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.
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.
§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?
§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.
§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.
§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.
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.
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