[From Liz: Chef David DiBari of the Cookery in Dobbs Ferry is on a wine tour of Italy, and is guest blogging along the way. Here’s his report from Rome.]
I had one free day in Rome after arriving at about 8:00 Am. I fortunately had the privilege of hanging out with Robert Conte, the owner of Conte’s restaurant in Mount Kisco. (His father has owned the adjoining fish market for over forty years.) Needless to say we have a lot in common and we were on a mission to spend our day slightly like a Roman would, except that my flip camera was would be every 5 minutes. It’s kinda of hard when everything you see is worthy of a picture.
First stop was Tortuga, which means turtle in Italian almost exactly the same in Spanish. I knew it wast the beginning of a good day when the first bottles of beer on display were Nora and Mayan. Both are Italian craft beers and for those who know me I am a beer freak. We sat on wooden stools surrounded by a very mixed crowd, predominantly high school kids who pulled up with their vespas and carried their helmets as if they were part of their uniform. Everyone (and I mean everyone ) was enjoying a cigarette before their meal, during and after. I could have sat there all day.
I didn’t want to spoil my appetite so soon in the day but after acquiring a quick buzz from the Nora and watching the plates arriving at every table I was inclined to taste something. Pasta…. We started with a spaghetti with calamari tomatoes and a slight grating of pecorino. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the taste of the slightly sauteed calamari was glazed the the pasta with just as it should. Eggplant parmigiana—a far cry from what is produced way to commonly in the US. Here, the eggplant was unpeeled, cooked in a sauce of tomatoes and topped with a smoked cheese which I thought was provolone.
On my way down to the toilette at Tortuga I stumbled upon the kitchen, where I met the chef. He was proud to anounce that this was his work. And work he did very well. The chef and I will now be facebook friends.
After a great lunch, we’re off to accomplish something even more important. Find a statue of St. Rocco for Uncle Chub. For those of you who don’t know Uncle Chub, he’s my godfather—and his heart, soul and physical strength are greater than anyone could imagine. Lately, he’s been battling some some health issues, and there is no more perfect Saint to watch over you than one your grandson was named after.
So, Uncle Chub, after searching high and low, I’ve found St. Rocco to watch over you. When I get home we are going to raise our middle fingers to the the trials of life and sip a glass wine in front of the wood oven where the fire licks the crust of our blistering pizza laden with fresh mozzarella olio novello and garlic.
After a long day of walking around Rome, Robert and I grew hungry and thirsty again. Our mission was pizza this time. I needed to find out the true difference between Roman style pizza and Naples style pizza. Maybe this guy could give me an idea.
Chef Antonio at Val di Sangro Ristorante is 61 years old and has been making pizza for a very long time. Chef discusses with me the temperature of his oven, ratios of flour to water and how many he can actually cook at the same time. He asked me if I made pizzza at my restaurant and I replied , “Yes. The only thing is that I don’t have and oven YET!!! So I cook them on the grill.” He slapped me on the back and told me that’s not pizza. I really like our pizza but I wasn’t going to argue with the master.
After pondering the menu I finally decided on a pizza with smoked provola, fresh arugula and tomatoes. I have a grave fixation for smoked items which is prevalent in our menu at The Cookery. The pizza arrived at the table uncut which to some people might be a slight inconvenience. I guess I will just have the fortunate experience of not dining with them.
The dough was extremely thin and yielded the texture of cracker bread. I made a very similar dough at Five Points restaurant on great Jones Street in NY. The cheese was lightly smoked and was sliced thin. The fresh arugula and tomatoes adorned the top of the pizza cutting through the richness of the cheese and adding a burst of tomato love to a crisp thin crust. It was truthfully perfect and I could have eaten about three of them they were so light.
The Roman style of pizza differs a Napoletana style in that the Naples style dough is much softer with a spongy blistered crust. The toppings are distributed upon the two styles of pizza equally so the integrity of the dough is not compromised by heavy toppings. Napoletana dough yields a much more wet consistency before cooked and the ovens are usually dome shaped inside. The dome shape helps the fire just lick the dough and reaches temperatures of 800 to 1000 degrees cooking the dough within 1.5 to 2 minutes.
The Roman oven which is the style of oven I have in Uncle Chub’s back yard only arches in the middle going left to right. The oven reaches temps of 700 to 800 allowing the moisture to evaporate more slowly and creating a crispier thin crust. Both Styles of pizza are fantastic. I guess it just depends on what your in the mood for.
It was a late nght in Rome and we had to be on the bus heading for Campania at 7:30 Am. It will be there where we first visit La Cas Dell’Orco in the Compia region of Italy known for it’s indigenous grapes such as Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina and Taurasi. After we will meet the de Corato family of the Rivera Estate in Apuglia where we sample the juice of nero di troia, aglianico, primitivo and negroamaro.
I will report on lunch and wine in the upcoming blogs, as of now I’ve drank way too much and need to go to bed. Ciao.