Neapolitan pizza fresh out of a wood-burning oven

May 11, 2012 (CHICAGO)

They have become as familiar - and imitated - as a politician running for office. Many places claim to make Neapolitan pizza, but few go the extra mile to do it the right way.

Elio Bartolotta takes a pretty old school approach to his pizza. He has to, because at Elio Pizza on Fire, in an Addison strip mall, he's simply making pizza the way he first learned in Sicily, then later, in New York City.

"We mix all together, so we use piece by piece. And but main thing is hickory, apple and maple," he said, referring to the wood he uses in his oven.

Once he gets his custom-made, wood-burning brick oven up to temperature, he begins work on his handmade pies. Like all great pizzas, he must, of course, reckon with a dough that has fermented and rested long enough.

"It's the way the dough raise up. That's for me the most important part of it," he said. "I have a stuck pan, which I put one by one. Every each pizza dough, its separately and, it's in one of, I put each this pizza dough in one pan. So, one pan one dough."

Bartolotta stretches out the dough, then works quickly over a floured surface: for the most basic margherita-style, he'll spread out pomodoro sauce exclusively from San Marzano tomatoes; he'll distribute fresh mozzarella or even mozzarella di bufala, if the customer insists. Then basil leaves, and finally, into the oven. Knowing that oven's hot spots is also key, insuring an evenly-blistered pie. After just two or three minutes, it's done; served to the table without slicing it ahead of time, maintaining that integrity. Other options might include versions with prosciutto and fresh, peppery arugula or more substantial ones with ham, artichokes, mushrooms and olives. But the best way to determine a pizzaolo's skill is via that basic margherita, and here, Bartolotta knows it comes down to three things: dough, sauce and cheese.

"The bocconcini, that one is the main part; on all the pizza we use fresh mozzarella which we call fior di latte," he said.

Bartolotta does use his oven for other items on the menu, but pizza is definitely the star.

Elio Pizza on Fire
445 W. Lake St., Addison
(630) 628-0088

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