Ask any true pizza fiend about the most important elements to making a great pie and you are sure to get a range of answers: Some will say that it is all about the water used in the dough, others will say that you can’t have a great pizza without the right tomatoes or the right mozzarella. But none would argue that you can’t make a great pie without the right oven. And in the world of Neapolitan pizza, there is one man whose name you want across that cast-iron door: Stefano Ferrara.
Ferrara, the third-generation owner of the Naples based brick oven maker Uno Forno, is a certified rock star in the pizza world. So, when Fritti chef/owner Riccardo Ullio found himself in need of an oven upgrade, he decided to spring for the best.
Though Fritti won’t be the only pizza shop in town to sport a Ferrara oven – the soon-to-open Double Zero Napoletana on Roswell Rd. shipped in a pair of pre-fabbed Ferrara ovens last month – Fritti is the only restaurant in the southeast to fly Stefano Ferrara himself in to hand-build their oven, brick by brick, on site.
So, what is the big deal?
I spoke with Ullio and Ferrara earlier this week – with Ullio acting as translator – on the final day of construction before Stefano returned to Italy, and I could hear the excitement in Ullio’s voice. Not to trivialize the purchase, but he sounded like a kid that had just opened the best Christmas present ever.
Without getting too technical about it, the difference comes from the materials and craftsmanship. This monster of a wood-burning oven called for 13,000 lbs of building material, all imported from Italy. Ferrara uses Santa Maria bricks from Campania and Biscotto di Sorrento, and instead of sand he uses volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius. Why volcanic ash? Because of its refractory properties. The magic is in the heat retention.
Once the oven has finished curing – a process that should take a little less than 2 weeks from now – the new oven will not only burn at 1,000 degrees, but it can stay at that temperature all day long. The oven can hold up to 4 pizzas at a time and, at that temperature, they will cook in less than a minute. That means that Ullio’s new oven can crank out over 800 pizzas in one night.
Here are some shots of the build in process:
309 North Highland Ave., Atlanta, 404-880-9559, www.sottosottorestaurant.com
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog