How To Make Pizza at Home
Taught by Two Pizza Pros from Roberta’s
In our quest to learn everything we can about pizza (especially how to make pizza really well), every now and then we hear about a pizza-making class that Cary just has to attend.
When we learned that Anthony Falco, the self proclaimed “Pizza Guru”, formerly of Roberta’s in Brooklyn, was teaching a class at The Brooklyn Kitchen, specifically a “how to make pizza at home, in a home oven” class, it was a must-go.
First, we confess that we have not yet been to Roberta’s, although it’s been recommended to us by a number of notable pizzamakers and pizza fans whose taste we respect.
We’d seen Anthony’s comments all over our second-favorite pizza blog, Slice, for a long time, where he’s known by the nom-de-pizza Tony Calzone. His honesty, willingness to experiment, and most of all his passion for pizza was what made the initial impression. Reading the Pizza Obsessives interview he did on Slice sealed the deal. Cary wanted to learn how to make pizza from this guy.
The first person Cary met when he entered the lab at The Brooklyn Kitchen was Angelo Womack, whom Tony has variously described as his protege and his assistant, but there’s a twinkle in his eye when he says it, so who knows? Angelo is the current pizza chef at Roberta’s, so protege may be accurate. Each of them really knows how to make pizza.
Angelo wasn’t on the agenda, but Cary was glad to meet him and excited that the class would be taught by two new-generation pizzaiolos.
This was gonna be good.
What was the class like?
There were about a dozen students in the class, and as Anthony talked about the history of pizza and his Sicilian grandmother, we donned our aprons and took our places at the stainless-steel work tables, not far from the 550-degree convection kitchen ovens. The only enhancements to the ovens were some unglazed quarry tiles for pizza stones.
Anthony Falco knows his pizza history, talking about how important local ingredients became in Italian cooking after the fall of Rome (the imports available during the Empire just weren’t there anymore…), and how important local ingredients are now.
He told us about the pizza his grandmother used to make – sfincione, a Sicilian style.
He told us about The Brooklyn Grange, a massive rooftop farm in Queens, NY – growing fresh produce in the heart of the City.
He offered us beer. Nice guy.
We were directed to the ingredients before us: flour, water, salt and yeast, and Angelo said, “We’re going to teach you how to make pizza at home that’s better than 70% of the corner pizza places in New York.”
These guys weren’t kidding, although the number was modest – Cary would say 85%.
As serious as Anthony and Angelo are about their work (at least we assume they’re serious), they are thoroughly entertaining instructors, charming and funny. They reminded Cary of a couple of ancient Zen masters, teaching when you think they’re clowning and having the time of their lives making pizza.
Another fun part of the class for Cary was sharing a work table with Adam Kuban of Slice. “Have you guys ever met before – in real life?” Anthony asked. We assured him that we had. A couple of times.
It’s a small world, this pizza subculture. And here’s Adam’s take on this class…
What did we learn?
Well, we can’t tell everything, but here’s what we did, with a few tips and tricks thrown in:
First, we made dough using the aforementioned ingredients as our teachers talked about slow cold-proofing – letting the dough rise from 24 to 72 hours in the refrigerator. Angelo showed us a kneading technique that was new to us, kneading by stretching and squeezing in our hands rather than pushing and folding on the table.
We put our dough in the refrigerator to take home for pizza-making in the following couple of days. Due to outside obligations, we didn’t get to use it for three days, a little past the optimum proofing time, but it was still delicious.
Then they talked about sauce – that the sauce should be made raw to cook on the pizza while baking, that San Marzano tomatoes are the standard for Vera Pizza Napoletana but there are a lot of good canned tomatoes out there, that we should strain the water out of the can before making sauce from the whole tomatoes, and that a food mill would strip the skins and take out the seeds.
But they didn’t just talk, they made sauce. With tomatoes, sea salt and olive oil. It was very, very good.
Someone asked about adding sugar to the sauce, but Anthony assured the class that San Marzano tomatoes (or any at the same level) are sweet enough, no additional sugar required.
Now it was time to make pizzas!
We got a solid lesson in dough stretching (which Cary always finds the most challenging part of making a pizza), followed by saucing and topping.
Stretching tip: don’t touch the edge!
The two main things we learned about saucing: Don’t use too much, and don’t get too close to the edge! Go over the edge, and it’ll be hard to transfer the pizza to the peel and/or to the stone.
We were introduced to our various toppings: fresh mozzarella (they make it at Roberta’s every morning), basil, pepper, several kinds of sausage, coppa, mushrooms, onions…
…and we were encouraged to get creative.
Angelo made the first pizza – a white pie (no sauce) with fresh mozz, LOTS of pepper and thinly sliced garlic. WOO HOO! The color in the crust came from lightly-painted olive oil on the cornicione (outer crust). This was a great pizza – simple, eloquent.
Regarding the term “cornicione” – two of the students in the class were from Rome, and they said that they call it the “crosta” – crust. We did a little research, and it all depends on where you’re from. In Naples, it’s ‘cornicione’. Go north, and it’s ‘crosta.’ Just thought you might like to know.
Cary went for a pretty simple pie – a basic Margherita (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil) with onions and mushrooms.
All the pizzas made in class (and Cary did have a piece of each one) were excellent.
On Slice, Adam Kuban posted a video from the day, and was kind enough to give us permission to share it with you here.
And there you have a taste of it. Overall, a wealth of pizza knowledge in a short class.