Words and photos by Tania Mauri

Fabio Ciriaci and his love of dough have made Gusto Madre an essential and sought out destination for pizza lovers. Located in Alba, Piemonte, a centre of artisan and world famous foods from hazelnut spread to cheese, chocolate spread to Barolo wines and white truffles. These are typical products of the Langhe, of which the city Alba is among the best ambassadors. Chef Ciriaci operates his pizzeria in the historic center where he prepares, with passion and enthusiasm, a tightly curated range of gourmet pizza.

Born in 1987 and raised in the same northern Italian region where he now lives and works Ciriaci’s passion for cooking was inherited from his grandmother, Elvira, a great family cook. At the age of 14, attending the Hotel Management School in Turin and thanks to his teacher Renato Crivello, he came to understood that cooking was his world and started working as an assistant cook in several restaurants across the French Riviera, the Costa Smeralda and Milan at the restaurant Aimo e Nadia.

But is was while working in the kitchen of the Turin-based Dolce Stil Novo restaurant with chef Alfredo Russo at the helm that his focus and interest shifted to the creativity of making pastry. Before long, Ciriaci moved and gained experience working as a pastry chef at Baratti & Milano and then at Eataly Torino where he was entrusted with the role of managing the pastry of Luca Montersino. After a year and a half he started working in Montersi’s Golosi di Salute laboratory as production manager. It was here that he invented and patented a vegetable fat, a substitute for butter and margarine based on rice oil and cocoa butter, which is still available to buy under the brand name of Risolì.

Around this time his passion for about sourdough with all its nuances and flavours began to take shape. During this time he met his wife Francesca, with whom he now manages Gusto Madre, with who he fashioned the concept of offering a contemporary pizzeria experience, synonymous with the search for simple and authentic tastes. The passion for pastry and the familiarity he acquired in the use of sourdough led him to create light, digestible and tasty doughs thanks to the use of different flours and new blends. Diners at Gusto Madre are offered pizza in six different formats. Firstly Sei Friabile, a reinterpretation of the traditional Roman focaccia, is made with  whole grain flour giving the finished pizza added crumbliness and the aroma of toasted wheat. Sei Soffice has a soft dough which enhances the pristine taste of the five grains that make it up – whole rye, buckwheat, wheat and two varieties of spelt flour.

The Sei Croccante pizza is another interpretion of the classic Roman-style focaccia but his time made with Ostenga, an indigenous  and an increasingly rare variety of white corn flour from Piemonte, which gives the final pizza a delicious, lingering after taste and crunchiness; Sei Infinita, a crunchy 50 cm oblong slice of pizza, is generous enough for two people to share. The Sei Classica is made with live sourdough given plenty of time to ferment, 100% Italian wheat flour and stone-ground rich in fibre, while the sixth pizza on offer, the Sei Autentica, is made by spontaneous fermentation and 100% spelt flour.

Raw materials are selected also for the seasonings, ranging from the classics to the most imaginative and creative, such as the Sei Soffice Giovenca Black Angus (recipe below!). Here the dough is covered with seed for a crunchy effect enhancing both the high quality Angus beef sourced from Piedmont, along with the raclette cheese and vegetables. If this dish would be presented in a blind tasting, the diner might believe they were eating an excellent cheeseburger, accompanied with by a side dish of Jerusalem artichokes which could be easily be mistaken for French fries.

With Ciriaci’s training in pastry cooking the desserts you can expect a delicious choice of final dishes. Here, he has dedicated a whole dessert menu based on novel twists on traditional Italian favourites such as Cream Caramel with lemon cream and a pistachio waffle.

A new father, Ciriaci is not hanging around and is planning a food laboratory and test kitchen with a focus on creating high quality pastries.

Sei soffice con burger di Giovenca Black Angus

For the dough

600 g organic type 0 flour

50 g organic whole wheat rye flour

50 g organic whole wheat spelt flour

100 g organic Enkir flour

100 g organic spelt flour

6 g brewer’s yeast

600 g water

Dissolve the yeast in the water and knead all the ingredients in the mixer for 2 minutes obtaining a rough dough, place in an oiled container and mature for 20 hours at 4°C.

For the sourdough

150 g organic type 0 flour

50 g organic buckwheat flour

90 g water

20 g liquid mother yeast

1 g sweet Cervia salt

Dissolve the mother yeast in water and knead all the ingredients for 4 minutes obtaining a rough dough, place in an oiled container and mature for 16 hours at 18°C

For the final dough

50 g 0 organic flour

20 g water

5 g malt powder

35 g extra virgin olive oil

20 g sweet salt from Cervia

200 mixed seeds

Combine the 2 pre-doughs, add the flour, the malt and mix until a smooth dough is obtained, finally add the water and salt and immediately after the oil mix again for 2 minutes. Let the dough rest for 1 hour, then form the 180 g balls and let it rise for 90m minutes. Gently spread the dough directly on the seeds so as to make them adhere well to the dough, up to a diameter of 16 / 18cm place in a oiled pan and let rise for about 2 and a half hours. Turn the dough upside down on the table and bake directly on the stone in the oven at 260°C for about 6 minutes.

To serve (per portion)

200 g of Black Angus beef burger from Piedmont

50 g of smoked raclette

Radicchio, to taste

Confit cherry tomatoes, to taste

Carrot ketchup, to taste

Fried Jerusalem artichokes, to taste Cook the meat about a minute and a half on each side and insert inside the sandwich. Add the raclette cheese, radicchio, confit cherry tomatoes and carrot ketchup on top. In the center of the plate lay the previously sliced and fried Jerusalem artichok