Mark Bello: Crimes Against Pizza
“People often think they have to beat the hell out of their crust,” says Pizza a Casa Pizza School founder Mark Bello. “Let it be an amoeba, that’s fine!” Here the expert identifies the worst pizza mistakes and how to avoid them.
Photo © Annabel Braithwaite.
- MORE IS MORE.
This whole habit of using cheaper ingredients and piling them on. The classic New York slice doesn’t really exist anymore. In Manhattan it’s down to $1 slice. If you’re going to make money and pay rent and sell a slice for a dollar, there are going to be sacrifices. I’ve had those pizzas and they’re completely without soul. Less is more. Use better ingredients, use them in the right balance, and they taste better. That’s one of the biggest epiphanies people have in my class: I use only about 3 ounces of cheese and maybe 3 ounces of sauce for a 12-to 14-inch pizza, and my students think it won’t be enough. But in the oven it goes from looking like a patchy, spattered mess to this beautiful painted circle of evenly distributed cheese and sauce. The flavors are totally there, the crust is crispy and charred and chewy, not soggy and gummy from having to support too much. Rather than succumbing to competition with the dollar slice, make it a better slice. Make the slice that’ s going to make the world a healthier place, instead of contributing to the garbage.
- STORE-BOUGHT DOUGH.
So many times you buy your dough at the supermarket and it’s often impossible to work with it’s so tough. Making your own dough is not hard. It’s actually really therapeutic, and if you use the right ingredients, it’s better for you. It’s a win-win situation.
- OVERWORKING THE DOUGH.
People often think they have to beat the hell out of their crust. Stretching is a gentle, finesse thing, not an act of aggression. And circles are not mandatory. I would rather have an unevenly shaped pizza that has crispiness and chewiness and character than a perfect round. Let it be an amoeba, that’s fine!
- FANCY TOPPINGS.
I love roasted peppers. I love mozzarella. I love ricotta. I love truffle oil. But so many times when I go to a restaurant, if it’s truffle oil this, truffle oil that, I leave. That’s just a sign they’re trying to gourmet-a-tize something that doesn’t need it. We have a pizza we teach in class that uses truffle oil. When students start pouring it on, I don’t snatch it out of their hands, but I try to teach them not use too much of an ingredient just because it’s fancy. For example, I make a pear and blue cheese pizza that I drizzle with a super-expensive balsamic reduction. But I make a smoked mozzarella and sundried tomato pizza with a cheap balsamic salad dressing because it just needs something with tang. Just because it’s more expensive and comes in a pretty bottle, doesn’t mean it’s better on that pizza. Use all ingredients with discretion.
- RESTING ON ONE’S LAURELS.
Many classic New York places have gotten so popular, they’re more about moving people in and out than making the pizza with the love and tradition that got them their accolades in the first place. I understand—New York is expensive to make your rent, but try to strike that balance between making money and making something that is awesome and consistent.