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Joe Cassinelli on the Growth of Neapolitan Pizza

Photo: Joe Cassinelli/Official Website; Posto/Cal Bingham

Joe Cassinelli has a lot going on, from expanding The Painted Burro from Somerville to Downtown Crossing to taking over the landmark Rosebud space in Davis. Meanwhile, Posto, his first Somerville restaurant, keeps serving up pastas and Neapolitan pizzas — the authentic, legitimately certified kind. In fact, Posto is the only restaurant in Massachusetts certified by VPN Americas, the US and Canadian branch of an Italian organization that governs the strictly defined style of pizza. (Todd Winer of the upcoming Pastoral, which could open tomorrow, has also taken the course to become a certified pizzaiolo; once the restaurant is up and running, he could eventually get it certified as well.)

Cassinelli chatted with Eater about the experience of getting certified, why he loves Neapolitan pizza, and (surprise!) how he's expanding the brand with a food truck, which will launch in a few months. Like other chefs around town, he also dished on a variety of other pizza-related topics; keep an eye out for his answers in our Pizza Week 2014 survey round-ups.

How did the process work for getting certified to make Neapolitan pizza?
Getting certified as a pizzaiola involved taking a class out in California with Peppe Miele through VPN Americas [the American arm of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, an international group that governs the making of authentic Neapolitan pizza]. Then, to get the restaurant certified, you need to wait a year to basically hone your skills, hone your restaurant, and get the pizza very, very consistent. You apply to become a certified restaurant or pizzeria, and then they send you a list of requirements. They need to check out your equipment — you need to have specific equipment in order to be certified. You need to follow a certain process in making the dough, follow a certain process in making the tomato sauce, lighting the oven, managing the oven, stretching the dough with a specific technique, the weight of the dough...everything's very specific. [Laughs.]

They send a list of the requirements, and then somebody will come and inspect you. I was inspected by Julio. Julio came out from New York, and he's now basically their East Coast ambassador. Julio flew in and came to the restaurant. We made pizza together, he checked out all the equipment, and we got into a heated argument...conversation...and then he granted us the certification and left.

What made you decide to serve Neapolitan pizza at Posto? Why not another style?
Basically, I love this style of pizza. My family's from southern Italy. I knew that what we were eating here in the States — you've got a lot of people who say they're serving Neapolitan pizza; it's not Neapolitan pizza. The biggest challenge is opening a restaurant saying you're serving Neapolitan pizza in a market that thinks they've grown up eating Neapolitan pizza.

Part of the certification process for me was really helping get the word out that, hey, you know, this is a legitimate craft — I'm not making this stuff up. This style of pizza is particular to a region in Italy. I've always told people, I'm not saying it's any better than any other style of pizza; it's just a style of pizza that I really like, and I think it's very good. As a chef, I think it's a very interesting way of cooking pizza because of the toppings — the way that you're able to cook with the oven.

When we do an asparagus pizza, for example, we really don't have to prep the ingredients before putting them on the dough because the oven is so hot. All I do is I peel through a whole stalk of asparagus, and I take all that peeling and just toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then I'll put that on the stretched dough with maybe an egg and a little bit of guanciale. Because the oven's so hot, it really just roasts that asparagus so quickly on the pizza that you're able to get all these natural oils and flavors from the asparagus onto the dough, and the guanciale is actually rendering at the same time.

I just think that if you look around the country at a lot of the forward-thinking Neapolitan pizzerias, or people who are doing a Neapolitan style, you'll find that the ingredients are very chef-driven.

I like New York-style pizza, which is really what the common pizza is around here, I think. But this was something that I became passionate about, just kind of exploring it and traveling around the country a little bit and going into pizzerias. I just fell in love with it, and then I went and cooked in an oven, and all my little chef lightbulbs kind of went off in my head. I said, This is really cool; that's something I want to do.

I pay a lot of respect to the traditions of where food comes from. I don't let it handicap me in where I want to go, but I think it's important that chefs pay respect to the traditions on where the food comes from and make it their own, and I think that's what we do over at Posto with our pizza.

So, you're expanding Painted Burro. Would you ever considering expanding Posto as well?
Yeah, sure. I don't see why not. Our [upcoming] Posto Mobile truck is probably something I'll use to test markets. We have a lot of success with our pizza trailer. It's the same oven that we have in the restaurants, so we go to people's houses and cook the pizza right in front of them, and they're blown away. From a distance, people are like, What's so special about Neapolitan pizza? But unless you show up to a restaurant and have a pizza that's made right in front of your eyes in 60 seconds, you don't get it.

A few years ago I did Chronicle. When she saw the pizza come out of the oven, her eyes just lit up, and she was like — it wasn't really about the story any more. She just kind of made a connection to the pizza, and I was like, Wow, that's awesome. If you're tasting our tomatoes, our mozzarella that we're pulling fresh every day — we stretch 40 pounds of fresh mozzarella every day at the restaurant — it's just nothing but fresh, fresh, fresh ingredients. The best ingredients we can use. I think that's the big difference. When you go from a mass produced thing to a hand-crafted pizza, I'm very passionate about it. I think it's a beautiful thing.

The truck that you're launching — is that an extension of your existing catering trailer, or will you have a schedule out on the streets like a regular food truck?
We do have a location that we're going to be at five days a week. We're just working through the details on. It won't be ready until end of May, beginning of June.

Final thoughts on Neapolitan pizza?
I'm really excited for all the new Neapolitan pizza that's popping up. I'm looking forward to seeing Crush, and seeing Crush expand, and I'm looking forward to trying Pastoral's pizza. I think it's great that more people are embracing the Neapolitan style, and I think that it's really bringing awareness to it. People are starting to get used to seeing that style of pizza as another big contender in the marketplace here. You go to San Francisco, and it's huge. You go to Colorado, and it's big. You're in Texas, it's getting big. New York, it's getting big. Boston, we're getting there, so I'm excited.
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· All coverage of Pizza Week on Eater [~EBOS~]

Posto (Somerville)

187 Elm St., Somerville, MA 02140 Visit Website