Thursday, April 25, 2013

Comfort Food: Neapolitan Pizza in Florence

Today is a legal holiday, marking the liberation of Italy from Nazi occupation and the end of the Fascist regime, thanks the combined efforts of the Allied armies and Italian Resistance partisan fighters.
As reported by Beautiful Florence's previous post, a violent act of private war had caused deaths at the Boston Marathon just as I was about to write on a Da Vinci restoration.  The city holds many memories for me.  As I write, in the office I can turn my head to view my framed master's degree from Boston University.  I was unprepared, however, to see the following e-mail message on my I phone.
Emilia Gambardella, one of the interns at our English-language publishing house (, arrived in the office similarly upset.  Her sister is a student at Boston's Northeastern University.  "The city is in a lockdown, it's difficult to get news," she said.
"Well, look at this on my phone," I replied.  "A grad student at BU was one of the three victims in the marathon bombing."

"Well, the suspects killed a cop on the MIT campus and the police are searching everywhere in Watertown," she informed me.  This is getting worse and worse, I thought.  MIT is between Kendall and Central squares, the latter close to Harvard Square, Cambridge, where my last home was located before moving to Florence.  I wrote that I had also lived in the Fresh Pond neighborhood in Cambridge.  In actual fact, Fresh Pond was behind my apartment, which was situated off of Mt. Auburn St. on a little road just before the Watertown-Belmont line.  Watertown, that most anonymous of Boston suburbs, and rightly so, 
 had just lost its anonymity to participate in a tragedy.

Emilia was in the office to discuss researching her upcoming article on Neapolitan pizza in Florence for Vista, Florence & Tuscany.  As her father, a former waiter-turned-Wall Street-stockbroker, was born in Naples, it was an obvious choice.  On this occasion, I told Emilia that the day after 9/11, another writer in my office, Stella Fiore (also a BU alumna), and I sought refuge in the good, genuine food made by Carmine, Florence's original Neapolitan pizzaiuolo
(pizza chef).  Later, in 2008, a group of friends took me to lunch right after my mother's death at Carmine's new trattoria, Vico del Carmine.
When my friends asked for the check, Carmine informed them that the meal was on the house.

Let's go and see if Osteria del Caffè Italiano still has a Neapolitan pizza annex," (left) I said, "and set up when to go back for a meal and interview.  It is but five minutes from the office on via Isola delle Stinche."
We walked in and found pizza chef Vincenzo on the job.  "You're lucky," he said, "the owner is right outside."
Osteria del Caffè Italiano's proprietor, Umberto Montana, came to embrace me despite the fact that I had not seen him since 2006, when working on another story.  He called for spumante (Italian sparkling wine) for Emilia and myself.  He apologized for having to dine with a theatre troupe who were to go on stage at that evening at the nearby Teatro Verdi, and asked the pizzaiuolo to prepare a pizza for us to share as aperitivo
(pre-dinner drinks and snack).
Goodness, these are all the faces of my possible ancestors and paesani, I thought when looking at the placemat.  After all, Umberto Montana hails originally from the region natives know as Lucania
(re-christened Basilicata by fascist leader Mussolini, who came to a bad end as remembered at the beginning of this article).  Umberto is from the province of Potenza in Lucania, both my late parents from the 
province of Matera.
Meanwhile, our pizza was baking in an authentic wood-burning brick oven.
As he was shredding mozzarella cheese with his hands, Vincenzo informed us all the ingredients came from the south, or more precisely, vengono da giù.

Chi non la conosce, non capisce, chi l'assaggia, la comprende said Vincenzo.
"Who is unfamiliar with [Neapolitan pizza] doesn't understand, who tastes it will comprehend."
Below Emilia (left) and your distraught Beautiful Florence blogger are about to receive,
as unseen tradition would hold, the ultimate comfort food, Neapolitan pizza.
Again, unbelievably, on the house.
Pizza è come la donna, è amore, said Vincenzo
(Pizza is like a woman, it is love).
He  told us he hails from downtown Naples, the Sanità neighborhood. With music by the Neapolitan 
Pino Daniele playing softly in the background, we began to relax.
Emilia and I were treated to an authentic Margherita, comprising tomato, cheese & basil.
The crust was thin, crispy and chewy, the flavors flavorful and as the ultimate critic, Emilia, observed, 
subtle and perfectly balanced.  

Much more relaxed, but still on the job, I addressed the following remark to Vincenzo,
who happened also to be suffering from a bad cold.
"The important thing," I said, and was about to say
that the expert Emilia tasted the pizza, when he finished my sentence...

"is to be well."  (è stare bene)

There was nothing more to say, but to be well again.

All pictures in this post, except for the very last, were taken by faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer 
Bree Chun.  Emilia recorded this image of Vincenzo at work.

In the meantime, the BU alumni association has sent me another e-mail.  It has already raised over 700,000 dollars in memory of the graduate student who lost her life watching the Boston Marathon.  
And life with all its surprises continues from my vantage point in 
Beautiful Florence.

1 comment:

  1. You have a beautiful blog! I literally had no idea that Florence was such an enchanting place!!! TY for writing :)