Pizza Napoletanismo

November 13, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 12: Imagery, Imagination, and The Art of Ciro Salvo)

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Library of Congress)

Once upon a time, the eminent physicist Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This metaphor conveys that one can gain new perspectives and insights by studying the works of great thinkers who preceded him. Indeed, René Descartes’ natural philosophy laid the groundwork for Newton’s classical physics, which in turn paved the way for Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity.

The giant that I have in mind is no physicist, but a remarkable pizzaiuolo, signor Ciro Salvo of Naples, Italy. Throughout his pizza career, he has passionately and artistically devoted himself to crafting superb Neapolitan pizzas that possess class and distinction.

Pizzaiolo Ciro Salvo

In “Part 1: Introduction” of this blog, I stated:

“Handcrafting pizza napoletana, as an artistic expression, involves self-actualization and self-expression, not devoid of devotion for the rich Neapolitan tradition—which is, figuratively speaking, the shoulders of a giant upon which a devotee must stand! The giant, dwelling in the subterranean labyrinths of Napoli, has already set the paradigm. And, there always will be a Theseus who will have to find the way out of the maze without being devoured by the Minotaur!”

Since many devotees are from non-Neapolitan backgrounds, not having been born and raised in pizzaiuolo families, it can be instrumental to adopt a mentor, however distant and silent, and carefully study his works. In the case of Ciro, there are a number of images of his dough and pizzas available on the Internet, which can train the eyes, not without difficulties, to identify certain characteristics that define Neapolitan pizza and identify certain characteristic human behavior in its production. Such pictures may reveal—often in a subtle manner—telltale clues. Such clues, which can be of highly speculative nature, may pertain to:

1. Percentage of dough hydration;
2. How lightly or intensely the dough is developed during mixing;
3. How the dough is treated and developed during the course of fermentation;
4. The degree of dough fermentation and subsequent maturation;
5. Whether the dough is fermented at room temperature or in a refrigerator;
6. Physical appearance of a leavened dough ball that has reached maturation;
7. Physical properties (such as degrees of elasticity, extensibility, and strength) of a mature dough ball that is stretched into a dough disc;
8. Physical attributes of a well-baked pizza: oven-spring, Maillard reaction, leoparding marks, cornicione configuration, crumb structure, use of toppings, cheese-melt, and et cetera.

As one acquires more and more experience through one’s own careful experiments and observations, such pictures may begin to silently communicate a wealth of information that should be cautiously examined and evaluated when one desires to incorporate them into one’s own workflow in preparing Neapolitan pizzas. Such pictures can set ideals to strive toward and, perhaps, to surpass in finding the way out of the labyrinth!

Having studied the Neapolitan pizza tradition for a number of years to the best of my ability inside and outside of Naples, and having examined Ciro’s pizzas up-close in person, I personally consider him a masterful pizzaiuolo committed to traditionalism of Neapolitan pizza. He can, also, be quite innovative in his culinary explorations without losing the ground. He has been a source of inspiration to a number of aspiring pizzaioli.

I have attached hereunder a number of informative pictures of his works. One, especially a neophyte, can learn tremendously by attentively examining the images. Nonetheless, the risk of twisting or reinventing the wheel hangs over him like the sword of Damocles! Again, hermeneutics (the art of interpretation) is of great import here. Images have the power to reveal or conceal. Furthermore, readers should take into consideration that Ciro’s style represents only one construal of the Neapolitan pizza tradition. Just as there is only one Symphony No. 9 of Ludwig van Beethoven but many interpretations thereof, there are other styles and interpretations based on the Neapolitan tradition. In my estimation, the maestro’s style strikes the right chords, i.e., the attributes that have traditionally defined Neapolitan pizza.

I would like to sincerely thank Ciro for kindly permitting me to ornament this article with his pictures. Additionally, I am grateful to Mrs. Karen Phillips for kindly allowing me to use her photos of the maestro’s works. Karen, a food & wine blogger, has also done an article entitled “A Pizza with Ciro”. At last, credits are due to Mr. Luciano Furia and Mr. Vincenzo Busiello for their great photography. My best wishes go to Ciro, who has recently fathered a beautiful baby girl. No doubts that his shoulders will alway be there for her to stand tall and proud on.

§1. Ciro’s Dough
The first set of pictures, below, depicts the maestro’s pizza dough. Looking at the images, one can curiously formulate certain questions. What was the process which yielded the dough balls shown in the last picture in this set? Were they subject to cold or warm fermentation? If “warm fermentation”, why? How about the duration of the initial and final fermentation? What factors did he use to determine the lengths of the initial and final fermentation? How did he manually form his dough balls upon conclusion of the initial fermentation? What about the level of dough maturation? If he used warm fermentation at controlled room temperature for about, let’s say, 20-24 hours, what benefits are there to be gained in terms of dough texture, structure, and flavor? What type of flour, hydration level, and amounts of salt and fresh yeast can deliver similar results, after apropos kneading and dough treatment, if one were to employ warm fermentation for 20-24 hours? The mind can wonder in so many ways. The main point is to carefully scrutinize the pictures, formulate hypotheses, and put them to test if one truly has the desire and patience to distantly and silently learn from the master.

Ciro Salvo’s impasto (dough)

Ciro Salvo forming panielli (dough balls) upon conclusion of puntata (initial fermentation)

Ciro Salvo’s Panielli (dough balls) undergoing appretto (final fermentation)

Ciro Salvo’s panielli (dough balls) having reached maturation

Ciro Salvo’s ripened panielli (dough balls) ready to be hand-stretched, dressed, and baked

§2. Ciro at the Bancone
The next selection of pictures, below, features the maestro preparing pizzas at the bancone (pizza bench). Perhaps, a novice may wonder why the maestro stretches his dough balls into dough discs by utilizing the peculiar Neapolitan method (often referred to, in English speaking countries, as the “Neapolitan slap”), and why he assembles his pizzas directly on the marble-top rather than on a pizza peel. Are there any advantages to be had by using such methods?

Young Ciro Salvo drafting a dough disc on bancone

Ciro Salvo stretching a dough disc on bancone

Ciro Salvo drafting a pizza dough disc on bancone

Ciro Salvo dressing pizza dough discs on bancone

Ciro Salvo dressing pizza dough discs on bancone

Ciro Salvo garnishing pizza dough discs on bancone

§3. Ciro’s Dressed Dough Discs and Hand Gestures 
The next assortment of pictures, below, exhibits Ciro’s further activities at the bancone. Again, a beginner may wonder why he prefers to assemble his pizzas on the bancone and slide them onto the pizza peel right before launching them inside the oven. Of note is how supple his dough discs are, and the way he picks up and holds (by lightly pinching, lifting, and inserting the finger tips under) the outer edges of the dough discs. (See the 5th picture below.) Such fine-drawn gesticulations of fingers in manipulating dough discs are characteristically Neapolitan, intended for convenience in manipulating dough discs and to maintain their integrity.

Ciro Salvo opening a dough ball

Ciro Salvo’s unbaked pizza marinara

Ciro Salvo garnishing a pizza dough disc

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

Ciro Salvo positioning a garnished dough disc on the peel

§4. Ciro’s Pizzas

The next collection of pictures, below, expresses, not without a certain intuitive immediacy, the maestro’s aesthetic sensibility and sensitivity bearing the fruits of his labor. These pizzas are no accidents; they are the aftermath of years of hard work and careful deliberation. They are elegant and simple, yet teasingly sophisticated . . . They communicate, yet not understood by all with that certain intuitive immediacy! Of note is the absence of overdramatized charred blisters around the cornicioni, which is implicative of the developmental methodology of Ciro’s Neapolitan pizza dough.

Pizzas by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

Pizza by Ciro Salvo

§5. Excavation of Ciro’s Pizzas
The last arrangement of pictures, below, represents the inner workings of Ciro’s pizzas. In my opinion, when you dig and penetrate into a Neapolitan Pizza, you should discover a distant past, the tradition! Indeed, the peculiar tenderness and non-crispiness of the pizza base, along with the soft and airy cornicione that crowns the base, are considered amongst the principal attributes of traditional Neapolitan pizza. The aforementioned qualities that are visibly discerned in the images hereunder carry certain implications with regard to the developmental methodology of Ciro’s Neapolitan pizza dough.

Portafoglio napoletano (Neapolitan wallet) / libretto napoletano (Neapolitan booklet)

Portafoglio napoletano (Neapolitan wallet) / libretto napoletano (Neapolitan booklet)

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Tenderness of Neapolitan pizza base by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Soft and fluffy cornicione by Ciro Salvo

Verily, I assert—without confusing “fanaticism” with “passion” and “reinvention” with the “tradition”—that the above images can serve as a source of revelations to any aspiring pizzaiolo of sensitivity.

Previous article: Part 11: Art and Passion

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June 16, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 10: A Philosophy of Art)

Craft, Art, & Philosophy!
Neapolitan Oven at Pizzeria Kesté, New York (Photo: Hannah Whitaker, New York Magazine)

So far, we have succinctly and phenomenologically explored the “ontogenic”, “ontological”, “culinary”, and “artistic” manifestations of traditional Neapolitan pizza. let us have a brief review, with emphasis on the culinary and artistic dimensions. As I previously stated in Part 1:

“From a phenomenological standpoint, the Neapolitan pizza manifests itself as a (1) historical and cultural ontogeny, (2) culinary tradition, (3) artand (4) ontology or a way of being:

1) As an ‘ontogeny’, it involves the historical and cultural circumstances that have shaped this phenomenon into its present form, which has evolved throughout its saga.

