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Raffaele Brancaccio nolita

A Chat with Maestro Pizzaiolo at NoLIta, Raffaele Brancaccio

An urban jungle in the heart of Dublin City Centre, NoLIta is a restaurant where Italy and New York collide. Italian food mixed with New York influences, NoLIta is a stylish spot where you’ll feel like the coolest person around. With an impressive signature drinks menu and authentic Italian classics like wood-fired pizza, this is certainly a place to impress. We chatted to NoLIta’s pizza chef, Raffaele Brancaccio, about his background and how he got started. Reigning from Italy with a background in pizza-making, you can guarantee that the pizzas at NoLIta are the real deal. We have a recipe for Raffaele’s pizza dough at the end of this article.

Where do you cook and what do you love most about your restaurant?

I cook in NoLIta on South Great Georges Street. It’s the pizza and pasta I love the most, I make the pizzas here in our wood fire oven. 

Restaurant you will never get sick of visiting?

De Michele in Napoli, it is the oldest pizzeria in Naples (1870). You might know it because it also appeared in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling novel Eat Pray Love. 

Favourite travel destination for food?

Without a doubt, Naples Italy. 

What is the best food memory you have?

My favourite food memory is my wedding meal in the Blue Marling Club in Napoli, Italy, where I was married to my wife Iona in 2019.

The worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

Garlic Cream on Pizza! Never again. 

Best way to cut down on food shopping costs?

Don’t go shopping hungry or on an empty stomach. If you go hungry, you’ll put anything in the trolly.

What do you cook when you don’t feel like cooking?

Pasta

Why do you love working in the Irish food industry?

I came here for work experience, I started in Tuscana. I love the fresh Irish produce available here.

Favourite cookbook?

Antonino Cannavacciuolo – Mettici il Cuore. He is a brilliant chef from Napoli. The book is all about putting your heart into everything you do. 

What’s one ingredient you put in everything?

Salt 

What’s one ingredient you cannot stand?

Horseradish. It tastes like eating petrol to me. 

Which 4 people (living or dead) would you like to make dinner for?

My wife Ioana, my mother Anna, my daughter Livianna and my late maternal grandfather Sabato. I would make them a Linguine Seafood. 

Go-to drink order?

Carlsberg

Cooking weakness?

Probably cooking meats. 

Describe your food philosophy in one line.

As best put by Antonino Cannavacciuolo, my philosophy is to put your heart into what you cook. This is what makes food better. 

Who has influenced your cooking the most?

My mom, Anna. She would make anything I wanted for me when I was little. She is an amazing Italian cook. I would often ask her to make me her Pasta Fagioli (pasta with beans and mussels). 

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Be focused on your goals.

Worst kitchen experience?

Once I burned myself on piping hot mozzarella. It was melted and it stuck to the skin on my wrist. 

Favourite cuisine to cook?

Of course, Italian. 

Favourite cuisine to eat?

It has to be Italian. 

Favourite coffee spot?

It used to be Le Petit Parisian. I like to get a coffee here at work too.

Hangover/takeaway order?

A Kabab from Zaytoon. 

Favourite Irish producer/ingredients?

Steak or Irish beef. There is nothing like Irish beef. Best in the world. 

You are stuck on an island, you can pick one dish to eat forever without getting tired of it, what would you eat?

I would have a fillet steak (medium rare), with pepper sauce, fried and a glass of red wine. 

Go-to breakfast?

A croissant and a cappuccino. 

A skill you’re working on mastering?

Just getting better each day at perfecting the pizzas I make here. 

Sweet or savoury?

Sweet. My favourite dessert is Babà Napolitan with Nutella inside. This is something everyone must try. 

Cooking at home: yay or nay?

Yay! Always cook for my wife and daughter. 

A Chat with Maestro Pizzaiolo at NoLIta: Raffaele Brancaccio

Pizza Dough Recipe

The traditional recipe normally includes 4 ingredients only: water, salt, yeast, and flour. For homemade pizza, however, two more ingredients are needed: oil and sugar. The first allows to obtain a more fragrant pizza, the second instead helps in colouring without affecting the rising process.

