Gallery: The art of pizza-making at Annapolis' Bertucci's [25 Images] Click any image to expand.
There’s no question about it: pizza is one of my favorite foods. I would eat it all day, everyday, if possible, but considering it’s not exactly the healthiest of lunches or dinners (or breakfasts—hello, leftovers!), I don’t indulge in it too often.
So, last month when I was invited to make my very own brick oven pizza at Bertucci’s in Annapolis, how could I say no? It was National Pizza Day after all.
A Little History
Bertucci’s was founded in 1981, in Somerville, Massachusetts, and steadily gained popularity for its wood-fired brick oven pizzas. As the chain expanded throughout the ‘90s, so did its menu, thanks to Corporate Chef Rosario del Nero, who joined the company in 1992. Hailing from Milan, Italy, del Nero crafted a menu of classic Italian favorites, including a Traditional Cannoli, inspired by his family’s recipe—more on that later!
Though del Nero left Bertucci’s in the early 2000s, he recently teamed up with the restaurant to produce a celebratory menu in honor of the company’s 35th anniversary.
From the second we entered the unassuming building—the restaurant stands adjacent to Outback Steakhouse in Forest Plaza—del Nero was warm and welcoming. Turns out, he lives in my hometown, Easton, and we even share a few mutual friends! #smallworld
Our pre-pizza-making discussion was less an interview and more an informal conversation between (new!) friends. We happily chatted about Bertucci’s history over the Antipasto appetizer—a new menu item with an assortment of veggies, meats, and cheeses: roasted eggplant, artichoke hearts, fresh mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, rosemary ham, salami, stuffed green olives, and oh-so-much more—paired with a delicious bottle of Francis Coppola’s Cabernet Sauvignon-based Claret. Also present on the table—and quickly consumed—Bertucci’s signature bread rolls. If my love of pizza was any indication, bread is basically a food group as far as I’m concerned and these dinner rolls were simply divine.
Freshly Made Dough
“Water and flour, and a little yeast,” del Nero says, describing the necessary ingredients to create the perfect dough. Bertucci’s secret? Time. “If you mix those three things together, it’s a paste; it’s inedible,” del Nero continues. “It’s all about the transformation of those ingredients. Give it time and soon enough, it becomes bread or pizza.” For the signature bread rolls (and pizza bases), the dough is left alone for 48 hours, enabling the yeast to ferment slowly. After two days and a little time in the oven, the rolls are served—a crunchy crust with a soft, plush center. It took pretty much every ounce of self-restraint to limit my intake to a single roll. (I did, however, take home a couple for lunch the next day!). Del Nero says guests often dine at Bertucci’s simply for its dinner rolls. I don’t blame them and I fully intend to follow suit.
I’m not the most graceful when it comes to the kitchen, so I was slightly anxious about heading into a professional atmosphere, particularly with its open format where everything is visible to patrons. Under del Nero’s watchful eye and encouraging instruction, I learned how to stretch the dough, which is so light and has such a soft texture, it felt more like butter than any raw dough I’d previously held. Unlike some pizzerias where dough-tossing is unescapable, del Nero taught me his trick: stretching the dough with your fingers—and, at times, with a rolling pin—on a floured surface. After several reassurances from del Nero that the resulting stretched dough was perfect, I placed it onto a wooden pallet before adding a scoop of lemon cream sauce, fresh mozzarella, broccoli, roasted red peppers, roasted artichokes, and a sprinkling of parmesan. Beaming at my creation, I carried the pallet to the brick oven. With the intense heat from the wood-burning stove, it’s unsurprising that the pizza was ready for removal within minutes. My eponymously named pie, “The Becky,” even garnered del Nero’s endorsement! Before serving to my table, del Nero placed a single olive at the pizza’s center—a sign of Bertucci’s seal of approval, he tells me. “The Becky” was light, refreshing, and oh-so tasty. Its delicate cream sauce gently nursed the flavors of each vegetable; its dough crunchy upon first bite, yet soft and fluffy. While two pieces left me satisfyingly full, the pizza itself wasn’t too heavy, leaving just enough room for a few bites of del Nero’s shareable cannoli. Bellissimo!
PHOTOS BY TONY LEWIS, JR./TONY J PHOTOGRAPHY