My grandmother’s family came from Naples, and though I never had the chance to travel to Italy with her, there was always her cooking.
She was a patient cook, a true believer in the “low and slow” philosophy that results in deep, developed flavors. She loved the ritual of spending an entire Sunday in the kitchen, of sitting down at the table and taking the time to chop garlic by hand. My nonna would have been proud of me recently, getting in the kitchen for a “Make Your Own Neapolitan Pizza Night” at Forcella in its new Park Avenue South location.
Here, master pizzaiolo Guilio Adriani taught me the flick of the wrist used to shape dough for his light, addicting pies. I glanced into the 1,000 degree oven, hazy with heat, before stepping up to the flour-dusted counter. As flour flew in all directions from our inexperienced hands, I realized wearing all black to a pizza making party might not have been the wisest decision.
A round of dough was placed in front of me. With the kind of accent and enthusiasm that makes me want to drop everything and move to Italy, Chef Adriani demonstrated the delicate touch required to create the perfect pizza base. He gently pressed down on the dough, not forcing it to stretch. Next came the flick of the wrist action I will continue to attempt to master at home: folding the dough back over his wrist while simultaneously spinning it with the other hand, for just the right amount of stretch. Brushing excess flour aside, it was ready for toppings.
I went classic. A scoop of tomato sauce, a smattering of bufala mozzarella, a dusting of parmesan, some extra virgin olive oil and whole basil leaves. This “Margherita Extra” is one of the signature pizzas on Forcella’s menu, and after I clumsily plucked it onto a pizza peel, it was cooked with crispy, charred edges in minutes from the roaring hot oven.
Did it taste better because I got my hands dirty to make it? Maybe, but either way, it was exactly what Italian cooking should be — a simple combination of the best ingredients that results in something truly memorable. Throw in the expertly made cocktails (like the New York Negroni, made with vermouth from New York state) and craving-worthy bar bites like a Kobe slider on a pizza-dough bun with caramelized onions and Fontina cheese, and the result is a new staple for me in the Gramercy neighborhood.
Photo Credit: Jane Kratochvil Photography courtesy of Hanna Lee Communications