 Makes 4-5 pizzas, 250g for each dough ball.

Ingredients:

800g 00 flour – If not available, use strong bread flour instead
500g Water
25g salt
2g yeast
10g sugar
25g extra-virgin olive oil

Phase 1 – Preparing the dough:

A good dough needs a long fermentation, at least 6 hours, yes you can speed that up by adding more yeast but you will sacrifice flavour and make the dough harder to digest. A well made pizza won’t make you feel heavy or sluggish after you’ve enjoyed it. Therefore, you need to plan ahead, knead your dough around 10-11am and you will have a beautiful fermented dough by dinner-time.

In a rather large bowl, add half of the flour provided, 1/2 litre of water, the salt to dissolve in the water and the yeast to crumble in the flour. Be careful, never allow the salt meet the yeast; it is important that when we put the yeast into the mixture, the salt has already dissolved in the water.

First, we begin to mix these four ingredients by hand from the bottom upwards, obtaining a very soft dough which will act as the base. Gradually add the sugar, the oil and add the rest of the flour in increments, continuing to knead the dough until a more compact consistency is obtained.

At this point, transfer the mixture to the work surface, and continue to knead it for 15 to 20 minutes, until you obtain a shiny, uniform and elastic dough, which we will rest for 20 minutes.

Professional tip: Do not be tempted to add more flour than the recipe requires. At the beginning, the dough will be very sticky and will seem too soft but will slowly become strong and not stick to your hands or work surface as the flour hydrates and the gluten starts to develop.

Phase 2 – Shaping:

After about 20 minutes of dough rest, using a dough cutter or a knife, cut the dough loaves into the same size and same weight, 250g.

Once cut, shape it by rolling it up to create well-rounded dough-balls. Remember that “what matters is not the technique but the final result”.

Place on a tray or wooden board, at least 10 cm apart, cover with cling film and allow to proof for at least 6 hours.

In the meantime, we dedicate ourselves to the preparation of the tomato following the tradition, that is, crushing the peeled tomatoes well by hand, not with a blender. Two small tins of good quality San Marzano tomatoes will do the trick, any leftover sauce can be used after for a pasta.

You don’t cook the tomato sauce for pizza, you use it fresh, all it needs is salt (recommended 1g of salt for every 100g of tomato), some basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. You should prepare the sauce in advance right after the dough, to give it time for the flavours to combine.

Preparing the mozzarella the right way is equally important. If using fresh mozzarella (buffalo or cow), it is important to cut it into 1 cm strips and place in a colander in the fridge to allow it to eliminate the extra water – this will prevent your pizza from getting wet when baking.

Phase 3 – Stretching

After the 6/8 hours of rising the dough will be doubled in volume. Use a spatula or a scraper to lift a dough-ball and place it on your work surface with a little flour, then flour well on all sides. Begin pressing with your fingers, starting from the middle and avoiding the edge, in order to obtain a uniform round shape pizza with a nice crust. You will find many videos online that will explain how to stretch the dough by hand avoiding the use of a rolling pin.

Preheat your oven on max for 1 hour, from the beginning, place a baking steel/stone in the oven to get hot. If not available, use your oven tray flipped upside down.
To make it a bit easier you can use a sheet of baking paper roughly the size of the baking tray.

After stretching, you can place your dough on the baking paper and then start to garnish your pizza with tomato sauce, 70-80g of mozzarella, fresh basil, a bit of grated parmesan and a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.

Now by grabbing the corners of the baking paper you can easily slide the pizza on the hot tray. An extra pair of hands would come handy or you can make a small investment in a pizza peel and do it like a professional!

Bake for 5 minutes on max at the bottom part of the oven then transfer on the top part for another 2 minutes if the edges are not yet golden brown.

Margherita is the queen of pizza, and perfect in its simplicity, your first pizza must be a Margherita, after that you can get creative with the toppings of your liking, just PLEASE… no pineapple.

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