2) As a ‘culinary tradition’ (which is an oral tradition), it involves specific methodologies, techniques, rituals, ingredients, and tools in preparing and baking pizzas in accordance with the gastronomical sensibility of the Neapolitan people.

3) As an ‘art’, it involves a creative process, which entails, in a cyclical fashion, (1) experimenting with the spatiotemporal mediums of this art (2) examining their objectifications or end results, and (3) evaluating the creative process used in this endeavor. Also, above all, it imperatively involves self-reflection and self-direction in order to recreate oneself (to build ‘character’), besides creating the edible artwork! The interplay and interdependence between the creator and that which she or he creates is of vital importance in this art. In short, it is a process of creative and reflective thinking, and evaluation of the thinking, that finds practical and aesthetic expressions in this art.

4) As an ‘ontology’ or ‘way of being’, the Neapolitan pizza, in a very subtle manner, serves as a symbol or metaphor which profoundly expresses a sentiment that is not even immediately or consciously fathomed by average Neapolitans, yet they participate in it whether they know it or not! . . . Indeed, when we engage in the ritual of making Neapolitan pizza, we are engaged in something more than a culinary tradition that needs to be approached with reverence and care! . . . [The pizza is symbolic of the cultural and historical identity of people of Naples.] La maschera di napoli (‘The mask of Naples’)—i.e., ‘Pulcinella’—is also another integral aspect of the Neapolitan culture and identity. . . .”

Further, in respect to the culinary aspect of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I asserted, in Part 7, that it entails specific:

1) “Logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools)”,
2) “Orchestration (the way of production)”, and
3) “Gastronomy (physical and gustatory/organoleptic attributes of the end product)”

In this regard, I also maintained in Part 1:

“A Neapolitan pizzeria can possess all the right ingredients and culinary tools, yet if the dough they produce is not properly prepared and diligently cared for—the pizzas produced by the pizzeria will be gastronomically unmerited (by the conservative estimation) of the title “Neapolitan pizza”, does not matter how mouthwatering, flavorful, scrumptious, and good-looking they are, and does not matter how people rave about them! Conversely, it does not matter how negatively people may feel about them! What seems to matter, per the conservatives, are the types of ingredients, tools (specifically the mixer and oven), methodology, techniques, the way they are executed in making pizzas, and the traditional gastronomical qualities of the end products in terms of texture, flavor, representation, size, and the quantitative balance between the toppings and the pizza base.”

Moreover, I stipulated in Part 1:

“In the context of dough production, the terms ‘methodology’ and ‘technique’ are defined as follows:

●Methodology: The systematic organization of knowledge of the principles and processes which cause and regulate dough formation, fermentation, and maturation.

●Technique: The term (derived from the ancient Greek word tekhnē, meaning ‘skill’ or ‘art’) denotes a systematic procedure by which dough formation, fermentation, and maturation are accomplished by deliberation, skill, and command—not chance—in handling the fundamentals of dough production. Hence, this requires practical knowledge and special skills arising from extensive experience. It is the accumulation and organization of such knowledge and skills over a long period of time by the Neapolitan pizzaiuoli that eventually crystalized into an art as part of the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan pizza.”

With respect to the artistic facet of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I posited in Part 1:

“Making Neapolitan pizza is an ‘art’, perhaps in the fullest sense of the term: creatively sculpting from raw materials a symbolic artifact (arte factum, ‘something made with skill’) that aesthetically feeds the eyes and the soul, besides feeding the stomach. This process is akin to a sculptor transforming a pure piece of marble into a beatific work of art that seduces her or him to life! (Yes, art has the power to ‘seduce one to life’.) A pizzaiolo’s marble is the dough, and her or his hands are the chisels! By imposing form upon the formless mass of dough, a pizzaiolo creates a work of art that, unlike a sculpture or painting, can be intimately felt through the senses of smell, taste, and oral tactility.

. . . My philosophy is that recipes do not create pizzas, that what are more fundamental in making Neapolitan pizzas are the underlying principles and, above all, the character of the pizza-artisan. Consider Michelangelo’s statue ‘David’, which is a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Was it a recipe (a set of instructions) that essentially breathed life into the block of marble out of which ‘David’ was born, or was it Michelangelo’s artistic ‘character’ and following a set of ‘principles’—in accordance with the sensitivity, temperament, temperance, style, and virtues of his cultivated character—that begot this magnificent work of art? It is said that when Michelangelo carved ‘David’, he simply chiseled away whatever that was not human in the block of marble, and at last the creator set “David” free from the mass of marble! In his own words, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Our task is to do the same with our marble—which is both our ‘characters’ and the ‘dough’!

Whatever pizza recipe a pizzaiolo devises and the way he executes the recipe in crafting pizzas will directly correlate with his character and the principles he apprehends and follows. In essence, it is one’s cultivated artistic character and the way one employs the principles of dough production that should dictate and animate a dough recipe.

Often I envisage that the quality and worth of a pizza is principally contingent upon the ethos or character of the pizzaiolo who gave birth to the pizza. Perhaps what is more decisive in preparing pizza is character (derived from the Greek word kharaktēr, meaning literally ‘a stamping tool’) rather than technical skills of a pizzaiolo. Besides, the right attitude fosters the right aptitude. According to Friedrich Nietzsche,

‘Giving style to one’s character—a great and rare art! It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own nature and then comprehend them in an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason . . . under a law of their own.’ (Gay Science, book 4: 290)

The pizza you make reflects your character!

As an art, learning how to create Neapolitan pizza fundamentally appears to be an inside-out process, involving psychological transformation, meaning that one needs to overcome internal (psychological) obstacles in order to overcome external (physical) obstacles in this artistic pursuit. One learns to create an artwork by recreating oneself, bringing one’s own impulses under control and sublimating them into new channels of activity. This carries the implication that, again, recipes and techniques do not make pizzas; they are merely instrumental in the act of creating. Something deeper or primordial seems to be at work here. Handcrafting pizza napoletana, as an artistic expression, involves self-actualization and self-expression, not devoid of devotion for the rich Neapolitan tradition—which is, figuratively speaking, the shoulders of a giant upon which a devotee stands!

As evident above, the culinary aspect of the Neapolitan pizza is more than a mere craft; it is an art. Just as other fine arts, the artifacts created by the art of traditional Neapolitan pizza are of symbolic and aesthetic values. And, unlike the fine arts, such artifacts are also of utilitarian (i.e., nourishment) value. These artworks are intended for both beauty and utility, besides their symbolism (i.e., the historical and cultural identity of the Neapolitan people).

What transpires here is that, one way to fundamentally commit oneself to becoming a pizzaiolo is, at an initial stage, to ideologically equip oneself: to understand the underlying principles, ideology, phenomenon, Napoletanità. This is not “idealism v. materialism”, but materialism sublimated or refined ideologically—it is a sublime symphony! It is important and decisive to foster a right frame of mind from the outset when one aspires to excel oneself in this culinary tradition as an artistic pursuit.

As implied above, the artistic pursuit of the culinary tradition of Neapolitan pizza involves a philosophy of art. In this regard, I would like to relate an illuminating, yet baffling, pizza dream I had on Jan. 13, 2012! In doing so, I need to somewhat rephrase the account in order to make it intelligible without falsifying it. In the dream, I encountered four philosophers: Patrick Pidgeon (a philosophy professor under whom I studied for a number of years), Martin Heidegger (known for his ontological studies on “being” and “time”), Friedrich Nietzsche (who wrote extensively on the theme of “art” and the psychological “transformations” associated with it), and Søren Kierkegaard (for whom lack of “passion” in the modern age was a central theme in his writings). As I was in a dark room sitting before the philosophers, the first one began to speak:

The Philosophers (from left to right): Patrick Pidgeon, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, & Søren Kierkegaard

1. Patrick Pidgeon:
“Since the role of language is tremendous, you need better formulation of the concepts ‘point of pasta’, ‘fermentation’, ‘levitation’, ‘maturation’, and ‘time’. They need to be precisely articulated without losing the ground on which they stand. Without them, you are not making pizzas, but accidents. Keep asking yourself what are the questions or problems to which these concepts are the answers. Formulate your questions carefully, as wrong questions will beg for wrong answers!”

2. Next, Heidegger took the floor:
“‘time’ is not merely a quantity of something, but a quality that is begot through its passage. A burden of the Western societies has been their misconception of time . . . always finding something to count . . . the number of wrinkles on one’s face, the number of calories one consumes, one’s weight, the number of hours to ferment dough, the maximum number of pizzas prepared in minimum amount of time . . . never thinking that time is expressive of ‘significations’, of ‘potentials’, of ‘possibilities’ [posse (“to exist”) + habilitās (“being capable”) = “capable of existing”] of being-in-the-world. [Heidegger often viewed “being” as a modality, as opposed to a corporeal entity or thing.]

3. Next, Nietzsche made himself heard by reading a well-known passage, which I quote verbatim below, from one of his books:
“What? Do we really want to permit existence to be degraded for us like this—reduced to a mere exercise for a calculator and an indoor diversion for mathematicians? Above all, one should not wish to divest existence of its rich ambiguity. . . . That the only justifiable interpretation of the world should be one in which you are justified because one can continue to work and do research scientifically in your sense (you really mean, mechanistically?)—an interpretation that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, and touching, and nothing more—that is a crudity and naïveté. . . . A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. . . . An essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. [Suppose] that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a ‘scientific’ estimation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is ‘music’ in it!” (Gay Science, book 5: 373)

Nietzsche continued, “Creation of a work of art, such as the Neapolitan pizza, fundamentally involves re-creating your self and co-evolving with that which you create. That which you create re-creates you as much as you create it! After all, what is the meaning of art? What is it good for? To what purpose? What is the problem to which art offers to be a solution? What is the human impulse which turns against itself, against life, without art?

