When I first approached this challenge, I thought about making a pizza with creative toppings and alternative crusts, or trying out sweet dessert variations. I buried my nose in cookbooks and magazines and scoured the internet for menus from pizzerias across the country. Nothing called out to me.
So, I thought about the best pizza I have ever had, the Margherita D.O.C. from 2 Amys in Washington, DC. I decided I should try to cook authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. This will be simple, or so I thought…
Very soon after I began my research on Neapolitan-style pizza, I realized that I was taking on what would prove to be a huge challenge. The dough, sauce, and cheese have to be just right and in accord with the official rules that have been set out by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture. Oh, and there’s also a little detail about the oven one must use to cook the pizza because Neapolitan pies have to be cooked in ovens that can reach temperatures of 800 degrees or higher. Does your oven get hotter than 550 degrees F? Mine doesn’t either.
I did what any normal food blogger on a mission would do. I searched out viable oven options. I found a tutorial for building a temporary wood-fired oven out of firebricks and cinder blocks. Since my landlord frowns upon putting this kind of structure on my apartment balcony, I asked my parents if I could set up shop in their backyard. For some reason, they said no. I learned that one can also purposely permanently remove the safety thermostat in your oven so that it can reach the same temperatures it does on the self-cleaning cycle. I didn’t even ask my parents about that one. After my home construction project was rejected, I contacted a company which rents wood-fired pizza ovens for events. I hope they had a good time at the Hot Air Balloon, Wine, and Music Festival this weekend. Following my initial search, the likelihood of getting my pizza near a wood-fired oven seemed slim.
Then, on Thursday morning I saw an article on the Slice website with Dave, the DC representative for Forno Bravo pizza ovens and the leader of the group, DC Elite Pizza. A picture of his beautiful outdoor wood-fired oven appeared in the article, along with a photo of a beautiful Neapolitan pie with a perfectly charred and blistered crust. Taking it as a sign, I e-mailed him to ask him some questions about pizza dough and achieving the high temperature that I needed. He generously offered to let me cook my pizzas in his oven, and I immediately accepted.
On Sunday afternoon, with a pizzaioli guiding me, I set out to embark on my first Neapolitan pizza experience. Here are the tips I picked up:
Use ‘00’ flour for the dough. This is not optional. ‘00’ flour is more finely milled than regular flour and is available with gluten percentages of anywhere between 5-12.5%. The best ‘00’ pizza flour will have gluten percentages between 11.5-12.5%. The result of using ‘00’ pizza flour, with a high quality dough recipe (the one I used) and a kitchen scale, is ultra-smooth soft dough that stands up to the high temperatures of a wood-fired oven.
Don’t cook your sauce. Sauce for Neapolitan pizza is crushed San Marzano tomatoes. You can add a little salt, pepper, and maybe even a touch of olive oil. With your hands or an immersion blender you can then gently puree the tomatoes. The high heat of the oven will cook the tomatoes.
Work quickly. The time between shaping your dough, putting on toppings, and putting the pizza in the oven should be short. Shape the dough, put on sauce, place the mozzarella and basil, sprinkle salt, and drizzle olive oil…as quickly as you possibly can.
This was an experience that exposed me to a style of pizza I knew very little about. A pizza oven is definitely in my future (even if it means waiting until I have a place to install it). Thank you, Dave, for helping me with this challenge and being so generous with your time. Thank you for introducing me to the craft of making Neapolitan pizza, and piquing my interest in exploring all the wonderful uses for wood-fired ovens. I can't wait to learn more.
Please vote for me for Project Food Blog. Thank you for your support!