Formation of flawless and impeccably balanced dough is an enigmatic process, to say the least! But, first, since I am new in this forum, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Omid, from San Diego, California. I have joined this forum with one main interest in mind: amore per la pizza napoletana! In addition, I would like to get exposure in the pizza communities in Southern California for the purpose of finding suitable employment as a pizzaiolo (pizza chef-artisan). My amorous affair with Neapolitan pizza commenced in 1984, when I had to wait nine months in Naples to receive my immigrant visa to the United States. Now, here I am!
As you may know, the city of Naples, situated in Campania region of Southern Italy, is deemed as the cradle of pizza. The genesis of this phenomenon can be arguably traced back to the ancient Romans. Perchance, Virgil (70 – 19 BC), an ancient Roman poet, can best 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.
Based on my research and experience in and out of Naples, in what follows hereunder I will briefly provide my philosophical view, which I do not claim to be authoritative, on what I call “pizza napoletanismo” (pizza neapolitanism): the phenomenon of pizza napoletana.
§2. ART OF SEDUCTION
La vera pizza napoletana is more than a Neapolitan way of preparing flat breads garnished with 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”, in the fullest sense of the term: creatively sculpting from raw materials an artifact (arte factum, “something made with skill”) that aesthetically feeds the eyes and the soul, besides the stomach. This process is akin to a sculptor transforming a pure piece of marble into a beatific work of art that seduces him to life! (Yes, art has the power to seduce one to life.) A pizzaiolo’s marble is the dough, and his hands are his 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.
§3. ARTISTIC CHARACTER:
Often I envisage that the quality and worth of a pizza is principally contingent upon the artistic character of the pizzaiolo who gives birth to it. Perhaps what is more decisive in preparing pizza is personality rather than technical skills of a pizza artisan. Besides, the right attitude fosters the right aptitude. Moreover, according to German philosopher 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.” The pizza you make reflects your character!
§4. INSIDE-OUT PROCESS
As an art, learning how to create pizza napoletana is initially an inside-out process, involving psychological transformation. That is to say, 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 recipes and techniques do not make pizzas; they are merely instrumental in the act of creation. Something deeper, innate, 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! 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!
§5. ART & TRADITION
Art creates, not just copies! Some orthodox pizzaioli in Naples are of the belief, however vague, that the “evolution” of Neapolitan pizza was completed over a century ago, that there is no more room for any changes, or no modifications are needed. Does this conviction imply that the ideal pizza of Naples has already reached the summit of its formal (design) 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? As I said earlier, the conservative standpoint is obscure. Their 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. . .’.”
§6. ENIGMA & SUPERSTITION
As I stated earlier, formation of dough is an enigmatic process, filled with conundrums and surprises. Whence the enigma? In a literal sense, dough is alive! As an organic mass, it is filled with millions of microscopic organisms that are sensitive and highly responsive to their surrounding environment. The enzymatic, hydrolytic, catalytic, bacterial, fungal, and other organic 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, atmospheric pressure, osmotic stress, and etc.—that are formidably difficult to control all at once. Hence, predicting outcome 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 quite absurd and even neurotic) in respect to making dough. This situation is on a par with various religious belief systems that have formulated a hierarchy of supernatural beings in order to explain the nature of the natural world. 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”. This is tantamount to laughing at a joke that has not been told yet. As the German philosopher Immanuel Kant expresses, “Dare to think for yourself.” When knowledge is lacking, superstations pervade. Ignorance can be a recipe for dough disaster!
§7. PRINCIPLE v. CONTENT
Once upon a time, my philosophy professor advised me as follows, “In learning anything, always 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 stops producing the desired results, the recipient becomes baffled in distraught. However, if the recipient understands the rationale underlying the recipe, she or he can diagnose and hopefully solve the problem.
§8. GENERAL STAGES OF MAKING DOUGH FOR PIZZA NAPOLETANA
In 1989, at a pizza festival in Naples, after I had devoured numerous pizzas and with no desire for more, I 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;
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):
1. [Propound!] and attune your elements, water, flour, salt, leaven
2. Mix some partially
3. Hydrate the flour
4. Add the rest and knead
7. Make dough balls
8. More fermentation and Levitation
Don’t break your wrist, make love!
