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September's Can't-Miss Dish
November's Can't-Miss Dish
Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.
On the plate: Margherita Pizza
Where to find it:If you obsess over a pizza’s crust as much as its toppings, you will love what Michael Lombardi is doing at Si Cara in Cambridge. In August, Lombardi—chef and partner at South End Italian restaurant SRV—opened his first solo venture: a 50-seat “pizzabar” in Central Square, featuring natural wine, seasonally driven sides, and a special version of the Italian pie. Here, he’s turning out a style of pizza called canotto, characterized by a crust that’s softer and puffier than a typical Neapolitan slice. The style, the chef explains, is one way that next-generation pizza chefs are challenging the rules governing how verace pizza Napoletana—true Neapolitan pizza—is made. But Lombardi isn’t looking to start a pizza revolution. He’s making the kind of pizza he likes to eat, using a dough recipe that he has been perfecting at home for years.
Notes on the nosh: It’s fitting that the name of this establishment translates to “yes, dear” in Italian. Everything that emerges from the domed gas oven—the centerpiece of a bustling open kitchen—conveys an exuberant “we’re-glad-you’re-here” vibe. That includes the deceptively simple Margherita Pizza. Its airy crust, delectably charred in spots, gets its puffy appearance and slightly chewy texture from dough made with a higher water-to-flour ratio than your standard Naples-style pizza. Additionally, that dough undergoes a two-day fermentation prompted by a homegrown sourdough starter. Margherita enthusiasts will recognize the trio of toppings: red sauce, mozzarella, and basil. But one bite will reveal why Si Cara’s version is quickly becoming a genre-defining classic.
Pienollo tomatoes, which grow on the hillsides of Mount Vesuvius outside of Naples, are key to the sauce. The nightshades, each slightly larger than a cherry tomato, arrive to the restaurant packed in jars. The sweet, sun-ripened orbs are spooned onto a round of dough, crushed lightly, and sprinkled with salt. After just minutes in the 800-plus-degree oven, they melt into the simplest kind of sauce, creating the opposite of a long-simmered sugo. “For me, it’s almost like eating a crostini with fresh toppings on it,” Lombardi says of the Margherita.
While the tomatoes are imported from Italy, the fior di latte (fresh, semi-soft cow’s milk mozzarella) hails from the chef’s home state of Connecticut. That mozzarella, like all of the cheeses used at the restaurant, is from Calabro, a company founded 70 years ago in East Haven, by a family of Sicilian immigrants. “They were local to me back home and that’s what I wanted to work with here,” Lombardi says.
Sip alongside: A fizzy pink wine called “Nina,” from northern Italian producer Ferretti Vini, is exactly the kind of bottle we like to share with friends over pizza. The bubbly, available at Si Cara for $55, offers delicate red berry flavors and lively acidity that cleanses the palate between bites. Indigenous yeast, which grows spontaneously on the skins of the grapes, does double duty: the microbe prompts fermentation, then later transforms into a fine sediment, called lees, on which the wine matures. It lends an appetizing hint of texture to the finished product. That yeast also creates a bridge to what you’re eating. “We’re all about natural yeast in our dough,” Lombardi explains, “so natural wine sees that idea all the way through.”