By Arthur Bovino
January 10, 2018
It’s a wonder what you can find when you crack open a book.
I keep a modest pizza reference library. And I’ve probably read half of the books cover to cover. I find something fun or learn something whenever researching some aspect of pizza I’m currently writing about (or eating). So it was while perusing the some 90 recipes in Tony Gemignani’s Pizza Bible, that I came across his 10 Commandments of Pizza.
If you’re unfamiliar with Tony, he’s a 12-time World Pizza Champion and chef-owner of more restaurants than I can ever keep track of. Count among them Tony’s Pizza Napoletana (San Francisco), Capo’s (San Francisco), Pizza Rock (Vegas, Sacramento), Little Tony’s (Vegas), Tony’s Coal Fire (San Francisco), and Slice House (San Francisco, Las Vegas), which you can read more about in this interview with Tony from early 2017.
The Pizza Bible doesn’t feature a recipe for every regional American pizza style, but it does cover New York, New Jersey, New Haven, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and California (not to mention regional Italian pies and those from other parts of the world). And tucked in there between cleaning your pizza stone and Tony’s master dough on page 39 are Tony’s “10 Commandments of Pizza.”
“Hey, it’s the pizza bible, right?” Tony asks. “So here are my sacred laws.”
1. Thou shalt use a scale to weigh ingredients.
2. Thou shalt not rush the rise.
3. Thou shalt use two pizza stones or steels rather than one.
4. Thou shalt not put cold sauce on pizza dough.
5. Thou shalt not put cold dough in a hot oven.
6. Thou shalt not overtop thy pizza.
7. Thou shalt not make a pizza larger than thy pizza peel or stone.
8. Thou shalt return thy pizza to the same spot after rotating it.
9. Thou shalt slice thy pizza before adding finishing ingredients.
10. Thou shalt brush thy stones to clean them after each pizza.
“Most of the commandments make pretty obvious sense. Baking is a bit of an art and science so, of course, you need a scale (#1), and you can’t rush the dough or it won’t rise properly (#2). But a few others beg asking ‘why?'”
I asked Tony how these rules about pizza came together and if there was a mentor who was instrumental in teaching him the truths behind them. He noted pizzaiolo Graziano Bertuzzo, who he studied with in Italy, and said he learned these keys over the years while working. They finally came together while writing the book with Susie Heller and Steve Siegelman.
Tony has elaborated on at least two of the commandments on his own site, commenting on the best brush for cleaning a pizza stone (#10), and reiterating that #8 is correct, “Thou shalt return thy pizza to the same spot after rotating it.” For the record, he says a Weber grill brush will work fine, but advises, “Just don’t apply too much pressure or you will scrape stone off. A light brushing should be applied and if you have serious toppings that fell off and burnt into the stone then a light scraping works well with a flat bencher (metal dough scraper) or typically the other side of the Weber brush that has a straight edge. You just have to scrape straight when doing this. The brass brush style like the Weber …. works better after it’s broken in. They break in better on the BBQ.”
And most of the commandments make pretty obvious sense. Baking is a bit of an art and science so, of course, you need a scale (#1), and you can’t rush the dough or it won’t rise properly (#2). But a few others beg asking “why?”
Take number three, for example, “Thou shalt use two pizza stones or steels rather than one.” Why and how?
“When cooking in your restaurant the proper way to cook is to cook a pizza in the same spot for the majority of the time then move your pizza to a hot spot to finish if needed,” Tony explained to me. “When cooking in a home oven you typically buy one stone (which comes in a single pack) and cook on one surface. The problem for home cooks is that a lot of the time your bottom is undercooked and not crispy. Having two pieces of real estate in your home oven is a necessity.”
Tony said he’d even come up with a double baking steel set that he sells at Giovanni’s for home bakers. He noted that it also allows you to make multiple pizzas at one time (though you’d think that would eliminate having the finishing hotspot) and added that “The recovery time is much faster this way and the temperature on your stones or steels is faster. Great for more pizzas.”
How about pizza commandment #4: “Thou shalt not put cold sauce on pizza dough”?
The average New York City slice shop seems to use room-temperature sauce, but the famed Mark Iacano at Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn’s Lucali ladles a warm sauce onto his pies before they go into the oven (he also rolls out the dough with a wine bottle).
“Cold sauce can cause gumlines (undercooked dough) so room temp sauce on Neapolitan and New York pies helps with a better pizza and better bake,” Tony said. “Warm sauce, like I mention for my Detroit or Chicago pies, makes for an excellent pizza that has much more stability and flavor. This sauce isn’t cooked very long so the fresh tomato flavor is still there.”
Think when it’s done a pizza is just sliced without a second thought? At least according to Tony, think again. I asked him about pizza commandment #9 “Thou shalt slice thy pizza before adding finishing ingredients.” What kind of finishing ingredients and why?
“When it comes to pizza, it’s all about the finishing ingredients,” Tony told me. “Most home chefs think that everything goes on before the pizza when cooked. You will have a stronger, better looking and more flavorful pizza when adding more toppings after. Peppadews, banana peppers, hot coppa, prosciutto, arugula, Kalamata olives, goat cheese, Parmigiano, mortadella, fromage blanc, escarole, Piave, reductions, oils, oregano… so many! But cut your pizza first then add the finishing ingredients. You’ll have a much better looking pizza and it’ll be less messy too.”
Get your copy:
The Pizza Bible, Tony Gemignani with Susie Heller and Steve Siegelman, Ten Speed Press, 2014