§9. IT IS ALL IN THE DOUGH!
As evident above, it takes perseverance, close attention to details, several years of experience—and, of course, passion—to learn how to craft pizza napoletana, employing the Neapolitan tradition as the foundation. According to the tradition, good pizza begins with the dough. I repeat emphatically: It is all in the DOUGH! In making pizza napoletana, extra attention and effort need to be poured into making pasta per la pizza napoletana (Neapolitan pizza dough), which is distinct from other types of pizza dough. In this undertaking, again, the ancient tradition of making pizza needs to be respected, either as the destination or as the point of departure. Those who study the surviving ancient Roman culinary texts can find a wealth of practical tips about making dough. My best dough-making technique originates from such a source. In fact, the early Neapolitan pizzaioli used many of the techniques that they had inherited from their ancient predecessors. The advent of modernity, commercialism, and industrialization have unfortunately caused abandonment of many of these techniques.
A pizzeria can possess all the best ingredients and culinary equipment, yet if the dough they produce is not properly prepared and diligently cared for—the pizzas produced by the pizzeria will be gastronomically unworthy. In making dough, one really has to come to her or his senses; one must visually, olfactorily, and tactilely keep sensing the dough. Watch, smell, and feel! These sensory sensations will give us forewarnings and invaluable clues as to what should be done in the process of making pizza dough. For instance, certain types of dough become ripe without exhibiting strong visible signs; thus, one needs to train one’s own olfactory ability to discern the sweet and aromatic signs of maturation.
There are diverse ways—no such thing as the way—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 pane (bread) or crosta di pizza (pizza crust) that by tradition should possess the following attributes:
1. Soft pizza crust that can be cut—with little or no effort—into slices by use of table knife and fork;
2. Soft pizza crust that does not break or crack when folded into what Neapolitans call “Neapolitan wallet” (portafoglio napoletano);
3. Moist crust that is not desiccated and crackery (although some crusts are too moist by the American standard);
4. Texturally light pizza crust and cornicione (crown or rim) that are not hard to chew;
5. Fluffy and airy cornicione (which is the artist’s signature on the blank dough canvas) that is inflated around the flat and roundish pizza disk;
6. Pizza crust, besides the cornicione, that is not too thin for its flavors to get lost amongst other flavors;
7. Pizza crust, besides the cornicione, that is not too thick to make chewing uneasy and is not burdensome to stomach;
8. Pizza crust that is endowed with moderate level of naturally induced sourness;
9. Full of subtle natural flavors to the sense of taste;
10. Aromatic to the sense of smell;
11. Aesthetically pleasing to the sense of sight;
12. Vivacious in color and composition;
13. Light and easily digestible to the stomach;
It is of utmost concernment to infer that the pizza crust is more than a vessel embracing the garnishes. Here is a good advice to take to heart! 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.”
As if that was not enough, in its September 25, 2002 issue, The Washington Post printed an article entitled “Naples, by Pizza Possessed”, which begins with the following bizarre account of a pizza 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.”
§10. FOR THE SAKE OF CRUST
It is important to keep in mind that the toppings are there not for their own sake, but to accentuate the subtle flavors of the pizza crust/bread. Simply put, the toppings must not dominate and mask the flavors of the pizza crust. By way of analogy, this is akin to Italian opera, wherein the music played by the orchestra does not subdue, but elevates the voices of singers. The music is merely a commentary upon what the singers sing. In the same vein, pizza toppings are merely commentaries about the crust. (For some old generation of Neapolitan pizzaioli, pizza and opera are parallel arts! In fact, the operatic art has often informed the art of pizza making. 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 the pizza marinara that Pizzeria da Michele prepared for him: “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 bread 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!
§11. THE TEMPLE OF BRICKS (L'elemento di Prometeo)
In this endeavor, the il forno napoletano (the Neapolitan wood-fired brick oven) is not just a tool, but an indispensible ingredient—il quinto elemento (the 5th element), 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 bread. Furthermore, the forno insinuates and blesses the pizza with a flavor and texture that it would not otherwise have. At last, in this marriage ritual, beneath the dome shaped canopy of the forno, form (design) and matter (the 5 elements, attendant ingredients, and their flavors and aromas) are wedded!—a work of art is born. And, borrowing the words of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the prominent 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 truly deserve. Perhaps, not in Naples!
