A slice of home
On the tiny volcanic island of Salina, a new outpost of a small British pizza empire makes ebullient use of the wealth of local produce from land and sea. Rose Prince joins the fun. Photographs by Jasper Fry
The British firm that has taken pizzas back to Italy
ONLY A HANDFUL OF restaurants overlook the seafront on the Via Marina Garibaldi in Lingua, one of the few villages on the Aeolian island of Salina. Among them is Da Alfredo, famous for granita – made with figs, peaches, melons, mulberries, citrus fruits or even pistachios – which has been here since 1968. ‘It’s perfect, isn’t it? Granita is just what you want to eat after pizza, so it is fantastic to have this place beside our restaurant,’ says Giuseppe Mascoli, who this summer opened a pizzeria, Franco Manca, in the shop next door.
Recognise the name? Franco Manca is a hugely successful British chain, founded by Mascoli in 2008 in a small unit in Brixton Market, south London. The former e conomics le cturer, a Neapolitan, brought the true wood-fired organic sourdough pizzas of his birthplace to Londoners, starting a mini
empire that, as Franco Manca’s 10th anniversary approaches, now boasts 40 restaurants and is still growing.
Bringing the restaurant to Italy has been on Mascoli’s mind since he bought a farm in Malfa, a short drive – or boat ride – around the coast from Lingua, three years ago. Salina, the location for Michael Radford’s Oscar-winning 1994 film, Il Postino, is one of eight islands in the Aeolian archipelago north of Sicily, two of which, Stromboli and Vulcano, have active volcanoes. It is a land and seascape of great drama: black volcanic rock and sand, and dark, inky-blue sea – viridian at the shore.
Salina’s own green peaks were once volcanoes, and the island’s highly fertile lower slopes, reaching down to the sea, are furred with wild plants including prickly pear, chestnut, wild fennel and – vital to the island – caper bushes, whose unique, extra-plump buds are known as the best in Italy.
‘The Salina caper is much larger than others – it is a different plant, special to the island,’ says Mascoli. ‘I took some of the buds apart to understand why, and saw that each one contains two flowers, rather than one.’ Few of the buds will open into the pink-white, whiskery flowers, however, as they are harvested in May, before being preserved in sea salt. You eat a lot of capers in Salina, in p e sto made with wild fennel and almonds, with tomato and mint, with fresh fish, octopus and potatoes.
Naturally capers star on the pizzas at Franco Manca. So we go back to Lingua, where the familiar Franco Manca sign, painted blue (‘it is a colour I have seen on broken boats in the harbour’), stands
out. The restaurant’ s exterior and interior, like those of many Salina houses, are a brilliant white. In the air hangs that most captivating s cent, burning embers and burnished wheat flour. At the back, a dome houses the wood oven, built by a team from Sorrento, which reaches temperatures above 500C. ‘They tell me some of the stone came from a Roman quarry, so there is antiquity in this new oven,’ says Mas co lit he academic, delighted. Outside, the chairs and tables are topped with recycled wood from old boats, and a large white canvas sail provides shade. Launched in June, the pizzeria has found a following, among both tourists and locals. Nearby, Mascoli parks his 1970 Fiat 500, with his motto on the bonnet: ‘Make pizza not war.’
As for his ingredients, it is a matter of ‘local if doable’. In Salina everything is Italian, and mostly from the island. Mascoli produces tomatoes for the pizzeria on his own land with the help of Sicilian grower Biagio Rantuccio. ‘Water is in very short supply on Salina, so we decided to never irrigate the seccagno tomato bushes. You can see how small the plants and the tomatoes are, but taste them – they have a very, very intense flavour,’ says Mascoli.
‘ People here eat almost no meat, so we use fish caught here instead,’ he says. I try a‘ white ’( no tomato) pizza with swordfish, anchovy and mozzarella, astonished at the sublime way the melted cheese melds with briefly cooked, silky swordfish, how fresh it tastes. The daily menu of six pizzas plus one special is the story of the island’ s food, beginning with
Franco Manca’s pizza with tomato, nepetella and baked ricotta (recipe overleaf)