The Dish: Flour, Salt & Passion

by Catherine Trifiletti

il Canale owner Joe Farruggio works hard to ensure his pizza-loving clientele always leaves satisfied.

© Tony Powell. Il Canale Watermarked

Not all pizza is created equal and that is especially true at il Canale in Georgetown, where owner Joe Farruggio has been serving authentic Neapolitan pizza for more than six years. At this neighborhood favorite, authentic is more than just a buzzword because the restaurant is certified by the Association Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization that requires restaurateurs to follow strict guidelines to maintain the integrity of true Neapolitan pizza. There are only two other certified pizzerias in the District.

The pizza-policing organization insists that its affiliates use fresh ingredients and proper techniques to create a specific kind of dough and a classic final product. Farruggio proudly upholds its standards, going the extra mile by importing his flour and bufala mozzarella directly from Italy. Ingredients aside, his passion is really what sets his pizza apart from hundreds of other pies you can find in metropolitan Washington.

Farruggio gives his pizzas the kind of attention that could only come from someone who has been in the business for a while — 45 years to be exact. He has been kneading dough and flipping pies since he arrived in the U.S. from Italy in 1970 and began his career working at pizzerias in Manhattan. It was there that he was introduced to out- of-towners constantly griping that there was no good pizza outside of New York.

Farruggio set out to change that in 1978. Taking stock of untapped markets, he opened Joe’s Place Pizza and Pasta in Virginia. In 2010, he began exploring a concept outside his New York style pizza comfort zone. Inspired by a visit to Naples, he decided to take on the challenge of making the iconic Neapolitan pizza, knowing that many try, but few succeed in getting the recipe and process just right.

There is a science behind creating the perfect Neapolitan pie and it starts with the dough. Room temperature water is mixed with fresh local yeast and Double 00 flour then left to ferment in a controlled environment. Between 16 and 30 hours of sitting produces the best outcome for the Neapolitan’s signature “tender and juicy” crust. Farrugio is quick to note that his dough is made fresh daily and never sees the inside of a refrigerator.

Once the dough has set, a fresh San Marzano tomato sauce is spread in an even layer over the pie, along with roughly-torn chunks of bufala mozzarella which Farruggio finds to have more “flavor and body” than a traditional cow’s milk cheese. The pie is topped with fresh basil before being thrown into a wood-burning oven that scorches the crust at temperatures upwards of 800-900 degrees. Since the heat can f luctuate, pizzas need to be monitored and rotated with the utmost care because it only takes between 60 and 90 seconds for the crust to bubble and the cheese to sizzle.

Neapolitans say that the main ingredients of a perfect pizza are “flour, salt and passion” and Farruggio cites that sentiment in his committed pursuit to be the best. “The passion of this work,” he says, “is that everyday we’re trying to make a better pizza.”

This story appeared in the April 2016 issue of Washington Life. 

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