§12. SIMPLICITY (Ockham’s Razor)
I think it is a prudent advice to strive for simplicity in formulating dough recipes and procedures for their implementations. I would keep everything as simple as possible. A principle of simplicity known as “Ockham’s razor”—which is commonly, yet subconsciously, used by professional bakers—has practical application in this respect. According to the scholastic philosopher William of Ockham, Entita non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitate: “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity” or “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 would advise, later in this post, this is a “rational” (indicative of ratios and proportions) process. I think it is fair to posit that, in general, an underlying principle of Italian cuisine is simplicity.
Since here we are concerned with causation in transforming wheat flour to dough, Aristotle’s “four causes” may be of assistance here. 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), 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. In our case, the efficient cause is Neapolitan dough that must possess the attributes enumerated under section §9.
Whenever I devise a dough recipe and procedures to implement the recipe, I do so with the aforementioned attributes and principles in mind. And, of course, a recipe is only half of the story! As the great maxim has it, “The map is not the territory.”
So, without any compromise, extra attention and effort need to be put into making dough, which is traditionally composed of four elements:
1. Water (preferably non-carbonated hard water, containing relatively high mineral content, like the tap water of Naples, and the proper pH level);
2. Weak but stable flour of low gluten “tipo 00” (preferably composed of milled tender wheat grains of spring-summer season; W 250-280; 9-11% protein);
3. Wet sea salt (preferably coarse, untreated, and unwashed, containing relatively high level of magnesium and other minerals);
4. Lievito naturale / lievito madre / pasta madre (indigenous lactobacillus bacteria & fungus culture) or lievito di birra (fresh yeast).
And, of course, of primary concern is the “technique” used in metamorphosing the aforementioned elements into pasta. The right methodology makes all the difference—not to mention utilization of the right dough mixer (such as a "forcella") that can indeed effectively knead—not batter—the dough while minimizing excessive dough friction, minimizing dough oxidation, and providing safe and easy access for feeling the dough while the mixer is in operation. Unfortunately, many of the American dough mixers, such as the Kitchen Aid, treat the interior of the mixer bowl as a boxing ring, where dough can get battered and damaged if one can not figure out a way of manipulating the machine. Without the proper “METHODIC HANDLING”—i.e., timely, orderly, skillfully, and schematically mixing the ingredients in a well-executed manner, and uncompromisingly and contrivedly kneading the dough mass—pasta will not optimally form. Throughout the process, dough should not be handled aimlessly. Handling dough needs to be executed deliberately and skillfully at every stage: during mixing, kneading, fermenting, dough-balling, opening dough balls into discs, and etc.
§14. WATER IS THE CAUSE OF ALL THINGS. –Thales of Miletus, ancient Greek philosopher
Often we are told to mix the four ingredients, with or without intermittent pauses, in the following sequence or a slight variation thereof: water, salt, fermentative agent, and flour. However, those who inquire as to how differently the ancient Romans and early pizzaioli conducted this procedure may be in for a treat! It is simple, yet miraculous. Here, Pericles’ famous statement equally applies to the pre-classical Romans, “We are lovers of beauty, yet simple in our tastes. . . .”
I do not think any professional pizzaiolo would disagree that consummate hydration of flour is absolutely fundamental (derived from fundāre, "to lay the foundation"). According to Aristotle, Thales of Miletus (the father of Western philosophy) regarded water “as the first principle [or ‘material cause’] of all things.” Modern scholars argue that since pre-classical Greek language lacked great power of abstractive conceptualization, Thales could have meant “fluidity” (derived from fluere, “to flow” or “to smooth”) by water. And, that is precisely my point: fluidity, making the flour fluid enough in order to be animated, creative, or materially causative. The master of those who know, Aristotle, wrote:
Since that [e.g., flour] which is capable is capable of something and at some time and in some way . . . and since some things can work according to a rational formula and their potentialities involve a formula, while other things are non-rational and their potentialities are non-rational, and the former potentialities must be in a living thing, while the latter can be both in the living and in the lifeless; as regards potentialities of the latter kind, when the agent and the patient meet in the way appropriate to the potentiality in question, the one must act and the other be acted on, but with the former kind this in not necessary.” (The underlines are added for emphasis.)
