Roberto Caporuscio, one of the partners-pizzaiolos at Kesté Pizza & Vino in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, led a Neapolitan pizza-making class last night. Before he began punching dough balls and spreading tomato sauce, he went over the basics. Naples is a couple hours south of Rome, and "the pizza from there is not better, it's just different." He gave us a little history on the famous Naples-originating Margherita pizza, which we were about to bake in the Kesté oven cranked up to 950°F.
A baker named Rafaele Esposito whipped up the first pizza Margherita in 1889 to welcome the Queen of Italy, Queen Margherita, to Naples. To make the pie a little more patriotic-looking, Esposito used tomato sauce (red), mozzarella (white), and basil leaves (green)—the colors of the Italian flag. Queen Margherita loved the pizza so much the concoction took her name. (Not sure if anything else she did, but it probably doesn't hold a candle to being a legendary pizza namesake.)
To make the Margherita at Kesté, Caporuscio uses Caputo brand flour from Naples (which contains no additives like the U.S. kinds, he points out), imported canned tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil (the only fat he recommends for pizza). The recipe, adapted for normal, nonrestaurant kitchens, follows after the jump.
DIY Neapolitan Pizza Dough
- for 9 to 12 very hungry people -
3.75 pounds Tipo "00" flour 1 liter warm water 0.1 ounce fresh yeast 2.1 ounces salt 0.7 ounce sugar (optional)
1. Split up the liter of water, using half to dissolve the salt, and the other half to dissolve the yeast. In a perfect world, Caporuscio thinks everyone should use fresh yeast, but he realizes it's not easy to come by. Dry is fine. Most people dissolve the salt and yeast in the same water, but Caporuscio keeps them separate.
2. Combine the flour and sugar. Many flours already have traces of sugar, but the Caputo brand doesn't, so throw a little in yourself. Then add the wet goods, and start working the dough.
3. Caporuscio learned how to mix by hand, but realizes that machines are helpful. If you have a KitchenAid, put it on the lowest speed possible. "One is fine. But if zero was a speed, that'd be better." However you decide to mix the dough, stop after ten minutes, or when it isn't sticky anymore. The key here is s l o o o w.
4. Let dough sit for an hour, covered under plastic.
5. Form into balls, about 20 to 25 ounces each. Store balls in a cool spot, either the fridge or counterspace, for at least five hours to let the dough rise.
6. Preheat oven to 500°F, or however high you can blast that heat up. Spread dough on a baking pan or stone, gently stretching the edges. Scoop tomato sauce on top (take it easy, not too much) and spread around.
7. Bake the dough for ten minutes before any toppings come into play. Now add the tomato sauce and cheese, etc. If you baked the whole shabang at once, the cheese would turn to water and the meats would dry out. So don't. At Kesté, each pie only bakes for about 55 seconds because it's so fracking hot in there. The dude on pizza peel duty boasted his PR: "45 seconds!"
Roberto Caporuscio's Pizza Wisdom
Tossing? Psh, no! He is not a tosser. "Naples is a poor city. We learned not to play with our food."
Fresh or tap water? Tap is cool. Caporuscio has made pizza in many cities, from Las Vegas to Italy, and tap always seems to do the trick.
Tomato Sauce? Caporuscio goes easy on the red stuff. In fact, it's almost just pink by the time he spreads it around, nice and good.
The Crust? The puffy pockets have an English muffin chewiness, rather than a charred cracker quality. The Neapolitan crust is steamy and stretchy with some black blisters, almost like naan. If you're a fan of firm, crisp crusts, you may be disappointed.
Using a Stone? Make the dough thicker if you're using a pizza stone instead of a baking pan with edges. The stone can make those bottoms crispier, and if you want airier, you'll need to add more flour.
Weather? Humidity is dangerous for pizza. But in many ways, you are safer at home baking small batches in the kitchen—especially with that air conditioner blasting.