“So I got it right that you are Italian, Marco?”
“I am Napoletano!”
The start of my conversation with a proud Napoletano, a chef, a pizza lover and a co-owner of MAST’ restaurant in Boston is promising. I described my love to this restaurant and its pizza before. So when I got a chance to take a look inside and see how the best pizza in Boston is made I jumped on it!
What I am always looking for in pizza is authenticity. How do you know a restaurant makes not just great but authentic pizza? You see a lot of Italians dining there. That’s how I got to know about MAST’ in the first place: my Italian friends recommended it.
Marco is so genuine in his desire to make the best Neapolitan-style pizza in Boston that you can feel it in his every word: the passion and the sincerity. He is so adamant about his believes and so straightforward in expressing them that I want to write some of his quotes down and frame them: “Pizza with pineapple? No way! You gotta be kidding me!”
But let’s start from the beginning: what do you need to make the best Neapolitan pizza? First of all, you need a pizzaiolo – pizza chef.
There are two chefs at MAST’: one who makes the main menu and one who specializes in making pizza. You can’t do both. My question about where pizzaiolo is from couldn’t be more obvious to Marco:
“From Naples! I would never hire a pizzaiolo from anywhere else but Naples!”
Fabio has been making pizza since the age of 16. Usually kids of 10-11 years old stop by a local pizzeria to watch the process and learn on site. The art of making pizza requires a high-skilled professional because every little detail matters. The amount of yeast in dough, for example: too little yeast will result in flat pizza; a little too much and your pizza becomes heavy. And that is the worst mistake you can make: the right pizza is never heavy. You should feel satisfied and not stuffed after eating it.
Another difficulty in pizzaiolo’s work is to determine temperature inside the oven by sight since a wood-fired oven doesn’t have a built in thermometer. You do so by watching the color change of the walls inside the oven.
That brings us to another must for a good pizza – wood-fired oven. The secret behind perfect pizza is to cook it fast and for that you need the temperature to be as high as 900°F. That’s why wood-fired oven is required but getting one is not an easy task. First, you have to get it shipped from Naples to Boston. But what’s even more complicated is how to move a 6000 lb piece of metal onto the 2nd floor of a building. A hint: it involves breaking patio tiles and removing glass doors from the wall completely. Then you built everything else in the kitchen around the oven. I truly feel respect for people who go that far in order to bring you the most authentic experience.
Now to the process (check the video in the end of the post). Fabio starts by mixing the dough and letting it rest for several hours. Next he places a mountain of dough on the counter top, lifts it a couple of times, pressing from sides and kneading it slightly.
Have you seen a piece of dough that huge? Have you seen somebody handling dough with more love and affection as if it were a woman? He pours olive oil on top and then starts cutting of stripes and forming balls of dough. Each ball is a base for future pizza. Some pizza chefs weigh the balls to ensure consistency but Fabio does it by sight. The balls are left to rest once again.
When making pizza base there’s no rolling – that much I knew. The ball is gently pressed into a flat round first and then Fabio does something I can only describe as slapping the dough against his hand. The trick here is to slap air out of the middle of the dough so that the base of pizza is thin. But the border of the round should still have air pockets inside – that’s what makes it high, soft and chewy.
Next come tomato sauce made of San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. At last he pours some olive oil over pizza.
This gorgeous bottle for olive oil with traditional Pulcinella figurine on top is also from Naples. Pulcinella is a classical character from Commedia Dell’arte who is known to be an unofficial mascot of Napoli.
Once the preparations are done Fabio stretches the base slightly and drags it carefully onto the pizza peel. Pizza peel is a traditional tool to slide pizza inside and out of the oven. The dough is stretched once again to fit the round of the pizza peel…
and off it goes into the oven…
It takes only 45 seconds to bake a pizza. The temperature inside is so high that any extra time will make your pizza burn. That’s why, Marco explains, pizza can never be crunchy – you would need to keep it in the oven for much longer.
It’s a pizza, not a Frisbee. Pizza should be soft so that you can easily fold it. Pizza used to be a street food and was supposed to be eaten on the go. Soft pizza can be folded in half and then again in half making a triangle which you can carry around and eat on your way. That’s why it is referred to as portafoglio in Italy – literally meaning a wallet that you can fold and put in your pocket.
Half way through Fabio takes the pizza out to make sure that it’s cooked evenly. When he puts it back in he has to place it on the exact same spot where it was, otherwise the base will get stuck to the oven. The whole process from shaping the ball of dough to taking the pizza out of the oven takes only 1 minute and 17 seconds!
Fabio slides it on the plate and cuts into slices. Another revelation for me was that in Naples nobody will ever cut a pizza for you. For the same reason I described above – you are supposed to fold your pizza and have it whole, not eat it in slices.
I had a pizza Margherita which is a simple combination of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. In fact, one of the oldest and most famous pizzerias in Naples – Pizzeria Da Michele (the one where Julia Roberts is having slice after slice of pizza in Eat, Pray, Love) only serves pizza Marinara (tomato topping) and pizza Margherita, considering all other toppings excessive and unnecessary.
At MAST’ though if you want a more sophisticated flavor you can go for Wild Mushroom pizza, Capriciosa with artichoke hearts and prosciutto or Alla Diavola with spicy Calabrese salami.
If you get a seat at the bar counter you can see Fabio making pizza for yourself. Believe me, it’s a pleasure to watch a master at work. His hands are flying around so fast that by the time I manage to focus my camera the pizza is already out of the oven! And if you are wondering, like I was, Fabio does eat pizza. Every day. And it’s always Margherita.
The whole process of Chef Fabio making pizza O’MAST – restaurants’s special – is in the video below.
For the best pizza in Boston head down to
Address: 45 Province St. Boston, MA
Hours: Mon – Wed: 11am to 11pm, Thu – Fri: 11 am to 2 am, Sat: 4 pm – 2 am, Sun: 4 pm – 11 pm
Pin for later: