There are several reasons why the Apollonia pie stands out on the menu of acclaimed pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri's essential San Francisco destination Una Pizzeria Napoletana. Available on Saturdays only, the Apollonia is the first and only pie at the shop to feature meat or eggs. While at a glance the pie might feel a bit removed from Mangieri's wheelhouse, its inspiration and evolution are all about the things that are most important to him.
"I've made every single pizza for 18 years in business." — Anthony Mangieri
Mangieri knew that he wanted to create and name a pie for his daughter when she was born two years ago. He also wanted to incorporate the beautiful eggs his regular customer Marc Cohodes of Alder Lane Farms had been gifting him. "I was never into the idea of eggs on pizza," Mangieri says. "I don't like that brunch-y stuff: No pizzas with eggs and mimosas here. But I started to get more into the idea and decided to do it because the eggs are spectacular." Eggs also felt symbolic to him: His daughter's first solid food was hard-boiled egg yolk and he says in his Christian faith they also represent Jesus and rebirth. Mangieri also remembered an Italian Easter recipe for casatiello, a bread with salami, egg, garlic, and black pepper, and felt motivated to make the Apollonia a reality.
Mangieri credits the success of the Apollonia and his other pies to his single-minded focus and obsession with Neapolitan pizza-making. "I've made every single pizza for 18 years in business. It's not a second or third career or a hobby, it's who I am," he says. "Making every single dough ball, staring at the oven every night, it has to lead to something eventually, or else I'm a complete idiot." Eater SF editor Allie Pape sheds some light on the Una Pizza Napoletana philosophy:
"Una Pizza Napoletana is a rare jewel, and as such, it comes at a price. They're unquestionably one of the Bay Area's, and the country's, very best pizzerias, though dining there requires divorcing your mind from the concept of pizza as you know it. Every pie is made to exacting standards, and it shows in the perfectly blistered and charred crust, with its soft and bready interior."
Below, the elements of Una Pizza Napoletana's Apollonia pie:
1. The dough
"I never stop experimenting," says Mangieri of his pizza dough recipe, which is naturally leavened and never refrigerated. "I change flours every week and am always looking for something that's better and trying to push it." He often uses classic Caputo flour, but says that he doesn't think the flour is as good as it used to be ("I feel it used to have more elasticity and pop and used to have more flavor.") Throughout his flour experiments, he's almost always using a double zero flour.
Mangieri's current starter is about seven months old, but he says it's a myth that a starter needs age. "Once you start refreshing it with flour and water and air in your environment it will become its own thing anyway. After a few refreshings, there's such a small amount of the original left over it's just a joke." Mangieri refreshes his starter every day. He combines a portion of the starter with his flour and tap water. Even using tap water is a measured decision: "I've played with bottled water and Italian water, but you can't adjust the temperature easily … With tap I can just run it and use my finger." This wet starter dough sits for 24 hours.
Next, Mangieri adds the remainder of his flour, more tap water, and Sicilian sea salt. He mixes the dough in an extremely slow spiral mixer that doesn't heat the dough at all. He balls the dough, places five or six balls on each tray and then lets the dough rest in the kitchen for 10 hours. He adds that San Francisco weather can be capricious and that the restaurant's concrete walls can make the kitchen too cold for the dough to rise properly. When this happens, he wheels the dough closer to the oven to encourage it rise faster.
To pat out the dough, Mangieri tries to touch it as little as possible. "My dough is so delicate, I don't stretch it out in the traditional way and I can't slap it with my palm." Instead, he works the dough with his fingers, gently pushing it flat with his fingers and flips the pie no more than three times in the process. He makes sure not to rupture the air pockets that have formed during proofing and pushes them to the rim. "It can look more commercial or neat if you work the edge more precisely but I like it more wild and crazy," he adds.
2. the cheese
Mangieri uses a combination of buffalo mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano on the Apollonia pizza. As with the dough, Mangieri often experiments with different producers and right now he is using Tre Stelle mozzarella and Bertozzi parmigiano reggiano, both of which are imported from Italy. The mozzarella adds needed moisture to the sauceless pie, and Mangieri has strong opinions about the benefits of using imported Italian-made buffalo mozzarella versus domestic fior di latte cow's milk cheese. "Nobody in the US knows how to make mozzarella in my opinion. They've been doing it in Italy forever." Mostly what Mangieri is looking for from his mozzarella is that it burns correctly in the oven and produces a good, creamy texture. He finds domestic cow's milk cheese "flavorless and tastes like rubber." Mangieri drains the cheese of excess moisture and dices it before applying it directly to the dough.
The grated parmigiano is actually added after the pizza comes out of the oven. Mangieri says the hard cheese "loses its beauty when its cooked," which is why it's the final element to be added to the pie.
3. the eggs
The linchpin of the dish is the fresh eggs from Alder Lane Farm. Mangieri describes the eggs as "beautiful" and "the best." Because he wanted to make sure the pizza was consistent from slice to slice, Mangieri decided not to just crack an egg over the center of the pizza. Instead, he pours the eggs over the pie which allows for more even coverage. He must be extremely careful not to get any egg on the rim of the dough because its weight would prevent the crust from properly puffing along the outer edge. The eggs are another crucial source of moisture for the sauceless pie and are "just barely cooked" in the oven.
4. the salami
The only pie at Una Pizza Napoletana to be topped with meat of any kind, the Apollonia features San Francisco-made Molinari salami. Mangieri likes that the sausage is locally made and he also likes its fat content. He needs the sausage to be fatty so it can stay soft even after being in the incredibly hot pizza oven. He explains: "If it's not fatty it will get too crispy and crunchy and then it will lose the luxury." He peels and dices the mild salami before adding it to the pizza.
5. the herbs
Almost every pie Mangieri makes is topped with fresh basil, and the Apollonia is no exception. Mangieri takes leaves of basil and spreads them on the pie. Along with the basil, Mangieri also adds raw chopped garlic. He gets both his basil and his garlic from Alder Lane Farms whenever it's available. Although the oven is extremely hot, the garlic is only cooked just past the point of being raw. It's protected from overcooking by the moisture of the cheese and the eggs. The pie is also seasoned with coarse Trapani Sicilian sea salt ("nobody was using coarse salt when I started making pies") and coarsely ground black pepper.
6. the assembly
There is a very particular order in which Mangieri layers the ingredients of the Apollonia pizza. He starts by putting down a layer of diced buffalo mozzarella, spreading it atop the dough evenly.
After adding garlic, Mangieri adds the salami, salt, and pepper.
Next comes the egg, and then the basil leaves.
Right before putting the pizza into the oven, Mangieri adds a swirl of Dickson Napa Ranch olive oil. It's a mild extra virgin oil that Mangieri says adds a final bit of weight to the pizza and ties the whole thing together. Some extra virgin oils can be expensive, "heavy, and greasy" Mangieri says, but he like Dickson for being both light and "economically practical."
Una Pizza Napoletana is home to a custom-built wood burning oven from the legendary Stefano Ferrara. Mangieri says knowing how to use an oven as powerful as a Ferrara takes time: "A lot of people don't know how to use the oven. Buying a Ferrara is like buying a guitar and thinking you can play Hendrix." Mangieri burns oak for "bottom heat" because it's slow burning, and then pairs it with a hard wood that burns hot and burns faster than oak. ("I use oak and other kinds of wood, but I won't say which," Mangieri tells Eater in an effort to keep some of his secrets.)
Mangieri likes to cook three pies at a time, and has developed a rhythm around this practice. "I make a little train," he explains. He put the three pies in a line perpendicular to the opening of the oven, with the "first" being the furthest in. He rotates the first pie and after it's finished, he moves the second pie into the back position and third into the middle spot. He then rotates both remaining pies halfway, and by that point the second pie is done. Then he moves the third pie to the backmost position. Depending on what's going on with the oven's heat (which usually stays somewhere around 900 degrees), Mangieri may "dome" the pie right before removing it. While it may sound like a lot of movement, the entire process is extremely fast. A pie cooks in about one minute.
After the pie comes out of the oven, Mangieri tops it with grated parmigiano. He notes that the wetness of a sauce changes the character of the baked dough, so a white pie like the Apollonia puts more attention on the crust. "The dough really shines through on this pizza."