Most people who move from the New York area, like I did in July, worry that key aspects of life will pale next to what they're used to. Pizza tops the list of concerns. But there has been no drop in 'za quality from New York City to Phoenix. And LAMP Pizzeria in North Scottsdale fires some of the best.
Metro Phoenix has a reputation for pizza and a 1,000-degree focus on Neapolitan style. (I'd really like to see more Sicilian and Roman-style al taglio here. One day...) One of the things that makes LAMP so good is that owners Lindsay and Matt Pilato have no special allegiance to any school of pizza.
For more than six years, Matt, head pizzaiolo, has done his own thing.
He does whatever tastes best. When he, a man with no serious background in pizza, started blazing pies with Lindsay in their backyard, they would conduct blind taste test. Different sauces and cheeses. This and that dough recipe. The goal was to whittle away to the the best ingredients and the ultimate pizza. Matt didn't care whether his tomatoes were from Arizona or Vesuvius or the moon.
Ditto mozzarella. After trying every brand he could corral, Matt decided his own was the best. For the 'za blazed in LAMP's sanguine-tiled oven, he crafts mutz from scratch.
The Rapini pizza comes with four kinds of cheese, mozzarella included. Mutz and ricotta dominate. Two other cheeses exist more on the marginal level of an herb or spice — small flavor additions — rather than as a building blocks or toppings of the greater pie.
The third cheese is Parmesan. Matt finishes "most" of his pies with the venerable king of cheeses.
The fourth is Pecorino Romano, which every pie at LAMP contains. The Rapini doubles down on Pecorino and gets a second dose of the sheep's milk cheese from an optional sausage topping. (Pull the trigger. This should be mandatory.) Pecorino lurks in the sausage with other unlikely additions — Chianti and Sambuca.
The level of attention here is lapidary. LAMP's extreme focus extends to the dough.
Matt spurns conventional Campanian pizza wisdom and goes with a blend of flours that includes 00, rather than sticking exclusively with finely milled 00 itself. This decision gives his crust rambunctious body and chew to the typical Neapolitan pie's plush, almost cottony lightness.
"We're looking for a soft interior, thick walls, and chew," Matt says. "I shoot for more structure on my pizza so it holds up more to the sauce and cheese." He seeks a balance between soft, crispy, and chewy, the chew being the most distinguishing feature of a LAMP pie, an artist's signature written in crust.
Matt uses a starter and lets his dough rise for 25 to 56 hours. This gives his crust deeper flavor, some swag to go with its unique somewhat chewy texture.
The floor of LAMP's immaculately tiled oven burns at 650 to 800 degrees. Pecan wood and oak supply the red dome's ambient heat and flickering yellow and orange glow. In the oven's curved heights, its temp can exceed 1,000 degrees.
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SHOW ME HOW
A brief stay in the oven browns the Rapini's crust, bubbles its cheese, toasts its pine nuts, releases its steam.
Your typical pizza casts toppings in a supporting role. They're just kind of thrown on in a why-the-fuck-not and merely vary the eating with a few meek side notes of flavor. Not the Rapini. The toppings on the Rapini co-star with the crust and cheese. Their flavors and textures meld with the four cheeses and signature crust the way a great pasta's ingredients and sauce do with the noodles. The marriage is perfectly happy.
Those toppings are, for the white-pie Rapini, broccoli rabe, pine nuts, chiles, red onions, garlic, and those heady Pecorino-filled, booze-stuffed sausages, which have eye-opening flavor and intoxicating sweetness reminiscent of lacquered meats from Asia. Matt finishes the pie with garlic-infused olive oil for "a nice punch."
It's the golden crown on a regal pie, first-rate 'za any Phoenician would miss when in another place.