Last weekend, for Bec’s birthday, we went on a pizza tour, where we walked about a mile and a half and sampled three different types of pizza from three different, well-known New York City pizzerias. Why go on a pizza tour? Simply, because it is a food that we both enjoy. The working definition for the tour was that pizza is dough, sauce and cheese (and a cooking source). Instead of just stuffing slices in our mouths, this ended up being an educational tour. While we all have our favorite pizza joints, we did not realize that this simple food, in its basic format (no toppings) came in so many varieties.
Like many things in life, pizza provides us with the analogy of something that is simple, but not easy. Dough can have different varieties of flour, time of letting the dough rest / rise, letting the dough rise, flattening out the dough (no bubbles), and can be made thin crust, thick crust, Sicilian-style, or deep dish. Sauce can either come as a simple crush tomato (uncooked) to complex precooked sauces. The cheese, while in the basic form is mozzarella, can be freshly made, aged, hand pulled, low moisture, sliced or shredded. Some pizzas have the sauce, then the cheese on top; some have the cheese on the bottom and the sauce on top, and one sample we ate had a little sauce on the bottom and a little sauce on top. This is all before analyzing the important measurement of the cheese to sauce ratio. Whew! And, how about cooking methods? You have your coal burning ovens (originally 20 foot by 20 foot), wood burning oven, gas ovens, cooking over lower heat, high heat or very high heat. The heat, while determining the speed of cooking, has different effects on the dough in terms of crispiness, consistency of dough texture, potential “gum line”, and tip sag.
What?!? I thought pizza was just dough, sauce and cheese (and a cooking source).
The modern pizza, as we know it, comes from Naples, Italy. Believe it or not, there is a governing body there that dictates what you must do to create a “Neapolitan” style pizza, called Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, or AVPN (The True Neapolitan Pizza Association), which is a non-profit organization that was founded in June 1984. According to their regulations, Neapolitan pizza must conform to “Vera Pizza Napoletana“. The official website states “…the Association is also involved in the promotion and protection of the affiliated pizzerias and products related to the production filer of “true Neapolitan pizza” and in the professionalization of pizza makers.”
This is no different from Reinheitsgebot: German Beer Purity Law. In Bavaria, beer can have only three ingredients - water, barley and hops, defined in 1516. At that point, yeast was not know about, but was, and still is an important factor in turning sugar into alcohol. In 1516, yeast entered the process as an airborne organism. These rules, like the Vera Pizza Napoletana, are still observed today.
In both the pizza and beer example (which do go well together), while the base ingredients are simple, there are enough options that a single product can provide almost infinite variations. In life, we have many things before us that are simple, but not easy. To have a child, on paper, is simple as there are three basic steps – conceive, gestation and delivery. Reality is that it is not easy when you factor in time, timing, and health (of parents) like all things that seem mechanical in nature, it is important that all of the functions be in working order, including, emotions, potential for complications, health (of child to be) and delivery. Again, there are infinite variations. While I appreciate the lessons from the day; most importantly, it was a great day, learning about something we both enjoy and, even more importantly, spending the time doing it together.