Consider artists such as Michelangelo, Mozart, Goethe, even Einstein who was a scientist, and ask yourself what all these great souls had in common in their acts of creating? They were able to overcome—not depreciate—their impulses. They were able to harmonize their passions and reason; they were able to organize the disarray of their impulses, giving style to their own characters; they were masters of their impulses; they were able to overcome—not kill—their animal nature; they were able to sacrifice [make sacred], spiritualize, and sublimate their own impulses to new heights where they could see the world from new perspectives. They knew that mastering their passions was pertinent to a suffering that breeds strength and depth of soul. They were able to be tolerant not out of weakness, but out of self-cultivated strength. They gave to others not out of pity or impoverished needs, but out of the richness of their characters. Where they found their well-being, others often find their own ruination! They suffered from the overfullness, not impoverishment, of their lives so much that they had to redeem themselves by recreating themselves and the world in which they found themselves. They were creators. A recipe does not make pizza; human character does!”

4. At last, Kierkegaard voiced himself:
“Any artistic creation, such as making a Neapolitan pizza, is at roots a matter of ‘ethics’ [i.e., being able] and ‘morals’ [i.e., ‘how’ and ‘what’ you do with your ‘ability’]. Your ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ determine what you can create.”

Next, Kierkegaard pulled out one of his works, from which he read aloud (and I am quoting it, below, right from the book): “Our age is essentially one of understanding and reflection, without passion. . . . In fact, one is tempted to ask whether there is a single man left ready, for once, to commit an outrageous folly. Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation.” (The Present Age)

Next article: Part 11: Art and Passion

Previous article: Part 9: Being and Time

June 11, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 9: Being and Time)

“Celebration . . . is self-restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder—the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know all this.”

—Martin Heidegger

Pizzaiuolo at work (Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro, Naples)

Having so far briefly considered the Neapolitan pizza within its historical and cultural contexts, it should be clear by now that, as I stated before: “By legacy, a pizzaiuolo napoletano is essentially a care, a burden, a culture-carrier!carrying centuries of customs, traditions, and history that go beyond just a culinary phenomenon. . . . A pizzaiuolo napoletano is a custodian of the Neapolitan tradition that he has inherited.” Some of the pictures hereunder are amongst the most antique depictions of Neapolitan pizzaiuoli on the Internet. The pictures are quite revealing; they are silent and intangible manifestation of what German philosopher Martin Heidegger referred to as “Being and time”—which to him is a matter of celebration!

The pictures, below, are ordered chronologically, to the best of my knowledge, from past to present. The 1st picture (from Lessing Photo Archive) illustrates an ancient Roman mosaic, depicting a Roman baker (from the first half of 3rd century A.D.) who seems to be placing a bread dough inside a wood-fired oven. The Neapolitan ovens in service today strikingly appear similar to the oven in the picture. Although the Roman baker is no pizzaiuolo, he serves, if you will, as an archetypal image that surreptitiously glimpse into what was to come through waves of history!

The 2nd picture, origin of which is unknown, depicts a female who seems to be a Renaissance baker of some sort, baking what appears to be a flatbread, stuffed or not, inside a pan held over open fire.

The 3rd historic picture (from Civica Raccolta delle Stampe “Achille Bertarelli”, which holds the world’s largest collection of printed works in Milan, Italy) portrays a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo. The drawing was done in 1830. The 4th historic picture (from Francesco de Bourcard’s book Usi e Costumi di Napoli) is dated sometime between 1847 and 1866, the years wherein the author wrote the two-volume book. The 5th historic picture has been adopted from professor Antonio Mattozzi’s impressive book Una storia napoletana, published in 2009. Per the book, the drawing is from 1800s. My personal assumption is that it is from mid-1800s. The 6th picture, whose origin is unknown, is probably from mid-1800s as well. The 7th picture appears to be an actual photograph of unknown origin. It is probably from late 1800s. At last, the 8th picture is Don Luigi Condurro who has been working as a pizzaiuolo at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele since time immemorial!

With respect to the pictures, please take notice of the following factors:

1. The pizzaiuoli in the 3rd to 6th pictures appear to be outdoors, shouting and announcing to the public, “pizza, pizza, pizza”, as was a custom of that time. However, the pizzaiuoli in the 7th and 8th pictures are no longer outdoors, but indoors, inside actual pizzeriaswith chairs and tables enclosed within walls under a roof. As discussed in a previous article, it was around 1830 or early 1800s that actual pizzerias began, gradually, to be part of the Neapolitan social structure. As such, the two pizzaiuoli in the 7th picture are not shouting and selling, but crafting pizza on the bancone (workbench) inside a pizzeria.

2. The pizzaiuoli in the 3rd to 7th pictures are  equipped with mobile wooden banconi, which are identical in construction, except the 4th one. Don Luigi’s bancone, in the last picture, is not a mobile one as he works for a well-established pizzeria. Nonetheless, the two pizzaiuoli in the 7th picture utilize a mobile bancone, although they are indoor in a pizzeria.

3. The pizzaiuoli in the 3rd to 6th pictures are also equipped with knives, implying that, unlike today, Neapolitan pizza was sold by slice in those days. Some slices are already observable in the pictures. For whatever reason, the pizzaiuoli are holding the knives in the same position! No knives appear in the 7th and 8th pictures.

4. Perchance, we can visually figure out what pizza types are used in the 3rd to 6th pictures. The 5th one seems to have two kinds of pizza on the bancone: some kind of bianca (white) pizza (possibly using a partial combination of toppings, as discussed before, such as lard, bacon, cheese, garlic, herbs, small fish, oil, and etc.) and some kind of rossa (red) pizza with tomato and fior di latte or mozzarella di bufala. The 3rd and 4th pictures seem to show white pizzas as well. I make no conjectures as to the 6th one since the picture is not in color.

5. All the pizzaiuoli in the pictures are wearing hats and aprons. Notice that each pizzaiuoli in the 3rd, 5th, and 6th picture is wearing stripped shirts, which is believed to had been fashionable amongst the Neapolitan sailors and lazzaroni. Interesting!

1. Ancient Roman Baker Mosaic (first half of 3rd century A.D.)

2. Possibly a Renaissance baker (1500s?)

3. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (1830)

4. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (1847-1866)

5. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (Possibly from Mid-1800s)

6. Depiction of a Neapolitan pizzaiuolo (Possibly from mid-1800s)

7. Photograph of two Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli (possibly late 1800s)

8. Pizzaiuolo Don Luigi Condurro of da Michele (2011)

At last, let’s take a close look at the bancone, in the picture below, used by Don Luigi at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele. The bancone is not mobile, and it is, unlike the mobile ones above, topped with a slab of white marble. Moreover, it is not equipped with any kind of refrigeration. The bancone unpretentiously holds 7 pizza condiments only: (1) crushed tomatoes, (2) fior di latte, (3) garlic (4) oregano, (5) basil, (6) either grated pecorino or parmigiano reggiano, and (7) seed oil.

The bancone at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele, Naples

Here’s a Youtube video on da Michele:

Next article: Part 10: A Philosophy of Art

Previous article: Part 8: The Mask of Naples

May 10, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 5: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

In the previous article, we made a brief appreciation of Francesco de Bouchard’s observation in respect to pizzas of Naples from 1847 to 1866. Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), a French novelist who authored The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, traveled to Naples in 1835 (about 12 years before Bouchard commenced to write his book on Naples) and recorded his experiences in a journal that was published between 1841 and 1843 under the title Le Corricolo (“The Wagon”). The book is fascinating, to say the least! It was partially, and perhaps too literally, translated from French to English by A. Roland in 1845. Fortunately, the book, retitled Sketches of Naples by the publisher, is freely available on Google Books.

Alexandre Dumas (1855)

Let us see what Dumas relates about pizza in Naples in 1835. Although the quoted passages below are long and some of which may not seem germane, they are hopefully worth your while. Keep in mind that the book was written 26 years antecedent to Naples joining the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and 54 years prior to Queen Margherita of Savoy being served the Pizza Margherita (named in her honor) in 1889 in Naples. In his Le Corricolo, Dumas writes:

CHAPTER III
CHIAJA

. . .When we traverse Naples, with our liberal ideas, drawn, not from personal study of the people, but from the theories emitted by journalists, and glance lightly at that portion of the surface of this people whom we see lying almost naked upon the thresholds of palaces and in corners, where they eat, sleep and live, the heart is oppressed by the sight and we cry out, in a philanthropic transport: “The Neapolitans are the most wretched people on the globe.”

We deceive ourselves strangely. The Neapolitan of the lower class [known as lazzarone (lazzaroni, plural) or lazzaro (lazzari, plural), a peculiarly poor class of the Neapolitan society] is not wretched; for his necessities are in exact harmony with his desires. What does he wish to eat? A pizza [implying that pizza is a humble food] or a slice of watermelon suffices. How does he wish to sleep? A stone to place under his head is all that he requires to render his slumber delightful. His nudity which we regard as an affliction is, on the contrary, a pleasure in this ardent climate, where the sun clothes him with its warmth. What more magnificent canopy could be asked, to the palaces which lend him their steps, than the clear heaven which shines above? Is not, to him, each star that glitters in the firmament, a lamp burning at the feet of the Madonna! Does he not, with two grains, obtain sufficient each day to supply his wants and have an ample abundance remaining to pay, largely, the improvisator of the Môle and the conductor of the corricolo [wagon drawn by a horse]?

