Making and Eating Authentic Neapolitan Pizza
June 3, 2010
Every time my mother made pizza from scratch we listened to Dean Martin belt out, “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…” I admit I did not appreciate it then, but having carried on the pizza making tradition, I can vouch for the “that’s amore” part because making it is a labor of love.
Pizza is the symbol of Italy along with macaroni, and making and eating pizza in Naples (the home of pizza) is serious business. There is even a governing body (La Vera Pizza Napolitana) that oversees the making of it according to set rules and here are some of them”
- Only Tipo“00” flour such as Caputo flour can be used.
- Only San Marzano tomatoes grown in the rich volcanic soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius can be used.
- Only fresh mozzarella is permitted. This cheese was developed in Naples and has a rich, creamy texture.
- Fresh herbs (basil and oregano) are key toppings in the making of Neapolitan pizzas.
- The water used to make the dough must be free of chemicals.
- Only fresh yeast is permitted.
- Pizza dough must be made and stretched by hand, no rolling pins allowed.
- The oven must be wood fired with the floor of the pizza oven at least five inches thick, and the pizza must cook directly on the oven floor.
- When cooked, a pizza should be crisp on the bottom but slightly chewy on top. The crust edges should form a rim known as a cornizone and it should have just tinges of a blackened edge.
- The cheese should be blistered and form rises and falls on the surface of the pizza.
Now for the toppings! Only four variations are allowed for authentic pizza:
Napoletana: Margherita, with crushed tomatoes, olive oil basil and mozzarella. Marinara, with crushed tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, and garlic. Formaggio e Pomodoro with cheese, crushed tomatoes and olive oil. And Rpieno, a calzone filled with ricotta or mozzarella, olive oil, and salami.
As to how to eat a Neapolitan pizza, there is tradition to adhere to as well. First, pizza is never sold in a box. It is eaten at a pizzeria and it is not shared, or meant to be shared. You order and eat your own individual pizza because they are dinner plate size and very thin. Eat them with a fork or knife, or fold the pizza into a libretto, a little book.
Other regions of Italy make pizza, but they are variations of what you would find in pizza’s true home of Naples. In Sicily, a thick bread like pizza called sfincione is made with tomatoes and anchovies; in Tuscany a flat pizza called focaccia is made with herbs, olive oil and various toppings. In Rome, pizza is sold by the slice (pizza a taglia) and toppings can include prosciutto, artichokes, cheese etc.
You will never experience the taste of authentic Neapolitan pizza anywhere but in Naples, so if a trip to bella Napoli is in your future, go straight to a pizzeria.
Otherwise you can make your own pizza at home; it will be far better than the one from your local pizzeria.
Basic Pizza Dough
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (110F-115F)
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Pizza Margherita Topping
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup tomato saiuce
One 8 ounce ball fresh fior di latte mozzarella cheese, cut into small pieces
12 fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2-cup warm water. Allow the yeast to proof until it is foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add the remaining 1-cup of warm water, combining it well with the yeast. Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt. Mix the dough with your hands or use a mixer with a dough hook, adding the remaining flour as needed to make dough that holds together.
Place the dough on a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft and not sticky. Grease a bowl with the olive oil. Put the dough in the bowl and turn a few times to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours in a warm place.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Punch down the dough and knead it for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface.
Divide the dough in half and roll each piece out on a floured surface into a 12-inch round and place the rounds on lightly oiled 13-inch pizza pans. Turn in the edges of the dough about 1/2 inch to form a rim. You can stretch the dough to fit an even larger pan if you wish. Place the dough on 2 wooden peels, dusted with cornmeal, if you plan to use baking stones to bake the pizza.
Brush each round with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Divide the tomato sauce between the rounds. Divide the cheese and sprinkle it on top of the sauce. Divide the basil leaves and sprinkle them on top of the cheese. Divide and sprinkle on the salt and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
Bake the pizzas for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top and bottom crusts are nicely browned. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
If using baking stones, preheat the stones in a 500ºF. oven for 20 minutes. Just before placing the pizza on the stone from the baking peel, sprinkle each stone with a handful of cornmeal. Bake the pizzaz for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust in nicely browned on the bottom.