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Crimes against pizza – 2. Copha Pizza

4 Nov

I don’t know about you but when I see the words “Real Italian Pizza” I don’t expect them to be followed by “made in minutes – with Copha!”

Real Italian Pizza made with Copha

It’s not that I object to that greasy white slab of 100% fat. Copha does have a place in society – and that’s hardening the young ‘uns arteries in party treats like chocolate crackles and white Christmas. It certainly should not be in pizza dough, especially not with Deb Instant Potato Flakes and 1 cup of boiling milk. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s not just wrong, it’s, well, criminal:

Crime number 2: Copha Pizza

Accomplice: Australian Women’s Weekly (for all the good AWW has done for Australian food, they’ve certainly done their fair share of bad…)

Date of crime: Wednesday 24th April 1968

Motive: With 97 – 100% saturated fat, surely it’s to make more of us have heart attacks. And sell more copha. And sell more Deb Instant Potato Flakes.

Modus Operandi:

Neapolitan Pizza

DOUGH:
3 oz. Copha, chopped
1 level tspn. salt
1 cup (8 oz.) boiling milk
¾ cup Deb Instant Potato Flakes
1 egg
2 cups S.R flour
TOPPING:
1 large tomato chopped
1 x 5 oz. can Rosella Tomato Paste
1 level tspn. each of salt, basil, oregano
1 can anchovy fillets
6 olives
3 tblspns grated Picorino (sic) cheese

METHOD

DOUGH: Place Copha, salt and boiling milk into a basin and stir until Copha is melted. Mix through Deb Flakes. Cool. Beat in egg, then flour and form a dough. Knead lightly on a floured board, divide into six portions. Press out each portion of dough thinly until it is 5” diameter. Place onto greased oven tray. Spread with topping and decorate with anchovy fillets, sliced olives and cheese. Bake in a hot oven (500°F, electric, 450°F gas) for 15 minutes.

TOPPING: Place tomato, tomato paste, salt and herbs into a saucepan. Heat together for 3 minutes, cool.

Evidence: Instructions for Copha Pizza

Pizza made with Copha

Verdict: Guilty of six counts of perverting the integrity of pizza – use of Copha, use of Instant mashed potatoes, use of the words “Real Italian Pizza”, calling the recipe “Neapolitan pizza”, incorrect spelling of pecorino (picorino) and claiming the dish to be “delizioso”.

Sentence: Chocolate crackles should not have to pay the price for this crime so the sentence is suspended on condition of never seeing Copha claiming a place in a regional Italian recipe ever again. Or any recipe outside of chocolate crackles and white Christmas, for that matter.

See more Crimes against pizza

Bibliography:

  • “Real Italian Pizza made in minutes – with Copha!” Australian Women’s Weekly,  24th April 1968, p 64.

Crimes against pizza – 1. Vita Brits Pizza

2 Nov
Vita Brits Pizza

Vita Brits Pizza - A criminal act?

For too long now, the pizza – that most humble of Neapolitan inventions – has been the target of overzealous recipe writers, “creative” chefs and idiot advertising types who think it is best made with canned dough and served with teriyaki sauce, chicken, pineapple, and both fetta and cheddar cheese.

While there have been many moves to defend the pizza, mostly from Italians concerned that their culinary heritage is being destroyed, little has been done to name and shame the worst perpetrators of these horrifying and indecent acts.

Over the next few weeks, this special Lamingtons & Lasagna investigation promises to open cold cases where the rights of the pizza were trampled over, its victim impact statement never heard. Until now, that is.

While Lamingtons & Lasagna does not advocate a return to culinary luddism – where what was authentic was sometimes even deadly – the “pizzas” in this series have jumped the shark, or, as the kids these days might say, nuked the fridge, from imaginative interpretations to crimes against cuisine.

So, without further ado:

Crime number 1: Vita Brits Pizza

Accomplice: Australian Women’s Weekly

Date of crime: Wednesday 15 October 1958

Motive: There’s only so much money a company can make selling breakfast food for breakfast. But if they give you “delicious, new round-the-clock recipes” which mean you can enjoy “different and delicious luncheon or supper treats”, then they can make a lot more money.

Modus Operandi: “Butter VITA BRITS (use one or two VITA BRITS per serve) and place them on a greased oven tray. Place thin slices of cheese on each VITA BRIT. Cover this with a little well-drained tinned tomato, or peeled fresh tomato slices. Season with salt and pepper and top with another thin slice of cheese; dot with a very little butter. Bake in moderate oven about 10 minutes or until cheese has melted and slightly browned. If desired anchovies may be added (one fillet for each serve).”

Evidence: Vita Brits Pizza

Verdict: Guilty

Sentence: Never eat Vita Brits again (which is fine, because I prefer Weet-Bix anyway).

See more Crimes against pizza

Bibliography:

  • “Delicious, new round the clock recipes.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 October 1958, 75.

A recipe for ravioli…

26 Sep

For kicks these days, I spend a lot of time looking for Italian recipes in Australian cookbooks. The one below comes from the 1961 edition of the P.W.M.U. Cookery Book. It left me asking one question. Read it, and see if you can figure out what that question was:

Ravioli

1lb. rissole steak, 1 cup diced celery, 1 chopped onion, 1 dessertspoon curry powder.

Heat a dessertspoon of oil and fry onion. Add curry powder, salt and pepper. Add steak and brown a little. Add 8 oz. tin tomato soup, celery and flavourings. Cook 1 cup spaghetti and add. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

The question, dear readers, is why? Why on earth is this recipe titled ‘Ravioli’? If ravioli, in its broadest definition, can be described as a stuffed pasta, this recipe is just, well, stuffed…

Bibliography

  • Jenkins, Gwen, Hanna, Betty, McMillan, Muriel and Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Victoria P.W.M.U. cookery book (Rev., enl., redesigned and completely reset ed). Melbourne: Cheshire, 1961.

What Elizabeth David told us Aussies…

14 Sep

In 1953, the great Elizabeth David – she who introduced the wonders of Italian food to the heavily fish and chip-dependent Brits  –  had some advice for Australians.

In a fabulously named article  – “A new ‘Mrs Beeton,’ but she likes garlic” – David sings the praises of snails smothered in butter made with, well, garlic,  talks about the upcoming publication of her book Italian Food and shares some Australia-specific thoughts with the Courier-Mail correspondent, who, diligently, went looking for the local angle, no doubt to please his editor back in Brisbane. Anyway, here’s what she had to say about us:

  1.  She is flattered by the volume of fan mail from Australians but is “stumped” by the questions that come with it, often about substitutions for different ingredients. I can imagine those  letters …“Dear Mrs David, Can I substitute witchetty grubs for snails…”
  2. “She thinks Australians are on the right track in adopting minestrone from Italian migrants as almost an Australian national dish.” News to me that we almost did this, and had I been the Courier-Mail correspondent I would’ve asked where she got her national dish information from. A Gallup poll perhaps? Roy Morgan?
  3. “Mrs. David hopes the Australian housewife is using plenty of wine in her cooking. In a major wine producing country it would be a sin to exclude it from the kitchen, she says.” We might have been a wine producing country but in 1953 we were still serious wowsers, with 6 o’clock closing enforced in most pubs around the country and wine drinkers looked on with suspicion.
  4. “She says the French learned cooking from the Italians and that everybody else should do likewise.” And that, dear readers, is something I can’t argue with at all…

Bibliography

  • “A new “Mrs Beeton,” but she likes garlic,” The Courier-Mail,  26 October 1953, 8.

Australian ricotta – Part 1

25 Feb

Some people understand the cost of living by the price of bread or milk or McDonald’s hamburgers. For me, it’s ricotta. A staple in my kitchen, I could not live without the stuff. Fresh, soft and still warm, I cannot resist scooping a few teaspoonfuls out of the container while I’m putting away the shopping. Days later, I’ll eat it with jam or honey on toast, with spinach in a pie, on spaghetti with eggplant and tomato, or stirred through pasta, made into a sauce with a bit of hot water, a handful of parmesan, a grating of nutmeg and a sprinkle of pepper. Comfort food at its best.

 But back to the index. When I lived in Leichhardt, in Sydney’s inner west, I used to buy ricotta for around $7.99 a kilo.

Later, when married life saw me move to the food wasteland that is Maroubra Beach, I had to make the admittedly-short journey to Maroubra Junction where I paid a shocking $10.99 a kilo.

Still, I realised I was better off than the poor ricotta-ripped off in Manly who were paying $15.99 a kilo. As for David Jones, in the city, they were suffering and continue to suffer similar stupid prices for a product that is not even a cheese – rather it’s a by-product of it.

In Melbourne, my home town, at the much loved Footscray Market, you can get it for $4.99 a kilo. And that, right there, is why I’m moving back to Melbourne.

All of this, however, got me thinking about when this most versatile of dairy products made its debut in the great brown land of Australia.

 The first mention of it I have found is in Tasmania’s daily newspaper, The Mercury, in 1930. In a short account of Christmas in Rome, the author describes the meal on Christmas Day as starting with soup:

…in which there are “cappelletti”, little cases of macaroni in the shape of hats, which contain a mixture of meat, brains, and “ricotta”, a kind of cream cheese.

It’s not till 1943 that there’s evidence of my favourite whey-based product for sale. The Cairns Post features an ad for Brightways Grocery where I would’ve been able to pick up 2 pounds of ricotta for sixpence. I’m not sure where that would sit on the index today, but what is surprising is that ricotta sits amongst the not-very-Italian ingredients of gooseberry jam, beetroot and the mysterious-sounding luncheon beef.