Corricolo Napoli (Neapolitan Wagon)

CHAPTER IV
THE LAZZARONI

The Lazzaroni, alas, is passing away; those who desire to see him must come quickly. Naples lighted with gas, Naples with restaurants, Naples with bazars, frightens the careless child of the Môle. The lazzarone, like the red Indian, retires before the approach of civilization. The French occupation of 1799 gave the first blow to the lazzarone. At this period the lazzarone enjoyed all the prerogatives of his terrestrial paradise; he did not give more business to the tailor than our first father, before the fall; he drank in the sun at every pore. Curious and simple, as a child, the lazzarone soon became the friend of the French soldier, whom he had fought [in January of 1799]. But the French soldier, above all things, loves propriety; he accorded his friendship to the lazzarone, he consented to drink with him at the cabaret, to walk with him arm-in-arm; but on one condition, sine qua non, that the lazzarone should put on some clothing.

The lazzarone, proud of the example of his fathers, and of ten centuries of nudity, opposed the innovation for some time, but, at last, consented to make this sacrifice to friendship. This was the first step toward his destruction. After the first article of dress came the vest, after the vest will come the jacket. The day the lazzarone wears a jacket, the lazzarone will be no more; the lazzarone will have become extinct. . . . In the mean time, we have had the good fortune to be able to study this great passing race and will hasten to furnish data to the learned, by the aid of which, in their anthropological investigations, they may be enabled to ascertain the nature of the lazzarone.

The lazzarone is the oldest son of nature. . . . Other men have houses, other men have villas, other men have palaces, the lazzarone has the world. The lazzarone has no master, the lazzarone is amenable to no laws, the lazzarone is above social exigencies; he sleeps when he is sleepy, he eats when he is hungry, he drinks when he is thirsty. Other people rest when they are tired of work; the lazzarone, on the contrary, works when he is tired of resting. He works, not as in the north, . . . his labor is pleasant, careless, embellished by songs and drolleries; interrupted by laughter, and moments of idleness. This labor continues for an hour, a half-hour, ten minutes, or one minute, and in that time brings enough to supply all the necessities of the day. What is this labor? Heaven, only, knows. A trunk carried from the steamboat to the hotel, an Englishman conducted from the Môle to Chiaja, three fish, escaped from the net which contained them and sold to a cook, the hand extended at random in which the stranger laughingly lets fall an alms; such is the labor of the lazzarone.

As to his food, this is more easy to describe; for, although the lazzarone belongs to the species of omnivores, he, generally, eats but two things: the pizza and cocomero or watermelon.

The impression has gone out into the world, that the lazzarone lives upon macaroni; this is a great mistake, which it is time to correct. The macaroni is, it is true, a native of Naples; but, at the present time, it is an European dish, which has traveled like civilization, and which, like civilization, finds itself very far from its cradle. The macaroni, moreover, costs two sous a pound; which renders it inaccessible to the purse of the lazzarone; except upon Sundays and holidays. At all other times the lazzarone eats, as we have said, the pizza and the cocomero [watermelon]; the cocomero in summer, the pizza in winter. The pizza is a sort of bun [talmouse is the French word used by the author, meaning “cheese-cake” or “pastry shell with a filling of cheese”]; it is round, and made of the same dough as bread. It is of different sizes according to the price. A pizza of two farthings suffices for one person, a pizza of two sous is enough to satisfy a whole family. At first sight, the pizza appears to be a simple dish, upon examination it proves to be compound. The pizza is prepared with bacon, with lard, with cheese, with tomatoes, with [petits, “small”] fish.It is the gastronomic thermometer of the market. The price of the pizza rises and falls according to the abundance or scarcity of the year. When the fish-pizza sells at a half grain, the fishing has been good; when the oil-pizza sells at a grain, the yield of olives has been bad. The rate at which the pizza sells is, also, influenced by the greater or less degree of freshness; it will be easily understood that yesterday’s pizza will not bring the same price as today’s. For small purses, they have the pizza of a week old, which, if not agreeably, very advantageously, supplies the place of the sea-biscuit.

The pizza as we have said is the food of winter. On the first of May the pizza gives place to the cocomero; but the merchandise only, disappears, the merchant remains the same. The seller is like the ancient Janus, with a face which weeps upon the past and smiles upon the future. [Janus is an ancient Roman deity, guardian of doorways and gates and protector of the state in time of war. He is usually represented with two faces, so that he looks both forward and backward. According to Wikipedia, “In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past. The concepts of ‘January’ and ‘janitor’ are both based on aspects of Janus.”] On the said day the pizza-jolo [pizza maker] becomes the mellonaro [seller of melons]. The change does not even extend itself to the shop; the shop remains the same. A pannier of cocomeri instead of a basket of pizza is now carried; a sponge is passed over the traces of oil, bacon, lard, cheese, tomatoes and fish which have been left by the winter comestible and all is done; we pass to the comestible of the summer. Fine cocomeri come from Castellamare; they have an appearance at once exhilarating and tempting; the lively rose color of the pulp is heightened by its contrast with the black seed. But a good cocomero is dear; one of the size of an eight pound ball sells for from five to six sous. It is true that a cocomero of this size, in the hands of an adroit retailer, will be divided into ten or twelve pieces. Every opening of a cocomero is a new exhibition; the opponents stand opposite and each endeavors to surpass the other in the adroitness and impartiality with which he uses the knife in dividing it. The spectator judge. The mellonaro takes a cocomero from the flat pannier where it is piled, with twenty others, like cannon balls in an arsenal. He smells it, he raises it above his head like a Roman Emperor the globe of the world. He cries: “It is like fire!” which announces, in advance, that the pulp will be of the finest red. He cleaves it open at a single blow and presents the two hemispheres to the public one in each hand. If, instead of being red, the pulp of the cocomero is yellow or greenish, which indicates that it is of an inferior quality, the piece fails, the mellonaro is hooted, spit upon and cursed; three failures and the mellonaro is disgraced for ever. If the mellonaro perceives by its weight or odor that a cocomero is not good, he makes no avowal of the fact. On the contrary, he presents it, more boldly, to the people; he enumerates its fine qualities, he boasts of its savory pulp, he extols its icy juice: “You would like very much to eat this pulp! You would like much to drink its juice!” he cries; “but this is not for you; it is destined to delight more noble palates than yours. The king has ordered me to keep it for the queen.” (End of quote)

Lazzarone (Drawn by R. Armenise, 1884)

To take a closer look at the pizzas described by Dumas in the above-quoted passages, let us consider the pertinent part of the original French text side-by-side with a slightly different English translation thereof:

The original French text:

“La pizza est une espèce de talmouse comme on en fait à Saint-Denis; elle est de forme ronde et se pétrit de la même pâte que le pain. . . . Au premier abord, la pizza semble un mets simple; après examen, c’est un mets composé. La pizza est à l’huile, la pizza est au lard, la pizza est au saindoux, la pizza est au fromage, la pizza est aux tomates, la pizza est aux petits poissons; c’est le thermomètre gastronomique du marché: elle hausse ou baisse de prix, selon le cours des ingrédiens sus-désignés, selon l’abondance ou la disette de l’année. Quand la pizza aux poissons est à un demi-grain, c’est que la pêche a été bonne; quand la pizza à l’huile est à un grain, c’est que la récolte a été mauvaise. Puis une chose influe encore sur le cours de la pizza, c’est son plus ou moins de fraîcheur. . . .”

English translation:

“Pizza is a sort of talmouse [the French word for “cheese-cake” or “pastry shell with a filling of cheese”] like we bake at St.-Denis [in France], and is round in shape and molded by the same dough as bread. . . . At first glance, the pizza appears to be a simple dish; after examination, it manifests as a compound dish. The pizza is with oil, the pizza is with bacon, the pizza is with lard, the pizza is with cheese, the pizza is with tomato, the pizza is with small fish; it [pizza] is the gastronomic thermometer of the food market: it [pizza] increases or decreases in price depending on the course of the ingredients named above, depending on the abundance or scarcity of the year. When the pizza with fish is priced half a grain, the fishing has been good; when the pizza with oil sells at one grain, the harvest has been bad. The more or less degree of freshness of pizza also has an impact on its price. . . .”

Dumas’ overall description of Naples’ pizzas, extant in 1835, seems concentric with Bouchard’s description of pizza, extant between 1847 and 1866. While Dumas makes references to the following ingredients:

1. Bread dough,
2. Bacon,
3. Lard,
4. Cheese (It is not clear that exactly what type of cheese he refers to),
5. Tomatoes,
6. Small fish, and
7. Olive oil,

Bourcard makes references to the following constituents:

1. Oil,
2. Salt,
3. Oregano,
4. Garlic,
5. Cheese or formaggio (It is not clear that exactly what type of formaggio he refers to),
6. Lard,
7. Basil,
8. Tiny fish,
9. Muzzarella,
10. Prosciutto,
11. Tomatoes, and
12. Clams.

One should wonder to what extent the lazzaroni participated in the development of Pizza Napoletana as known today in Naples. Did it develop in their hands, for instance, the way Flamenco was developed in the hands of the gitanos (gypsies) of Spain, another race of similar social status as the lazzaroni? Below are pictures of lazzaroni boys of the modern era. (The pictures were found at the following websites: site #1 & site #2.) It is not known specifically when the photos were shot. For more information on lazzaroni, click on the following links: link 1 and link 2.

Lazzaroni boys of the modern era, Naples (the sources and dates of these pictures are unknown)

It has been said that Neapolitan pizza has a humble origin, inspired by poverty and necessity. How about art? Can the phenomenon of Neapolitan Pizza be viewed as a reconciliation, as some have suggested, with the traumatic history of Naples and its unfulfilled dreams of self-determination and independence? “History is the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtues of individuals have been victimized,” according to German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831). Can pain and suffering breed art? German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was of the conviction that “art” brings about “redemption” from life’s pain and suffering. Is it the case that Neapolitans basically have, however subconsciously, found solace in the pizza?—which is fundamentally an icon and reminder of their historical identity and the past glory of Naples.

Next article: Part 6: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

Previous article: Part 4: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

September 27, 2011

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 1: Introduction)

Pizza Marinara & Margherita by L’antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples, Italy

§1. PREFACE
To begin, I would like to propound a basic question: What is pizza napoletana (which is the Italian phrase for “Neapolitan pizza”)? On the surface, the question seems simple and straightforward; however, I assure you that it is not as uncomplicated as it seems. It is a question with thorns! Moreover, the question becomes even thornier when strictly considered within the framework of the time-honored tradition which gave birth to the Neapolitan pizza. Although I am not sure if I fully qualify to answer the question, I will make an attempt. And, if my attempt fails to any degree, I hope it would at least clarify the issue.

Before entertaining the question, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Omid, currently working as an aspiring pizzaiolo in San Diego, California. My fascination with the traditional Neapolitan pizza commenced in 1984, when I stayed nine months in Naples, Italy. Although I have spent a substantial amount of time in educating myself about the tradition of Neapolitan pizza, I do not consider myself an authority, yet I hope this blog will be worth your while. I hope to offer a unique approach—an approach that is culturally, historicallygastronomicallyartistically, and philosophically oriented toward understanding and appreciating the beloved pizzas of Naples, especially when this phenomenon is gaining more and more momentum and popularity in the United States. Please, keep in mind that what is presented here is only one view amongst many on the subject matter.

So, what is the traditional Neapolitan pizza? As you may know, the city of Naples, situated in Campania region of Southern Italy, is deemed as the cradle of pizza.

City of Naples located in Campania, Italy

The genesis of this phenomenon can be arguably traced back to the ancient Romans. Perchance, Virgil (70–19 BC), an ancient Roman poet, can portray the zygote of this development in the following excerpt from his national epic poem Aeneid:

Beneath a shady tree, the hero spread
His table on the turf, with cakes of bread;
And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed.
They sate; and, (not without the god’s command,)
Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling, said:
‘See! we devour the plates on which we fed.’

Aeneid, Book VII, translated by John Dryden (The italics are added for emphasis.)

Here, in the United States of America, we are, to various degrees, cognizant with the concept “pizza”. After all, it is said that it was in New York City where the Italian immigrants engendered a new and different style of pizza, i.e., the New York style pizza, in the early 1900s. Since then, the New York pizza, and other divergent American types of pizza, have become a favorite food genera in America and abroad. According to The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition), The word “pizza” is defined as follows: “[noun:] A baked pie of Italian origin consisting of a shallow breadlike crust covered with toppings such as seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, sausage, or olives.” It is of importance to understand that for the Neapolitans (who are distinct, not separate, from Italians), the Neapolitan pizza fundamentally and mostly subconsciously signifies something more than just “a shallow breadlike crust covered with toppings”. It is more than just a comestible item to eat and enjoy. It is also an “ism”, or “ismo” in Italian. Hence the concept “pizza napoletanismo”: the phenomenon of Neapolitan pizza, not merely as a culinary event, but also as a state of being Neapolitan.

In passing, I should warn the readers that, it is not easy, if possible at all, to fully capture an oral tradition, such as the Neapolitan pizza tradition, in words. A tradition is primarily experienced and kept alive by living it. This reminds me of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (469–399 BC) who left us no written records of his philosophy; nonetheless, he is regarded as one of the most distinguished and influential thinkers of Western civilization. Socrates had quite consciously decided not to write philosophy because for him philosophy had to be kept alive and in motion by living it, discussing it, having live dialogues.

§2. A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION
It is one thing to know a tradition and another thing to interpret what one seems to know about the tradition. As German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) insists, knowing is always perspective knowing, that knowledge is interpretive and never absolute, that it always reflects perspective and context. Of course, Nietzsche does not imply that we can never comprehend anything at all, but that our ability to shift perspectives makes it possible for us to better understand a phenomenon: “There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing’; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity,’ will be.” (Genealogy of Morals, book 3:12)

§3. PERSPECTIVES
From a phenomenological standpoint, the Neapolitan pizza manifests itself as a (1) historical and cultural ontogeny, (2) culinary tradition, (3) art, and (4) ontology or a way of being:

1) As an “ontogeny”, it involves the historical and cultural circumstances that have shaped this phenomenon into its present form, which has evolved throughout its saga.

2) As a “culinary tradition”, which is an oral tradition for the most part, it involves specific methodologies, techniques, rituals, ingredients, and tools in preparing and baking pizzas in accordance with the gastronomical sensibility of the Neapolitan people.

3) As an “art”, it involves a creative process, which entails, in a cyclical fashion, (1) experimenting with the spatio-temporal mediums of this art (2) examining their objectifications or end results, and (3) evaluating the creative process used in this endeavor. Also, above all, it imperatively involves self-reflection and self-direction in order to recreate oneself (to build artistic “character”), besides creating the edible artwork! The interplay and interdependence between the creator and that which she or he creates is of vital importance in this art. This creative process finds practical and aesthetic expressions in this art.

4) As an “ontology” or “way of being”, the Neapolitan pizza, in a very subtle manner, serves as a symbol or metaphor which profoundly expresses a sentiment that is not even immediately or consciously fathomed by average Neapolitans, yet they participate in it whether they know it or not. In a sense, pizza to Neapolitans is what the book The Epic of Kings is to Persians. After the Arab Empire conquered Persia in 7th century AD, the conquerors began to systematically divest the Persians of their language, heritage, and culture. Ferdowsi (940-1020), the illustrious poet and author of the book, sensed that the Islamic civilization was eclipsing the pre-Islamic identity and glory of Persia. So, to make a long story short, he authored the book, The Epic, which took him thirty excruciating years, in order to save the Persian language and culture therein. The book is a profound embodiment of the myths, customs, and traditions that shaped the pre-Islamic, Persian civilization. (An Egyptian scholar once remarked that a reason Egyptians speak Arabic today is because they did not have a Ferdowsi to preserve their own language.) So, today, Persians believe that true Persia exists in the book, as a home and as a source of their historical identity. Likewise, the same sentiment can be ascribed toward the Neapolitan Pizza. Indeed, when we engage in the ritual of making Neapolitan pizza, we are engaged in something more than a culinary tradition that needs to be approached with reverence and care. This elusive facet of the Neapolitan culture will be better understood when I provide, in my next article, a very brief account of history of Naples. La maschera di napoli (“The mask of Naples”)—i.e., Pulcinella—is also another integral aspect of the Neapolitan culture and identity, which I will cover in a future article.

Pulcinella, La Maschera di Napoli (The Mask of Naples)

Although the Neapolitan pizza seems to be an outcome of an ancient tradition that began in Naples, this prototypical pizza (from which the New York pizza is said to have originated) is still in its infancy here in the United States. It is often misconceived by the general public and many practitioners, and perhaps it will take time for Americans to develop a relative and appreciable understanding of the traditional Neapolitan pizza and its simple yet complex gastronomy. Of course, making Neapolitan pizza is not quantum physics. It is simple; Neapolitan pizza is an offspring of “simplicity” and “balance”, which constitute its “beauty”. Yet underlying the apparent simplicity is an uneasy complexity with multifarious facets. For a practitioner, it takes time for the simplicity to emerge into her or his sensibility—after toiling at learning and hard work. In the American culture, where impulsive gastronomy, excessive emphasis on quantity rather than quality, super-sizing, and exaggerated use of ingredients often seem to be a general norm, I am not sure to what degree we can live up to the Neapolitan ideal. Of course, America is not Naples, where the gastronomical sensibility of the people is markedly different than the general American sensibility. Perhaps, it may be beneficial to cite an advice I was given by a Neapolitan pizzaiolo:

“If foreigners thoroughly understand the Neapolitan pizza tradition from our vantage point and learn how to fully appreciate it, then they may not need to distort it at all according to their own sensibility or in ways that are incompatible with our tradition. Of course, they should make pizza the way they enjoy, but should not name it ‘Neapolitan pizza’ if it does not conform to our tradition. Neapolitan pizza is a revered part of our culture and identity as the Neapolitan people, and it displeases us to see it deformed by opportunism or ignorance, as foreigners would not like to see someone distort symbols that are sacred to them.”

Consequently, I am of the conviction that one needs the right perspectives to properly approach and understand the Neapolitan phenomenon; in other words, one needs to learn about and participate, as much as possible and practical, in the Neapolitan culture in order to perceive the tradition from their unique perspective, not from an American perspective which has ironically shaped how non-Neapolitans around the world generally view pizza. In my estimation, no understanding of the Neapolitan pizza is complete without understanding the historical and cultural forces that have shaped the tradition over centuries. Understanding the Neapolitan history and culture can enhance one’s understanding of the Neapolitan pizza tradition, although they may seem irrelevant at first glance. Naturally, the Neapolitan pizza would be nonexistent today without the underlying cultural and historical ontogeny which serves as the foundation for the culinary tradition.

I believe no introduction to the traditional Neapolitan pizza can be all-encompassing in its scope, as this is a very rich and extensive tradition that did not come into being overnight. The Neapolitan pizza symbolically represents the centuries-old political and cultural ambitions of the Neapolitans in a subtle manner; it is a profound symbol of the spirit of the Neapolitan people. In due course, I will elaborate on this.

§4. TRADITION & AUTHENTICITY
It is imperative to understand what is meant by the phrase, “traditional Neapolitan pizza”. One ought to understand what it entails. What is a “tradition”? In general, a tradition is a fundamental frame of reference that provides a mode of commitment. More specifically, a tradition is a system of thought and behavior shared by a group of people. In addition, the system of thought and behavior gives the group a fundamental frame of orientation and an object of devotion (an ideal) to adhere to. At last, traditions, such as the Neapolitan pizza tradition, are historically and culturally informed.

The authenticity of Neapolitan pizza is fundamentally found in its traditionalism. The word “authentic” is a derivative of the Greek word αὐθέντης (authentēs), meaning “author”. In this sense, the Neapolitan tradition is the author—and the authority.

Therefore, to understand the authenticity of Neapolitan pizza, one ought to understand (to stand under) the Neapolitan tradition, and the historical and cultural forces which gave birth to it. To make authentic Neapolitan pizza, one needs to be committed to the tradition, i.e., to the system of thought and behavior.

§5. THE NEAPOLITAN PIZZA TRADITION
Anyone who wholeheartedly commits oneself to learn and understand the Neapolitan pizza tradition—which is, as I have already mentioned, an oral tradition—will soon be face-to-face with the issue of: Who is to say what the tradition entails? How is it supposed to be carried out? Who is to say which Neapolitan pizza is authentic and which is inauthentic? Verily, the issue of authenticity or traditionalism of the Neapolitan pizza has been a daunting controversy in and out of Naples. Perhaps, Antonio Pace (one of the founding fathers of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) said it the best:

“Neapolitan pizza has no inventors, no fathers, no masters, but is the fruit of the creativity of the Neapolitan people.”

Antonio Pace among the Neapolitan pizzaioli

Yes, the people—not just any people, but the Neapolitan people. But, “people” is a tricky concept. It definitely does not imply a single individual; it may not convey a democratic process of establishing consensus among the people either. Perhaps, this is where a crucial role of artists (pizzaioli napoletani) becomes essential: to artistically bring to conscious awareness the spirit of a people, their aspirations, their creative potentials, their existential possibilities.

§6. ART & SEDUCTION
Neapolitan pizza is more than a Neapolitan way of preparing a flattened dough garnished with certain toppings. In Naples, pizza is a way of life and an integral part of the Neapolitan culture and society, so much so that it partly defines the identity of people of Naples. Making Neapolitan pizza is an “art”, perhaps in the fullest sense of the term: creatively sculpting from raw materials a symbolic artifact (arte factum, “something made with skill”) that aesthetically feeds the eyes and the soul, besides feeding the stomach. This process is akin to a sculptor transforming a pure piece of marble into a beatific work of art that seduces her or him to life! (Yes, art has the power to seduce one to life.) A pizzaiolo’s marble is the dough, and her or his hands are the chisels. By imposing form upon the formless mass of dough, a pizzaiolo creates a work of art that, unlike a sculpture or painting, can be intimately felt through the senses of smell, taste, and oral tactility.

§7. ARTISTIC CHARACTER
My philosophy is that recipes do not create pizzas, that what are more fundamental in making Neapolitan pizzas are the underlying principles and, above all, the character of the pizza-artisan. Consider Michelangelo’s statue “David”, which is a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Was it a recipe (a set of instructions) that essentially breathed life into the block of marble out of which “David” was born, or was it Michelangelo’s artistic character and following a set of principles—in accordance with the sensitivity, temperament, temperance, style, and virtues of his cultivated character—that begot this magnificent work of art? It is said that when Michelangelo carved “David”, he simply chiseled away whatever that was not human in the block of marble, and at last the creator set “David” free from the mass of marble. In his own words, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” A pizzaiolo’s task is to do the same with his marble.

Michelangelo’s “David”

Metamorphosis of pizzaiolo’s “marble”

Metamorphosis of pizzaiolo’s “marble”

Whatever pizza recipe a pizzaiolo devises and the way he executes the recipe in crafting pizzas will directly correlate with his artistic character and the principles he apprehends and follows. In essence, it is one’s cultivated artistic character and the way one employs the principles of dough production that should dictate and animate a dough recipe.

Often I envisage that the quality and worth of a pizza is principally contingent upon the ethos or character of the pizzaiolo who gave birth to the pizza. Perhaps what is more decisive in preparing pizza is character (derived from the Greek word kharaktēr, meaning literally “a stamping tool”) rather than technical skills of a pizzaiolo. Besides, the right attitude fosters the right aptitude. According to Friedrich Nietzsche,

“Giving style to one’s character—a great and rare art! It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own nature and then comprehend them in an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason . . . under a law of their own.” (Gay Science, book 4:290)

The pizza you make reflects your character.

§8. INSIDE-OUT PROCESS
As an art, learning how to create Neapolitan pizza fundamentally appears to be an inside-out process, involving psychological transformation, meaning that one needs to overcome internal (psychological) obstacles in order to overcome external (physical) obstacles in this artistic pursuit. One learns to create an artwork by recreating oneself, bringing one’s own impulses under control and sublimating them into new channels of activity. This carries the implication that, again, recipes and techniques do not make pizzas; they are merely instrumental in the act of creating. Something deeper or primordial seems to be at work here. Handcrafting pizza napoletana, as an artistic expression, involves self-actualization and self-expression, not devoid of devotion for the rich Neapolitan tradition—which is, figuratively speaking, the shoulders of a giant upon which a devotee must stand! The giant, dwelling in the subterranean labyrinths of Napoli, has already set the paradigm. And, there always will be a Theseus who will have to find the way out of the maze without being devoured by the Minotaur!

§9. ART & TRADITION
Art creates, not just copy. Some orthodox pizzaioli of Naples are of the belief, however vague, that the “evolution” of Neapolitan pizza was completed over a century ago (supposedly in 1889, when Queen Margherita visited Naples), that there is no more room for any changes or modifications. Does this conviction imply that the ideal pizza of Naples (i.e., the necessary qualities that make a pizza Neapolitan) has already reached the summit of its formal development and, therefore, the tradition should live on pristine? Or, does it imply that the two actual pizzas of Naples (i.e., Marinara and Margherita) are the ultimate material archetypes? Or, does it imply that the Neapolitan pizza is strictly defined in terms of both its formal (specific qualities) and material (specific ingredients) constituents as consummated in 1889? Whatever the case might be, the orthodox posture reminds me of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who was cognizant that to create new music, the old laws had to be broken or modified. According to Walter Kaufmann’s interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of “the artist’s morality”,

“The great artist does not stick to any established code; yet his work is not lawless but has structure and form. Beethoven did not conform to the rules of Haydn or Mozart; yet his symphonies have form throughout. Their form and law Beethoven created with them [namely, the legacies of Hayden and Mozart]. To create involves going ‘beyond. . .’.”

(Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist; Part 3:8, 4th Edition)

The man who sculpted “David” loved and copied ancient Greek and Roman statues, yet he set out to better them within their own traditions.

§10. ENIGMA & SUPERSTITION
Formation of a balanced dough can be an enigmatic process, filled with conundrums and surprises. Whence the enigma? In a literal sense, an inoculated dough is alive. As an organic mass, it is filled with millions of fermentative microorganisms that are sensitive and responsive to their surrounding environment. The hydrolytic, enzymatic, catalytic, and other reactions within dough evade direct human perception. Further, such chemical reactions are complex and contingent upon various variables (such as duration of time, temperature, humidity, pH level, protein and starch content, and etc.) that are difficult to control all at once. Hence, predicting the outcomes of these reactions with a high level of accuracy is a challenge. Therefore, one should not wonder why many have developed all kinds of procedures, rituals, and superstations (some of which are nonsensical and even neurotic) in respect to making dough. In making dough, often we implement steps for which we have no explanations other than “that’s what everybody else does” or “that’s what I have been told” or else. This is tantamount to laughing at a joke that has not been told yet. As German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) expresses, “Dare to think for yourself.” And, in this endeavor, perhaps it would be beneficial to heed the Socratic maxim: True wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.” In other words, if one assumes that one knows everything, then one is not likely to question one’s own assumptions. Question everything; take nothing for granted. When knowledge is lacking, superstations often pervade.

§11. PRINCIPLE v. CONTENT
Once upon a time, a philosophy professor advised me as follows, “In learning anything, aim to understand the underlying principles as opposed to just memorizing the content; for if the content becomes obsolete, you will be obsolete with it if you have no knowledge of the principles that are at work. However, if you know the principles, then you can always create your own content.” Often, in learning how to make dough, we subserviently rely upon measurements and instructions as given in a recipe—without understanding the invisible principles which dictate the measurements and the instructions. As a result, once the recipe (the content) stops producing the desired results, the recipient becomes baffled in distraught. However, if the recipient understands the rationale (the principles) underlying the recipe, she or he can diagnose and hopefully solve the problem.

§12. SIMPLICITY (“Ockham’s Razor”)
In my opinion, the Neapolitan culinary tradition, as far as preparing pizza is concerned, is fundamentally predicated on simplicity in both dough formulation and procedures for its implementation. Hence, it is advisable to keep the entire undertaking as simple as possible. A principle of simplicity known as “Ockham’s razor”—which is commonly, yet subconsciously, used by professional pizzaioli—has practical application in this respect. According to scholastic philosopher William of Ockham (1288–1348), Entita non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitate: “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity” or, more technically put, “The number of entities used to explain phenomena should not be increased unnecessarily”. In other words, of two or more possible explanations for a phenomenon (such as formation of dough), choose the one that explains what is to be explained with the fewest assumptions and explanatory principles. And, as the great Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) had advised, this is a “rational” (indicative of ratios and proportions) process. The eloquent statement of Pericles (495–429 B.C.) can serve as an exemplary motto, encapsulating the beliefs and ideals underlying the Neapolitan culinary tradition:

“We are lovers of beauty, yet simple in our tastes. . . .”

