As a kid, my mom and Gran would tell me that I was “tender-hearted” that maybe, this was the reason I would get worked up over little interactions, or respond really big to seemingly small things.
But I suppose, if I’m honest, I’ve always paid attention to small things.
I’d go to bed sometimes, making myself sick with how the next day would happen. Like I had some control over it — that maybe, if I worried about it enough, the outcome would be surprisingly better, or that I’d be able to handle it.
Sometimes it was. Sometimes, those things never even came close to happening. I’m still learning how to handle this.
I was reminded of this today while reading about pizza.
Specifically, very traditional Neapolitan style. The kind cooked quickly in big, beautiful stone wood fired ovens. Blistered outer crust, perfect pull to the dough and what they call cuore dolce, which means, “soft heart”.
This is the difference in other styles of pizza that I love, but not everyone likes. It’s not gooey. It’s cooked. But just enough to melt the buffalo mozzarella that sits on top. If you try picking it up like a slice of Dominos, bad things could happen. You gotta cut it with a knife, and sort of, fold it in a bit. Some folks eat it with a fork, which is fine. I’m sure there are many schools of thought on the matter.
But a pinch of chili flake, quickly wilted basil, mozzarella and San Marzano tomato is possibly the most perfect pie. In its simplicity, it is all I want on a cold night. (And these days, it gets COLD.) Not to mention, a nice drizzle of dark olive oil right as it comes out the oven.
I am lucky enough to live a block away from a place that does it just right. Specifically the blistering on the crust. It’s important because I think it’s a good sign that the oven is hot enough (some get as hot as 800-900F), which is why they cook so fast. When the bubbles that form on the outer crust char, it adds a bitterness to the whole thing, which I assume is the whole point. A lot of folks aren’t cool with a somewhat charred crust, but I say nay. Try it. It’s done that way for a reason.
One of my first real burns as a cook was from tossing in a piece of white oak into a 600 degree pizza oven, and coming a bit too close to the brick near the opening. And as cooks know, burns suck even more when you still have be near heat.
I came away from that memory thinking about the cuore dolce.
How one works to get this in their final product.
A soft heart.
I bring it back to when I was a kid. And how things got to me, and now even as an adult, the characteristics I had as a kid transfer.
They sort of look different, ya know? I am lucky to be fitting better in my own skin. It’s taken a long time. But I am a big softie. No doubt about that.
And I’ve had to work at protecting that when I need to. That’s a hard balance.
But I work on it.
As a pizzaiolo learns to find the hot spots, to read the dough, to blast it with heat in the dome before bringing it out to settle. There is intuition. Gentleness in how it is handled.
There’s a lotta love in pizza.
And there’s a lotta love in them soft hearts.