Perhaps the reason this ad wasn’t more targeted at the small Italian population of North Queensland was because many Italians there had either just been released from internment following Italy’s surrender to the Allies, or they were still incarcerated. Either way, anti-Italian sentiment in Queensland was running high.

 By 1954, however, back in Tasmania, it’s all about the Italians. A classified ad in The Mercury reads:

AAAAAA. TELL YOUR ITALIAN FRIENDS we have now BACCALA, Coppa, Bologna, Salame, Ricotta, Olio, Polenta. THE PANTRY, 37 Elizabeth St.

In the 1960s, ricotta became an ingredient that was featured in the odd Australian Women’s Weekly recipe, usually with the caveat that it could be substituted with either cottage cheese or cream cheese.

Publication in the Weekly generally means you’ve made it into the mainstream but in 1966, the Australian Dairy Produce Board thought the public still needed to be educated about the cheese and, maybe more importantly, where it’s from. An ad for “Australian ricotta” went something like this:

Ricotta ad

This ad appeared below an advertorial recipe for Heavenly Cheese Cake, which featured creamed cottage cheese, on 28 December 1966 in the Australian Women's Weekly.

The preoccupation with making sure the public understood that ricotta was now Australian continued into the late 60s. In a 1968 cookbook add-on about cheese again in the Australian Women’s Weekly, ricotta is one of many cheeses featured. Its provenance is given as “Italy” and we are told it cost “about 50 to 60 cents per lb”, however we are also told that it was one of many cheeses that used to be imported but was now made in Australia.

I find it quite hard to believe ricotta was ever imported, as it’s a fresh and highly perishable cheese. But if the bible of Australian womanhood says it is so, then it must be so:

cheeses of the world

Ricotta cheese is in the top left corner behind the glass of cottage cheese in this editorial spread from The Cheese Cook Book, an add-on to the Australian Women's Weekly on October 9,1968.

This brings us up to the 1970s which brought us flares, punk rock and a constitutional crisis. But you’ll have to wait for Part 2 to find out what happens next in ricotta’s journey from a cheese for the eye-talians to a common ingredient many of us eat and cook with all the time. Bet you can’t wait, right?

“Christmas at Rome.” The Mercury,5  February,1930, 4.
“Brightways Cairns.” Cairns Post, 30 September, 1943, 2.
“AAAAAA. TELL YOUR ITALIAN FRIENDS.” The Mercury, 14 January 1954,19. 
“Heavenly Cheese Cake.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 28 December 1966, 6.
“Cheese adds that gourmet touch.” in The Cheese Cook Book in The Australian Women’s Weekly, October 9, 1968, p 2-15.

Dago tucker

21 Feb
Pasta

Aussie diggers wanted mutton over this...

In 1941, here’s how The Mail in South Australia saw Italian food and, as an extension of that, Italians themselves:

Dago Tucker

Australian troops in Libya have been solving the mysteries of Italian cuisine, and making queer dishes of Parmesan cheese, spaghetti, tomato extract, and olive oil from captured enemy stores. Because of water shortage, a soldier was seen bathing in Italian mineral water. —Cable.

In Libya da Aussies still pusha ahead,
Dey play a so well in da ruck,
Dey racea da transport like fasta da ped’
So turn to da Itala tuck’.
Spa water dey usea to hava da wash,
Da soap mixa up wid da fizz,
But somea dem maka da faces, by gosh,
When come to da catering biz.
Dey try on da tummy such queera da dish,
For mum’s kinda cooking dey certainly wish.

Dey gobble up yardsa da finest spaghett’,
When food in da dixie dey boil,
But people afraida dat some of dem get
Too mucha da oliva oil.
It might make ’em slippy, like Itala chaps,
If plenta da loota dey seize,
And breatha da digger it smella, perhaps,
Too mucha of Parmesan cheese,
Dey chew up da menus of Naples or Rome,
Bat rather have grub from da kitchen at home.
ANTONIO DI SEEBEE

In 2009, The Age reported the results of the BIS Shrapnel report Fast Food in Australia:

Italian was the most preferred cuisine in Victoria and South Australia. Thai food was No. 1 in NSW. For all other states and territories, Chinese was either top or equal top. Australian, English or traditional food came in fifth at 13 per cent, after Indian, Sri Lankan or Pakistani food at 17 per cent.

It did take 68 years, a World War and an immigration boom, but Australians these days, in the words of  eloquent poet Antonio di Seebee, no longer “rather have grub from da kitchen at home”.

“Dago Tucker.” The Mail, 8 February, 1941, 7.
Cauchi,
Stephen, “Italian fare to the fore in time of fiscal crisis.” The Age,  April 26, 2009, 13.