The floured wheat endosperm is solid, not fluid. And, it has certain regulatory resistance to hydration, which, if I am not mistaken, flour scientists often refer to as “kinetics of water transport” or “hydration dynamics of endosperm”. This resistance barrier can be effectively overcome “at some time and in some way”, which calls for a “methodology” or “methodic handling” that the Romans, and Persians, of antiquity were good at, without resorting to all the fanciful conceptualizations above and hereafter. (If the Western civilization had effectuated a synthesis of "art" and "capitalism", such methods would not have been forgotten today, perhaps!)
To accomplish this, in principle, one has to get the flour’s own natural enzymes (amylase and protease) to adequately turn the starch content of flour into sugar and to reconfigure the protein content of flour into gluten—after mixing, but antecedent to kneading—in order to minimize dough oxidation, which causes the dough to be less “extensible” (as distinct from being “elastic”), bleached in color, deficient in flavor, and hard in texture. Allegorically speaking, if your hair is not wet enough, shampooing your hair would not be effective. First, adequately (quantity) and effectively (quality) hydrate your hair, and then shampoo. To give another allegorical example, if a Ferrari's engine is not properly oiled, then driving it will be rough and will damage the engine. However, if the Ferrari's engine is properly oiled, then driving it will be smooth. Adequately (indicative of “quantity”) and effectively (indicative of “quality” or “how”) hydrating flour will beget dough of superior extensibility, flavor, sourness, texture, and aroma. So, again, there are two distinct, but not separate, factors that one ought to be attentive to: quantity of hydration and quality (or how) of hydration. And, be mindful that this is a rational (derived from ratiō, "ratio" or "proportion") process.
§15. FLAVOR, SOURNESS, TEXTURE, & AROMA
Once dough has reached the “pasta state”, punto di pasta or modalità di pasta, (i.e., having reached a certain level of gluten formation, homogeneity, internal structure formation, and dough-skin formation), the dough should undergo, first, fermentation (essentially involving generation of flavor) and, second, levitation or leavening (essentially involving generation of light texture and sourness or lactic acid). And, in this process, there are two variables that ought to be brought under control: time and temperature. Simply put, dough needs the right amount of time and appropriate range of temperatures to actualize its virtues: (1) flavor, (2) sourness, (3) texture, and (4) subtle sweet aroma that gently caresses the olfactory nerves. (Although lievito madre and fresh yeast characteristically produce different overall aromas in the process of fermenting flour, both produce the subtle aroma in due time, which is the “glad tidings”! The smell of dough can—and should—be used as a telltale or pulse of dough.) Ignoring the development of the four essential gastronomical qualities under proper timing and temperatures may create dough disaster!
So, again, there are four vital interrelated factors to consider in fermenting and leavening dough: flavor, sourness, texture, and aroma. Very, very, very generally speaking, flavor and sourness are developed as a result of bacterial activities in dough, while texture is developed as a result of fungal activities in dough—yet, keep in mind that the bacterial and fungal activities are mutually dependent, that the bacteria and fungi need one another in order to carry out their activities as far as formation of pasta is concerned. Proper Neapolitan dough should possess the proper flavor, sourness, texture, and aroma. And, the depth and strength of these qualities—as far as they are culturally defined or determined by Neapolitans—can be learned by empirically tasting and orally-olfactorily feeling the real thing in Naples!
§16. SENSIBILITY & GASTRONOMY
This brings me to the sensitive issue of sensibility in respect to “gastronomy”, which is a very comprehensive art/science of good cuisine and good eating, plus the physiology of taste and smell, and anatomy of flavors and aromas. 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 is inconceivable for many Americans. While in the US our motto is “A pizza without cheese is like a kiss without squeeze”, Neapolitans poetically express their taste 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 the 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. Many 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! Unfortunately, generally speaking, America seems to value quantity over quality.
We need to train our taste buds in order to discern 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 eternal ideals of humanity: beauty, truth, courage, strength, and wisdom.