Bust of Pericles (Roman copy, 430 B.C.)

Since here we are concerned with causation in transforming wheat flour to a particular type of dough, Aristotle’s “four causes” may be of assistance. Aristotle, who had examined the nature of flour and bread, was of the belief that to understand a natural phenomenon (e.g., formation of dough), one should determine the four following causes thereof:

1. “Material Cause” (change produced out of which or what),
2. “Formal Cause” (change produced into which),
3. “Efficient Cause” (change produced by which), and
4. “Final Cause” (change produced for the sake of which)

If we walk on a beach and see footprints (the formal cause) on the sand, we can legitimately infer that a human being (the efficient cause) must have walked there before we did. Because of past experience, we might even be able to tell the person’s weight by examining the size and depth of the footprints. Pay heed that in the preceding example we reasoned backwardly, form the “footprints” (the formal cause, or “effect” as the modern science would call it) to the “human being” who efficiently caused the prints. So we reasoned from the knowledge of effect (the footprints) to the knowledge of cause (the human being) since we were not present at the beach to witness the occurrence. In our case, the formal cause is the Neapolitan dough that must possess the attributes that will be enumerated under section §16 below.

§13. GENERAL STAGES OF MAKING NEAPOLITAN DOUGH
In 1989, at a pizza festival in Naples, after I had devoured numerous pizzas and with no desire for more, I, nonetheless, tasted a pizza marinara that bewildered my taste buds. I piteously begged the pizzaiolo, with my terrible Italian, how he accomplished the feat. He did not seem burdened with my plea. So, to charm him, I lowered myself to my knees and desperately began to sing Giuseppe Verdi’s aria “Le minacce” from his opera La forza del destino, which I knew very well, word by word:

Le minacce, i fieri accenti
Portin seco in preda i venti;
Perdonatemi, pietà,
O fratel, pietà, pietà! . . .

Fierce words and threats
Are carried off by the wind;
Forgive me, have pity,
Brother, have pity, have pity! . . .

After a round of applause by the festive onlookers, the maestro wrote down on a piece of greasy napkin the following (which took me a long time to decode and literally translate to English):

[Propound!] and attune your elements, water, salt, leaven, flour
Mix some partially
Hydrate the flour
Add the rest and knead
Ferment
Leaven
Make dough balls
More fermentation and Levitation
Don’t break your wrists, make love!

No measurements, no weights, no temperatures, no timings . . . It even reads like a poem! Perhaps, I can continue this trend, but in a more prosaic language. According to my construal of the Neapolitan tradition, stages of dough production (in a commercial environment, using either a fork mixer or double diving arms mixer) can be very briefly outlined—as a general guideline—in the following manner:

1. Mixing – The dough ingredients are schematically and methodically mixed in the following order (or a variation thereof):
    a. Water (the first element to be introduced into the mixer bowl)
    b. Sea salt
    c. Sourdough culture or baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae)
    d. Flour (by gradual addition)
2. Kneading – The mixture is effectively and sufficiently kneaded in order to achieve:
    a. Consummate hydration of flour
    b. Formation of gluten (up to a point)
    c. Formation of internal dough structure and dough skin (up to a point)
    d. Homogeneity of the mixture in terms of its consistency
    e. Punto di pasta (point of pasta), which is the summation of all the above, “a” to “d”
3. Repose
4. Initial Fermentation – The dough mass undergoes the initial fermentation (warm fermentation, meaning no refrigeration) for a befitting period of time
5. Forming Dough Balls – Dough balls are methodically formed out of the dough mass
6. Final Fermentation – The dough balls undergo complementary fermentation (warm fermentation) for a suitable amount of time until dough maturation is reached

It is essential to understand that the above scheme is only one rendition; there are other variations.

§14. IT IS ALL IN THE DOUGH
As evident above, it takes perseverance, close attention to details, extensive experience—and, of course, passion—to learn how to craft Neapolitan pizza, employing the Neapolitan tradition as the foundation. According to the tradition, good pizza begins with the dough. I repeat emphatically: fundamentally, it is all in the DOUGH. In making Neapolitan pizza, extra attention and effort need to be poured into making Neapolitan dough, which is distinct from bread dough and other types of pizza dough. In this undertaking, again, the culinary tradition of making pizza needs to be respected, either as the destination or as the point of departure. The early Neapolitan pizzaioli employed certain dough techniques that they had inherited from their ancient predecessors. The advent of modernity, commercialism, and industrialization has caused abandonment of many of such techniques. Of course, the wheat flour produced today is characteristically different than the flour used in antiquity, even different than the flour used a century ago. Different types of flours often require different methodologies and techniques, although the fundamentals of dough production remain the same.

§15. METHODOLOGY & TECHNIQUE
So, without any compromise, extra attention and effort need to be put into making Neapolitan dough, which is traditionally composed of only four elements:

1. Water;
2. Sea salt;
3. Sourdough culture or baker’s yeast; and
4. Medium or slightly weaker strength wheat flour “type 00”.

And, of course, of primary concern are methodology and applicable techniques in metamorphosing a mixture of the above-mentioned elements into dough. In the context of dough production, the terms “methodology” and “technique” are defined as follows:

●Methodology: The systematic organization of knowledge of the principles and processes which cause and regulate dough formation, fermentation, and maturation.

●Technique: The term (derived from the ancient Greek word tekhnē, meaning “skill” or “art”) denotes a systematic procedure by which dough formation, fermentation, and maturation are accomplished by deliberation, skill, and command—not chance—in handling the fundamentals of dough production. Hence, this requires practical knowledge and special skills arising from extensive experience. It is the accumulation and organization of such knowledge and skills over a long period of time by the Neapolitan pizzaioli that eventually crystalized into an art as part of the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan pizza.

In making Neapolitan dough, employment of the right methodology and techniques are quite critical and decisive—not to mention utilization of the right dough mixer (such as a well-engineered fork mixer or double diving arms mixer) that can effectively knead the dough while properly regulating dough turbulence, friction, temperature, and oxygenation. Without the proper methodic handling—i.e., timely, orderly, skillfully, and schematically mixing the ingredients in a well-executed manner—dough may not optimally form. Throughout the process, dough should not be manipulated aimlessly. Handling dough needs to be executed deliberately and skillfully at every stage: during mixing, kneading, fermenting, forming dough balls, opening dough balls into discs, and etc.

Double diving arms mixer (left) & fork mixer (right)

A Neapolitan pizzeria can possess all the right ingredients and culinary tools, yet if the dough they produce is not properly prepared, the pizzas produced by the pizzeria will be gastronomically unmerited (by the conservative estimation) of the title “Neapolitan pizza”, does not matter how mouthwatering, flavorful, scrumptious, and Neapolitan-looking they are, and does not matter how people rave about them.

§16. ATTRIBUTES OF NEAPOLITAN PIZZA BASE AND CORNICIONE
Within the Neapolitan framework, there are diverse ways to accomplish balanced dough. However, whatever recipes—and techniques to execute the recipes—are used to create the dough, at the end they should produce a Neapolitan pizza base (i.e., the crust) that by the tradition should possess the following attributes:

1. Soft, thin, and non-crispy pizza base;
2. Pliable and slightly moist pizza base that does not break or crack when folded into what Neapolitans call portafoglio napoletano (Neapolitan wallet) or libretto napoletano (Neapolitan booklet);
3. Texturally light pizza base and cornicione that are not hard to chew (Neapolitans metaphorically refer to this as la scioglievolezza, meaning, “it easily melts in your mouth”);
4. Fluffy and airy cornicione that is inflated around the flat, roundish pizza disc (“roundish” does not mean perfectly round);
5. Pizza base that is not too thin for its flavors to get lost among other flavors;
6. Pizza base that is not too thick to suppress other flavors and make chewing uneasy;
7. Aromatic and full of subtle flavors;
8. Vivacious in color and composition;
9. Light and easily digestible

Portafoglio/Libretto napoletano (Neapolitan wallet/booklet) by pizzaiolo Ciro Salvo

It is of utmost concernment to infer that the pizza base is more than a vessel embracing the toppings. According to the New York Times interview of June 25, 1989 with Salvatore Condurro of L’antica Pizzeria da Michele (a classic Neapolitan pizzeria of Naples that ardently advocates a fundamentalist approach toward preparing pizza):

“The first thing is the crust, it has got to be soft and light. That is why we always prepare the dough the day before it is used, using the smallest amount of yeast possible, letting it rise about 15 hours. Most places these days pour in loads of yeast to make the dough rise instantly. The result is a tough crust with a yeasty taste.”

In its September 25, 2002 issue, The Washington Post printed an article entitled “Naples, by Pizza Possessed”, which begins with the following account of a pizza-making contest in Naples:

“The pizzaiuolo, the pizzamaker, shuffled his feet nervously as he stood by the stern judge. He was defending his pizza’s crust—it was crunchy. Unfortunately for the contestant, crunchy is a no-no in the heartland of pizza. ‘Stupid move,’ the judge said tersely. ‘Why enter a contest of Neapolitan pizza if you can’t make one the right way?’ A hard crust may be something consumers across the globe associate with 21st-century pizza, but here crackle is unthinkable. Chewy is also out. Crust is not even a proper description for the billowy circumference of pizza. Neapolitans call it the crown, and it is as thin and light as pastry. . . . They [Neapolitans] are on guard against a kind of globalization boomerang. Italian foods that have won the hearts of consumers worldwide return to Italy in adulterated form: frozen, thick-crusted, piled with ingredients, as if volume could make up for artistry.”

