texture, the taste – is satisfying, convivial comfort food at its best and the perfect ingredient for a feel-good romance.