What's the point of life without pizza?
When you feel the need to express your inner Italian, you must eat pizza. But not any pizza, not the muck delivered in cardboard boxes or shoveled out of a restaurant oven and tasting like cardboard. No, no, no. Do as I say and get the galaxy's most fabulous wood-fired pizza this way...
Best Pizza Recipe #1
Fly to Naples.
Run, do not walk, to Pizzeria Brandi.
This is where the Pizza Margherita was invented. For Queen Margherita. Colored like the Italian flag to seal the union of northern and southern Italy. Or so the story goes.
Made of tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius. Olive oil, flour, basil and mozzarella all grown in the same soil. (Lava is so tasty!)
If Brandi isn’t open because, say, you’ve arrived at four in the morning, stand in the street and beg and howl until they agree to feed you.
Order a Margherita. There is no other kind of pizza. All others are wannabes.
Weep for joy.
Repeat the process until you burst.
Fly home dreaming of pizza.
Warning: All the waiters in Brandi are as handsome and charming as Marcello Mastroianni. Blindfold your wife/companion/other so they don’t notice.
Best Pizza Recipe #2
Persuade my wife to build you one of her Italian bread ovens. Used brick. White plaster. Towering chimney. Big enough for a half dozen pizzas at once, because you’ll want to bake and eat that many at once.
Scavenge around your neighborhood for dried twigs (oak, oak, oak) and seasoned slabs of wood (oak, oak, oak).
Build a fire in the oven.
Wait two hours until the yellow firebricks inside the oven are white hot. That’s 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make your pizzas Margherita with all natural, organic, hand-raised, free-range, best quality stuff plucked out of your own garden or natural foods store.
Paddle perfect pizzas onto the hot bricks.
Watch the cheese bubble as you pant in anxiety.
Wait 47 seconds.
Paddle them out.
Eat under the sun with cold white wine or under the stars with a good red. Call in the neighbors to share. (The aroma will have them hanging over the fence, anyway.)
Lounge there by the ruins of your meal and think, How could life be more perfect than this?
Recipe for the oven: You will need 36 square feet of ground into which to pour foundations with rebar, a million bricks, lots of plaster, a 20 foot tall chimney, and about $4,000 in money.
Which means the first pizza you eat out of your oven will have cost you $4,000.
So you have the chance to brag to all your friends that you ate a $4,000 pizza. That is how life can be more perfect.
The Great Un-Pizza
Let us pause in our praise of pizza to talk about pasta, the un-pizza alternative.
I just returned from Sicily. The two best reasons to go to Sicily are spaghetti a la Norma at A’Cuncuma, via Judica, Palermo, and spaghetti with pesto of pistachios at Sicilia in Tavola, via Cavour, Siracusa.
To eat anything less than these two meals at these two restaurants when you are in Sicily is to bring on yourself the scorn of friends and a heartily deserved public shaming.
If you can’t find a stone-fired pizza for tonight, then fly to Sicily. There is absolutely nothing else you can do.
Best Pizza Recipe #3
I craved pizza. I flew to Napoli. Again. I’m not rich. But I had to do it. You can, too Save up all those dollars you’d spend on trash pizza at the place around the corner and buy yourself a ticket to Naples. Yes, I know there are some great pizza places outside of old Neopolis. But do they offer tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, that green stuff and mozzarella di bufala grown on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Vesuvius? No, they don’t, and that’s why they can’t be worth your money.
My wife and I ate our pizza at Starita (founded 1801) though the people of the district insist that La Centenaria just down the street is as good and far less hectic a place to dine. We’ll try that next trip.
Starita was packed on a Saturday night and, while we waited, we had aperitifs from the ice cream shop across the street. You must do that, too. The ice cream scooper insisted we must save tummy space for an after dinner gelato from her artisanal shop. She was Italian and too charming to refuse. So we did. Did not refuse, I mean.
I had a Margarhita, what else? After Margharita there is no other pizza. Starita’s version, called “The Napoletna S.T.G.,” was just grand. The tomato sauce especially was perfection. I begged the waiters to let me lie on the floor so they could pour the stuff down my throat until I burst. But they refused, in consideration of other guests who would want to do the same and thereby force a tomato sauce shortage on Naples. But all the diners agreed that is the only way to eat Starita's fabulous tomato sauce.
The only slight downside was the house wine – lip-pursing vinegar. We then ordered from their small wine list and got an excellent red.
And walked across the alley, dodging the little cars and motorbikes and teenagers hurrying to do whatever teenagers do on Saturday night, and that great gelato.
Next time you crave pizza, you do the same. Fly to Naples. Cut out the middleman (that restauranteur in Dallas or New York or Puyallup). And eat what’s grown on the slopes of old Vesuvius. It’s worth the air ticket, and a lot more.
Best Pizza Recipe #4
Wait, wait, I'm working on it!
Header image by mensatic at Morguefile.com