§17. TIME & TEMPERATURE
We all know that grape juice does not ferment into wine within a short period of time. In addition, proper temperature is critical for fermentation of grape juice. In principle, preparing dough is not much different from making wine. Just like a good wine, dough mass needs time—a long time, depending on the strength of flour, potency and amount of the fermentative agent, temperature, and etc. Besides the time factor, dough mass also needs the right temperatures in order to be alchemized into gold, i.e., to generate the right flavor, sourness, and texture in a balanced manner. In my opinion, four or six hours of fermentation and levitation might be enough for making ordinary pizzas or commercial breads, but deficient for la vera pizza napoletana (again, depending on the strength of flour, potency and amount of the fermentative agent, temperature, and etc.).
According to the accounts conveyed to me in Naples, the pizzaioli, prior to World War I, respected “time” and the virtues of “patience” and “excellence”—virtues that require time and reflection in order to be cultivated. However, today, the pressures of modern life have turned the pursuits of patience and excellence into pursuits of “immediate gratification” and “money”! This is another impact of modernity and capitalism, which equate time with money (cf. “time is money”). As a consequence, according to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, we are preoccupied with “reduction in the loss of time”, which is, in his words, “the flight of time from itself”. Heidegger urges us to stop understanding time merely in terms of efficiency.
Although some bacterial and fungal processes occurring within dough are aerobic as opposed to anaerobic, it is essential to minimize oxidation of dough from the moment mixing of the ingredients begins all the way to the end of fermenting/leavening the dough. (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 heat/friction promotes oxidation of matter. And, according to the science of gastronomy, oxidation deprives various types of human food of their lively color, flavor, and texture. For instance, the more a piece of beef stake is oxidized (i.e., grilled), the more it loses its red color, flavor, and soft texture. The same principle applies to pizza dough. Hence, Neapolitan dough should be kneaded at a slow rate in order to minimize oxidation of the dough and to minimize generation of gluten in the dough to the proper degree. The faster dough is kneaded and, hence, heated and oxidized—the tougher, less flavorful, and pale-colored bread it produces. The more gluten is generated in dough, the tougher bread it will make. Also, fast speed kneading bleaches the vivacious white color of dough, making it look pale, dull, and boring. Therefore, I conclude that a baked product is tougher, less flavorful, and more bleached in proportion to how much the dough is worked.
After proper fermentation and leavening of dough is over, panetti or palline (dough balls) need to be formed, which is a very important stage in production of pizza. After formation of the dough balls, they need further levitation in order to procure a relaxed posture and buoyant constitution. Again, controlling the time and temperature is indispensible here. This resting period will considerably contribute to soft texture (leavening) of the pizza crust and fermentation (flavor) of the dough. At last, by employing specific techniques, the dough balls can be drafted into dischi di pasta (dough discs, not hard bronze discus!) and adorned with the toppings. How prosaically the hands wrangle (agitatamente, staccato) or poetically caress (appassionato, animato) the dough discs is decisive in terms of the quality and aesthetics of the pizzas. (This is a last chance, for you as an artist, to physically stamp your signature on the blank doughy canvas, and to find yourself in your own creation. German philosopher Karl Marx 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.”)
As mentioned earlier, manipulating dough during opening a dough ball into a disc (stesura della pasta) needs to be done with care and skill. Perfectly balanced dough can be ruined—in terms of flavor and texture—if the dough is mishandled. Banging on the dough disc, exhaust-stretching it, and incorporating excessive amounts of flour into it will create a pizza crust that is sourly insipid in flavor, heavy in texture, and aesthetically unpleasing.
§19. IL PIZZAIOLO
An excellent pizzaiolo is one who can quickly adapt to her/his environment, its limitations, and the demands the environment imposes on the pizzaiolo’s culinary efforts. Some of the environmental factors are weather/climate, temperatures inside and outside pizzeria, humidity level, capabilities of the oven and dough mixer to be used, and so on. Moreover, a great 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. A great pizzaiolo, with a great degree of accuracy, predicts the outcome of her/his culinary efforts, and the pizzaiolo is able to successfully modify or change course of action when the previous course of action becomes problematic. In doing so, the pizzaiolo does not compromise the integrity of the pizza to be baked. At the end, the pizza’s flavors and configuration will reflect the pizzaiolo’s own character, which, in my opinion, should remind him of the Socratic maxim: "True wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing." In other words, if one assumes that she or he knows everything, then she or her is not likely to question her or his own assumptions. Question everything; take nothing for granted!
(In future, more content will be added to this article.)