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By Sallie James
The faint smell of burning oakwood wafted through the air at SoLita & Mastino as the setting sun streamed through the west windows in the busy downtown Pineapple Grove district in Delray Beach.
As students chatted and sipped wine at raised tables, waiters served up gourmet eggplant stacks. The murmur of lively conversation began to rise.
But not for long.
Enter Steven Dapuzzo, restaurateur and teacher for the night: It was time to talk tomatoes. Pizza 101 was in session, and every student was going to make a 12-inch Neapolitan pie.
“It’s just something different, something that is engaging, to get people interacting,” said Dapuzzo, who offers the two-hour interactive class from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the eatery at 25 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. “You have a drink, you have a little snack, you have a drink, we make some pizza and then you go home.”
Cost for the class is $69 and includes a wine or beer and a 12-inch pizza you make yourself.
The pizza-making experience is fun, educational and a great way to get to know your tablemates. Participants get started with a white-bibbed apron, a 7-ounce ball of mastino dough and a lot of guidance. They learn how to stretch pizza dough and add toppings. Then they watch their own pie cook at more than 800 degrees in a wood-fired oven.
Coral Springs resident Doreen Diaferio and her boyfriend Frank Braile, self-described foodies, said the class was a perfect fit for them. Diaferio enrolled them in the class as a Christmas surprise.
“We make pizza at home and we wanted to experience a different type of making pizza. We make a Chicago-style pizza,” said Braile, of Coral Springs, as he began to shape his crust on the flour-sprinkled table where he sat.
Dapuzzo regaled the crowd with stories about the history of pizza, the different types of pizza, and how the ingredients evolved. He explained what specific ingredients are used and why, where the ingredients are from, and demonstrated how to stretch pizza dough: Two fingers, up and down in a circular motion, then flip the dough and do the same on the other side. Hand-stretch the dough lightly. And never roll the dough out because it takes out all the air.
Some of the details students learn:
• The dough is made from “00” flour, considered the finest stone-milled flour in the world, from Naples. It’s fine and light like baking powder.
• The pizza dough is formed into 7-ounce balls and allowed to rise three times. Each rise makes the dough lighter.
• The marinara sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes grown in the rich volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius. The sauce was named “marinara” after the mariners’ wives who originally made it.
• Other ingredients include organic basil, fresh mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.
• The pizzas are fired in a low-dome, wood-fired stove at 800 to 1,000 degrees. The oven cooks the pizzas in less than two minutes using convection on the top, radiant heat from the side, and baking from the bottom.
• The pizza crust bakes with black spots, called “leopard spotting,” which give it a distinct taste.
Highland Beach resident Barbara Seelig-Brown, a cookbook author who writes for the Italian Trade Commission, loved the class.
“I thought they did a very nice job with it,” she said. “It was very fun. There was a nice mix of die-hard cooking enthusiasts and people who just came to socialize.”
West Palm Beach resident Amanda Rypkema, an event planner, attended the pizza-making class to see if it might work as a team-building activity. She left impressed.
“I love it. (Dapuzzo) was really easy to follow when he described what techniques to use,” Rypkema said. “I would bring my family here when they are in town to do this, or a girls’ night or any of my clients. It’s fun, it makes people engage in conversation. Conversation should happen around food. This encourages it.”
Dapuzzo said the restaurant has been holding the pizza-making classes for about eight months and they are always busy.
“We were trying to think of something different,” he said. “The staff thought it would be really cool to do. Interest has been steady. It’s a fun, unique night out. It’s a departure from the normal eating-out night.
“We call it eating sociably,” he said. “I love it. I like watching how the people interact. It’s a lot of fun. That environment is very inviting — learning something and having something to eat.”
If You Go
What: Pizza 101
Where: SoLita & Mastino, 25 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach
When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
Cost: $69 per person, includes glass of wine or craft beer, 12-inch pizza you make yourself and the class
Pizza not your thing?
Here are a few other cooking class options:
• Sur la table, a kitchen lover’s playground in Mizner Park, offers cooking classes that share recipes and techniques. Students get to eat what they make, of course, and go home with class recipes, a list of needed tools and helpful notes. 438 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. 953-7638, www.surlatable.com.
• Italian Cooking Class with Chef Baba (Andrew Bennardo) shows students how to make classic Italian fare, from shrimp wrapped in prosciutto or brochette to apple tart. Wine included. Vegan juicing classes also available. 8081 Congress Ave., Boca Raton. www.chef-baba.com.
• Publix Apron’s Cooking School offers classes offering cooking tips, pairing topics, cooking for kids and regional cuisines. 5050 Champion Blvd., Boca Raton. 994-4461, www.publix.com/aprons/schools/Boca/Classes.do
• Williams-Sonoma offers cooking classes throughout the year at its stores. Town Center, 6000 Glades Road, Boca Raton. 620-0245, www.williams-sonoma.com/pages/store-events/store-events.html
• Cafe Frankie’s offers cooking classes for a minimum of four students. 640 E. Ocean Blvd., Boynton Beach. 732-3834, www.cafefrankies.com