As you read yesterday, this past weekend Mike and I knocked two things off my 213 in 2013 list thanks to the purchase of one Groupon deal for a painting and pizza making class. Since I’ve already told you all about the fun we had channeling our inner Picassos, today I’m sharing our experience channeling our inner Mario Batali.
Immediately after drying our canvases, the painting instructor walked us across the pavilion to Oro Pomodoro, an authentic Neopolitan pizzeria and Italian restaurant. When we walked in the hostess greeted us with a cheery “Buongiorno!” and showed us to a long row of tables facing the kitchen. In front of us were all the ingredients you’d need to make a perfectly authentic Naples pizza: vibrant crushed tomatoes imported from Italy, chunks of silky, fresh mozzarella, aromatic basil leaves and the most incredible olive oil I’ve ever tasted.
The chef, Michaelo, came out from behind the coal pizza oven covered in flour and greeted us with a warm smile. In broken English, with the occasional slip of an Italian phrase or two, he began demonstrating how to make the pizza dough. I laughed as he went on a rant about Americans ruining pizza with their overly processed and enriched flour. He goes on to say that it’s the flour that is the true secret to making a fantastic pizza.
He’s truly an artist, although his medium is not paint but rather the spread of ingredients before him; sculpting the perfectly thin and round dough, caressing it as he gently molds the crust. He pours the marinara onto his canvas and begins to swirl it, painting every inch until he’s satisfied. Mike and I follow along, kneading and molding our dough. For a moment I forget I’m surrounded by others in my class and throw down a pinch of flour onto the table and yell “BAM!” as if I’m Emeril Lagasse. Michaelo just laughs.
After our dough has been sculpted and our marinara perfectly swirled, Michaelo comes over to inspect our work thus far. He nods as he walks down the length of the tables and gives me a “Brava” as he walks by my pizza. I beam with pride at his compliment. We then take the basil leaves and spread them over the sauce, followed by the mozzarella and a sprinkle of parmesan. Someone decides to not use all of their mozzarella, and being the opportunist that I am – I quickly grab it and spread the extra cheese on my pizza as others look at me, both envious and impressed that they hadn’t thought to do it first.
Michaelo walks us over, one by one; to the coal oven that cooks the pizza at 800 degrees. He smiles as he tells me that he built the oven with his own hands. He shoves my pizza into the oven and immediately I watch as the cheese begins to bubble. Michaelo is amused with how excited I am, laughing as I clap my hands in delight. The owner of the restaurant offers to take a picture of Mike and I with my pizza and tells me that if I’m ever interested, I could easily have a career as a pizza chef. Who knows… it could happen!
We rush back to our seats and I bring the first slice up to my mouth and sink my teeth in. I’m not going to even bother to try to put into words how absolutely incredible it tasted, because words honestly can’t do it justice. To put it into perspective, you know how you eat certain foods that transport you back to a particular place and time? The moment I tasted that pizza, I immediately found myself in Naples again, on the brick patio of the tiny trattoria where I had my first experience of true, authentic Neopolitan pizza. It was sensory overload… the smell, the taste, the memories, all cultivating into the perfect bite. I finished the entire thing. Not even a crumb was left over on the plate.
Call me crazy or overly sentimental… but that pizza, that moment, helped me find my appetite for life again. And I’m hungrier than ever.