Life of Pie

3 minute read

In Naples, Italy, pizza is passion. At the risk of starting a food fight, I’ll venture to say that Ernesto Cacialli of Pizzaiolo del Presidente, named in honor of former U.S. President and Cacialli pizza fan Bill Clinton, makes the best pizza in Naples, which would also imply the best pizza in the world.

He makes the classic thin, crusty Neapolitan pizza with a scrape of smashed tomato and choice of toppings — as do hundreds of other places in town. The most iconic are the margherita (tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil) and marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil). The difference is in Ernesto’s wrist: dough-stretching technique is critical. Even his son Luigi, working with the same ingredients and oven, can’t yet make a pie quite up to his father’s standard. “The boys are still learning,” says Ernesto of his international kitchen cadre, including Japanese apprentices eager to learn his secrets.

Ernesto started to hone his skills when he was 12. Of course he needs help turning out 2,000 pizzas a day, but I shamelessly wait by the furnace to scoop up the magic one made and baked by the master himself. It takes only 30 seconds to bake to blistered perfection in the woodburning oven, and he expertly spins and lifts the pizza with the long wooden paddle. He has the alchemist’s touch that turns mere dough and a minimal amount of the simplest toppings into a cavalcade of flavor.

The secret to eating a thin-crust Neapolitan pizza is to slash the pie into four pieces on the spot, fold a slice in half, and wolf it down before the crust deflates and the sauce makes a Vesuvian lava flow down your front. With every passing fraction of a second, the pizza loses a bit of its airy perfection. The other advantage of eating it right there by the oven is that you avoid having to share it with anyone back at the table. Unlike the gut-busting, fully loaded fast-food pizzas, these are light as soufflés.

As terrific as Ernesto’s thin-crust pizza is, his greatest achievement may be his monumental pizza fritta, a deep-fried crescent of folded pizza dough stuffed with ricotta, like a calzone for angels. Suffice it to say these golden puffs are worth every calorie.

My husband and I and a friend are just stopping for a snack on the way to dinner, but we still inhale two thin-crust pizzas and a platter of deep-fried macaroni. And when Ernesto brings us two luscious pizza frittas, it’s an offer we can’t refuse. tel: (39-81) 210903.

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