Rocco Agostino is so serious about Neapolitan-style pizza that there's an "Ideology" section on the website of Pizzeria Libretto, the Toronto restaurant chain where he's the executive chef. Agostino led the Libretto team to a third-place finish in the non-traditional category of this year's International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegaswith a porchetta pie topped with truffle aioli, mozzarella, preserved chilies and rapini. Here, Agostino's tips for perfect dough.
1. Know your ingredients: "It's fairly simple: water, sea salt, flour and yeast. We use a Caputo "00," which is a highly refined flour that gets a lot of lightness in the crust. If you talk to the Neapolitans, they say that the water from Naples is key. Other people like carbonated water, because it adds a bit of crispness to the dough. But we use a flat water, which lets the dough be what it's intended to be. And we don't use oil. As far as Neapolitan pizza is concerned, you want to see the blisters come out at high heat, which won't happen with oil."
2. Have patience: "When you're mixing the dough, the water goes in with half of the flour. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then mix the rest of it until it all comes together. Once it's done, let it sit and rise for about a half hour before your start to shape it."
3. Stretch the pie by hand: "Try not to use a rolling pin. At home, I'm trying to teach my son to use his hands. I know it takes practice and it's something that can be a little difficult if you're not comfortable with it. With the rolling pin, you're pushing down on the dough and so when you bake it, you're not going to allow the crust to rise and be airy. Also, don't overload your pizza with toppings. Sometimes simplicity is the best."
4. Don't be a slave to a recipe: "Dough is just one of those trial-and-error things. Follow a recipe for the first time if you've never done it before and then try varying it by adding a little flour or water.You want it soft enough that you're able to touch it without it sticking too much. Sometimes it depends on the weather – even if you have it down to a science, if it's raining and humid out, it'll definitely affect it."
5. Neapolitan dough needs plenty of heat: "Try to get your oven as hot as possible – we keep ours at about 850 F, but a home oven will be more like 550 or 600. A pizza stone retains the heat really well and once the dough hits that stone, it starts to cook right away.I've even heard of people taking out their oven's control unit to get an extra hundred degrees on it – although I don't recommend that."