Good slices of New York pizza are as ubiquitous as manhole covers. Great slices are rare. Making superior pizza at home — well, if you live in my home, it’s a bit of a crapshoot.
Standard operating procedure on homemade-pizza night is to pick up the dough from Park Slope slice joint Smiling Pizza, get fresh mozzarella plus sauce from Italian grocer Russo’s and pull the thing together with a bit of dry pizza seasoning sprinkled on top.
But it never quite comes out as well as I hope.
So when I hear that rural-Italy native and Neapolitan-pizza expert Roberto Caporuscio and his daughter Giorgia, the pie geniuses behind the acclaimed West Village pizzeria Kesté, are offering pizza-making classes at their new outpost in the Financial District, I sign up.
In a wood-raftered back room of the shop, I join the other students.
Roberto brings us up to speed on the history of pizza — it dates back to the 1600s, he says, a time when Neapolitans feared that tomatoes were poisonous and ate sauce-free pies; the first pizza spot in Naples opened in 1786.
First, we learn to make the dough: tap water, a pinch of fresh yeast, flour and salt.
Kneading the dough by hand — a 15-minute process that the Caporuscios find to be relaxing — Roberto offers a good justification for scratch pizza: “Late at night, you can easily wind up with a slice made from dough that has extra yeast in it, so that it can rise quicker,” he says, pointing out that the extra-yeast tactic is employed by places needing to do quick turnarounds on dough because they run low as closing-time nears. “[The] next morning, you feel [that extra yeast] in your stomach.”
The author with his pizza.Stefano Giovannini
Kesté lets its little pillows of dough rise for times that range from 20 hours to two days. Pre-made dough, according to Giorgia, is likely to spend around eight hours maturing, which leads to heavier, denser pizza. But since this is just a three-hour course, Roberto hoists a plastic container lined with risen dough.
We begin to gently massage the soft and sticky stuff in order to push air from the center to the edge. This ensures a thick crust.
Eschewing the showiness of American pizza makers who like tossing their dough in the air, Roberto prefers gently forming it into a small circle via softly pressing down and stretching it out on the table with some flour underneath to prevent sticking.
Ever an Italian, he likens pizza dough to a wife: Press too hard and you won’t have dinner.
Next, a light flourish of tomato sauce. The Caporuscios use canned tomatoes from Italy, with just a little salt but no sugar or garlic.
We add a sprinkling of grated pecorino, a few fresh basil leaves, ground sausage cooked in red wine and a generous spread of Buffalo mozzarella. But, Giorgia warns, don’t be too generous, lest pies get weighed down to the point of collapse.
I finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Giorgia slides my pie onto a pizza peel, shoves it into the oven and allows two minutes of cooking at 900 degrees.
In no time at all, I am chowing down on a perfect pie, sipping red wine and looking forward to my family’s next homemade pizza night.
Pizza-making classes ($80) are held on Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m. Kesté Wall Street, 77 Fulton St.
How to make a better pie, according to pizza princess Giorgia Caporuscio
1. Go easy on the tomato sauce. “Too much will make the pizza soggy. Just spoon on a thin layer.”
2. “Many home ovens do not get hot enough. Preheat the oven, full blast, for an hour. Then push your pizza all the way to the back, where the oven is hottest.”
3. “Prior to making your pizza, massage the dough. That way you push air from the center to the outside, and you end up with a crisper crust.”
By Michael Kaplan
New York Post