§17. OXIDATION
It is necessary to minimize dough oxidation (distinct from dough “oxygenation”) from the moment mixing of the ingredients begins all the way to when the dough reaches maturity. (Oxidation is the rightful office of the Neapolitan oven, where oxidation accelerates to immense heights. Even then, the extraordinary thermal engineering of the faithful Neapolitan oven incredibly regulates the rate of oxidation whereby the texture and flavors of pizzas are preserved as long as the handling and timing is flawless.) Why minimizing oxidation? It is a scientific generalization that friction/heat promotes oxidation of matter. And, according to science of gastronomy, excessive oxidation deprives various types of human food of their lively colors, textures, and flavors. For instance, the more a piece of raw beef stake is oxidized (i.e., grilled), the more it loses its red color, tender texture, and flavor. Thus, the rate of oxidation needs to be carefully regulated.

The same principle applies to pizza dough. If using a mechanized mixer, such as a fork mixer or double diving arms mixer, the dough should be kneaded at a slow rate in order to minimize oxidation of dough and to minimize generation of gluten matrix to a proper degree. In addition, unreasonably Lengthy kneading and undue turbulence during kneading can also contribute to excessive dough oxidation and improper gluten formation. In general, the faster dough is kneaded and, hence, heated and oxidized,—the tougher, pale-colored, and less flavorful pizza base and cornicione will be produced at the end. Moreover, in general, the more gluten is generated in dough during kneading, the tougher pizza base and cornicione will be produced at the end. Lengthy, fast-speed kneading can damage, de-flavor, toughen, and bleach the vivacious white color of dough. Therefore, as a generalization, a baked dough is tougher, more bleached in color, and less flavorful in proportion to how much the dough is worked.

After the initial fermentation of dough is over, dough balls need to be methodically individuated from the dough mass. Sculpting dough balls is an important stage in dough production. After the dough balls are formed, they undergo further fermentation in order to procure a relaxed posture and buoyant constitution (i.e., dough maturation). Again, properly controlling the time and temperature is indispensable here.

At last, by employing specific techniques, the dough balls are drafted into dough discs and adorned with the toppings. How prosaically (cf. agitatamente or staccato) or poetically (cf. appassionato or animato) the hands draft the dough discs will greatly impact the gastronomic and aesthetic qualities of the pizzas. Moreover, this is a last chance for a pizza-artisan to physically stamp his signature on the blank dough canvas, and to find himself in his own creation. German philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883) eloquently articulates this sentiment as follows:

“As man works on nature outside himself and changes it, he changes at the same time his own nature.”

Dr. Karl Marx (1818–1883)

As mentioned earlier, manipulating a dough ball upon opening it into a dough disc needs to be done with care and skill. A perfectly balanced dough can be ruined—in terms of texture and flavor—if it is mishandled. Banging on a dough disc, exhaust-stretching it, and incorporating excessive amount of flour therein will create a pizza base and cornicione that are bitterly insipid in flavor, heavy in texture, and unaesthetic to the look.

§18. FOR THE SAKE OF CRUST
From a rudimentary vantage point, the pizza toppings are there not for their own sake, but to accentuate the subtle flavors of the pizza base. Simply put, the toppings must not dominate and mask the flavors of the crust. By way of analogy, this is akin to an Italian bel canto opera, wherein the music played by the orchestra does not generally subdue, but elevates the voices of singers. In a sense, the music is merely a commentary upon what the singers sing. In the same vein, the pizza toppings are merely commentaries about the pizza base. (In Naples, it is not uncommon to view each distinct flavor of pizza as a musical note! Imagine the Italian composer Antonio Salieri relating to Mozart his sensation of a well-prepared pizza marinara: “With the first bite, the marinara tasted ridiculously simple . . . modest . . . unpretentious. The pungent, yet tempered, flavor of the crushed tomatoes lingered on, like a monotonous musical pulse—made by bassoons and basset horns! Then suddenly, high above it, the garlic—that is the oboe—as a single note appeared, hanging there unwavering, until the oregano—the clarinet—took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight. But, that was just the prelude, paving the way for the delicate flavor of the crust to deliver the final blow—the crescendo.”) Quantitatively balancing the toppings toward the crust and qualitatively harmonizing the flavors of the toppings, not against, but toward the flavors of the curst is the key.

§19. THE TEMPLE OF BRICKS
In this endeavor, the il forno napoletano (the Neapolitan oven) is not just a tool, but an indispensable ingredient—il quinto elemento (“the 5th element”, after water, salt, fermentative agent, and flour), which has the ancient Roman myth of Prometeo at its core. (Prometeo was a Titan who stole fire from the gods and bequeathed it to mortals for their benefit.) The brick oven is the sacred temple where the flavors of the toppings enchant one another for the sake of ornamenting the subtle flavors of the pizza base. Furthermore, the oven insinuates and blesses the pizza with a flavor and texture that it would not otherwise have. At last, in this marriage ritual, beneath the canopy (dome) of the oven, form (design) and matter (the dough and toppings) are wedded!—a work of art is born. And, borrowing the words of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), a prominent German art scholar of the 18th century, “In the presence of this miracle of art, I forget all else, and I myself take a lofty position for the purpose of looking upon it in a worthier manner.” Alas, culinary art works have not been granted the status they deserve.

The Neapolitan oven at Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon, PA

§20. SENSIBILITY & GASTRONOMY
Now, the sensitive issue of gastronomical sensibility! Briefly put, gastronomy is a very comprehensive science and art of good cuisine and good eating, plus the physiology of taste and smell, and anatomy of food textures, aromas, and flavors. In my observation, the Neapolitan gastronomical sensibility is different than the American sensibility as each culture values certain food characteristics. In general, the way Neapolitans enjoy their pizzas repels many Americans and vice versa. A cheese-less pizza (i.e., pizza marinara) is inconceivable for many Americans. While the jovial expression “a pizza without cheese is like a kiss without squeeze” captures an American way of feeling about pizza, Neapolitans poetically express their attitude as follows: “Pizza with cheese is like a beautiful blue sky bejeweled with patches of pure, white clouds; pizza without cheese is like a beautiful, sunny day where all is clear.”

On a visit, in 2001, to L’antica Pizzeria da Michele, a respectable American tourist, with whom I shared a table, made a comment, “Is this pizza or uncooked tomato pudding? These guys don’t know pizza. They should learn from us!” A French tourist, who also happened to be there, commented, after the American gentleman left, “Americans know how to eat, but not taste.” Europeans generally believe that Americans are gastronomically uneducated or not critical enough. Perhaps this assertion is meritorious. Many reputable European food and wine companies dump their substandard products (products that Europeans would not buy due to low quality) here in the US because they know we are uncritical judges of quality. Some of the imported Italian cheeses and wines—which we think of as the crème de la crème and pay top dollars for—are actually considered low-grade and inferior by the Italian standards. They sell them to us because they know that we do not know any better.

We need to train our taste buds in order to discern textures and flavors better and make more critical and informed value judgments. Like a pianist training her ears or a painter training his visual color perception, taste buds can be trained to consciously discern flavors that we did not even know were there. To untrained eyes, Michelangelo’s “David” may seem no more than a pretty piece of marble shaped in form of a man. However, to more sophisticated eyes, this masterpiece of Renaissance art may represent an embodiment of the ideals of humanity: beauty, truth, courage, strength, and wisdom.

§21. IL PIZZAIOLO
By legacy, a pizzaiolo napoletano is essentially a care, a burden, a culture-carriercarrying centuries of customs, traditions, and history that go beyond just a culinary phenomenon, as we shall see in future articles. A pizzaiolo napoletano is a custodian of the Neapolitan tradition that he has inherited. Those of non-Neapolitan origin who aspire to take on this role should beware; being a pizzaiolo is ideally a solemn role in the Neapolitan society. Perhaps it is no surprise that a favored pizzaiolo of Naples, Gino Sorbillo, was popularly asked to participate in the mayoral race in 2011.

“Pizzaiolo” is a prestigious title in Naples that one earns after years of diligently working and accumulating experience in all kinds of culinary disciplines involved in a Neapolitan pizzeria. (The Italian suffix “-aiolo” or “-aiuolo” designates one who practices a profession.) One does not become a pizzaiolo overnight; it is a long commitment.

A pizzaiolo is well-disciplined as a dough preparer, banconista (one who assembles raw dough and toppings into pizzas), and fornaio (one who manages the oven and bakes pizzas). Besides having consummate mastery over such disciplines, an excellent pizzaiolo is fully aware of the virtues of all the ingredients to be employed, and the pizzaiolo is able to quickly adapt to the elemental limitations and the demands they impose on the pizzaiolo’s culinary efforts. Furthermore, a masterful pizzaiolo is able to quickly adapt to his environment, its limitations, and the demands the environment imposes on the pizzaiolo’s culinary efforts. A great pizzaiolo, with a great degree of accuracy predicts the outcomes of his culinary efforts, and the pizzaiolo is able to successfully modify or change course of action when a previous course of action becomes problematic. In doing so, the pizzaiolo does not compromise the integrity of the dough to be made into pizzas. At the end, the pizzas baked by the pizzaiolo reflect his character and creativity.

Pizzaiolo Don Luigi Condurro of L’antica Pizzeria da Michele, Naples 2011 (picture by Pizza Pilgrims)

§22. Odyssey
The journey into the genesis of Neapolitan pizza is an odyssey, and every odyssey has an inbuilt sense of return to a distant past. To move forward, we must look back!

Next article: Part 2: A Brief History of Naples

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