When he goes out for pizza, Philly restaurateur Marc Vetri tends to gloss right over any elaborate arrangements, training his gaze instead on the minimalist side of the menu.
“Simple food is the hardest thing to make because there’s nothing to hide behind,” Vetri told Eater, citing a preference for a Neapolitan-style Margherita (“It’s the one thing that everyone’s gonna order, no matter what,” he said) or basic marinara pizza (executed with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil at his eponymous pizzeria in D.C.) versus overly embellished productions.
A lifelong commitment to consistently turning out exemplary pies has taken on new meaning since Vetri began working on his latest cookbook, Mastering Pizza.
That intensive research led him to Sbanco restaurant in Rome earlier this year — a visit which exposed him to chef Stefano Callegari’s curious creation.
The eye-opening experience involved watching Callegari carefully roll out dough, top it with ice, and then shove the entire thing into a blazing oven. What seemed counterintuitive at first slowly began to make sense to Vetri as Callegari explained how the dissolving ice would lead to a pool of hot starchy water which, in turn, would expedite the melting of freshly grated cheese, and add some sauciness to a generous dusting of cracked black pepper.
“It’s basically the Roman dish cacio e pepe,” Vetri said of the revelation. “I was blown away.”
Vetri recreated the version he’s been experimenting with on April 10 while at Pizzeria Vetri in order to demonstrate its similarity to the time-honored pasta.
He made the pizza with grated sheep’s milk pecorino, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil.
The crust displays a respectable scorch. The tip is exceptionally chewy, so much so that a splash of that residual liquid Vetri mentioned dribbles onto the tongue during a probing bite. The middle is a tad less soupy, the crumbled cheese sopping up both starchy run-off and nutty olive oil. Black pepper is poignant, combining with the absorbent dairy and dampened dough to complete the spot-on impression of the iconic noodle dish.
Vetri seemed confident that the cacio e pepe pizza, though still a work in progress, would eventually get thrown into the mix here in D.C.
“It’ll be on as a special every now and then. And then maybe we’ll have it on the menu,” he said of his latest obsession.
Vetri mentioned plans to audition other new pizza recipes both here and in his native Philadelphia as he nears completion of the cookbook. “We’re finishing writing it now,” he said of his fourth collaboration with co-author David Joachim.
Per Vetri, his contribution is due to the publisher by this August. He said he expects it to be published in September 2018.