Report fron NJ Monthly Magazine:
Antonino Esposito, a star of the Food Network in Italy and a renowned pizza chef of the style practiced in Naples, gave a demonstration at A Mano in Ridgewood yesterday...
A Mano means "by hand" in Italian. It's how all the food at A Mano in Ridgewood is made--lasagna, eggplant parmesan, salads, gelato, panini, but most especially the Neapolitan-style (Naples-style) pizza.
A Mano imports most of its pizza ingredients from Naples--whole peeled tomatoes, Caputo "00" flour, most importantly. When it opened two years ago, the owners had Italian craftsmen come in to build traditional igloo-shaped wood-burning pizza ovens from volcanic rock and soil from the Mt. Vesuvius area. The ovens operate at temperatures from 800 to 1,000 degrees. Twelve-inch pizzas--the traditional Neapolitan size--cook in 90 seconds, sometimes less.
Two weeks ago the owners brought in a celebrated master pizza chef, Antonino Esposito, who owns two respected pizza restaurants in his native Sorrento, to critique and tweak their operation and to give a demonstration to the public of traditional Neapolitan pizza making.
The good news for A Mano is that its own crew of pizzaiuoli (pizza-makers), trained in the 120-year-old Neapolitan style, and its equipment, received high marks from chef Esposito.
The chef began his demonstration by mixing flour, water, a bit of yeast and salt by hand in an aluminum bowl .
Then he removed the rough-surfaced ball (its skin, properly, having the texture of orange peel) on the marble counter (also imported from Italy) and let it rest under the over-turned bowl for about ten minutes, by which time its surface had turned silky.
Then he began gently yet firmly (a seeming contradiction, but if you were there you would know what I mean) working the dough .
Then he began to stretch the dough into a pie shape, the classic move of every pizza maker, foreign or domestic. One thing they don't do in Naples is toss the dough in the air as they stretch it. A stylistic no-no, Esposito (who speaks only Italian and was translated by A Mano co-owner Fred Mortati) pointed out.
To show the extreme elasticity of well-made pizza dough (and the quality of the imported Caputo flour), Espositio kept going well beyond the 12-inch round until the circle was perhaps three times that size and was so thin it was practically translucent. Mortati helped him hold up the dough.
Having finished his dough, master pizza chef Antonino Esposito, visiting restaurant A Mano in Ridgewood from Naples, Italy, demonstrated the correct way to turn a bowl full of whole peeled Italian tomatoes (pomodoro) into sauce for his classic Neapolitan-style pizza...
The aim is to squeeze and pull apart the whole tomatoes in such a way as to shred them and mix them with the tomato liquid to create a thick chunky sauce of even consistency.
Next, one of A Mano's pizzaiuoli (pizza makers), all of whom have been trained in the Neapolitan (soft crust) style, demonstrated the transformation of mozzarella curds into grapefruit-sized balls of silky mozzarella.
He first filled the plastic tub with the curds, which look like finely shredded bits of mozzarella with some of the soft, rounded surface of large-curd cottage cheese, but a little dryer.
Then he filled the tub with piping hot water, not boiling but hot enough to scald, and began working the curds into a thick sheet of elastic emergent mozzarella. Fred Mortati, co-owner of A Mano ("by hand") observed that a pizzaiuolo needs asbestos hands for this task.
As the water cooled slightly, the pizzaiuolo used long-handled wooden spoons to repeatedly stretch the mozzarella, eventually breaking off pieces and shaping them into balls with a deft technique that looks a little like peeling a banana but with more twisting and pinching.
After Esposito turned one of his perfect 9-inch dough domes into a perfectly round 12-inch dough disc, the A Mano pizzaiuoli added the crushed tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella and a whole basil leaf to create a Pizza Margherita, first served to Ita;y's Queen Margherita in 1889.
Soft and wet are the key adjectives for traditional Neapolitan pizza. Unlike the crisp crust ideal of Italian-American pizza, if a piece of pizza Napoletana doesn't droop when you lift it, something is wrong.
The style takes some getting used to. If the crust is made with the necessary finesse, the pizza has a light chewiness and the outside edges, spottedly charred, are almost nutty-flavored and pillowy.