cucina bene; mangia bene (Pizza Napoletana)
While the origin of pizza dates back to ancient times when flatbreads were prepared over hot coals and stones placed within the fire, the City of Naples Italy is considered now the center of the modern day pizza universe. The pizza makers of Naples are viewed as the ones who married the tomato with leavened dough during the 18th Century.
Pizza has involved from a street food enjoyed by the poor people of Naples (known as the Lazzaroni) who did not possess a way to cook in their own residences to something of artisanal significance. Many of the famous Neapolitan pizzerias have only added seating to their establishments in the last twenty five years, even though some pizzerias date back to opening in the 1800’s. Today, many pizza lovers journey to Naples seeking out the taste of authentic napoletana pizzas baked in rustic wood-fired ovens prepared with simple and high quality regional ingredients.
Over the last fifty years, pizza has grown from a regional specialty of Naples to becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Pizza is now readily available throughout all of Italy and everywhere else in the world. In the 1990’s, some concerned Italian Citizens recognized that the popularity of pizza had grown so fast and wanted to protect the culinary heritage of pizza napoletana. So as to preserve the traditions of pizza napoletana, efforts were put forth by the Ministry of Agriculture and other trade associations to create a ‘DOC’ (regulated origin) status similar to other Italian Products like wine and cheese. In 1997, ‘DOC’ status was granted to Pizza Napoletana STG.
While there are various organizations in Italy preserving and cultivating the standards for pizza napoletana, one association prevalent in the U.S. is the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association based in Marina Del Rey, California. VPN Americas offers training education on the art of making pizza napoletana including several hands-on class options. Also, this association provides a certification process for pizzerias conforming to the strict guidelines for Neapolitan Pizza. Once certified, these pizzerias can display the logo of the VPN Association in their marketing efforts and consumers benefit by locating various pizzerias across the country cooking this style of authentic pizza.
Let’s explore some of the major aspects of Neapolitan pizza making:
There are three pizzas defined within the ‘DOC’ standard and are noted as follows:
Pizza Napoletana Marinara – Risen dough with tomatoes (pressed-peeled), oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
Pizza Napoletana Margherita – Risen dough with tomatoes (pressed-peeled) or chopped fresh cherry tomatoes, either sliced mozzarella di bufala (buffalo milk) or fior di latte (cow’s milk), basil and extra virgin olive oil. A small amount of grated hard cheese is acceptable as well.
Pizza Napoletana Margherita Extra – Risen dough with tomatoes (pressed-peeled) and fresh cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella (bufala or cow), basil and extra virgin olive oil. A small amount of grated hard cheese is acceptable as well.
The pizza must be cooked in only a wood-burning oven at 825 F degrees using either oak or walnut as fuel. Typically, American pizza is baked in a gas oven around 500 F degrees. The pizza must cook within 90 seconds.
There are specific guidelines regarding the ingredients used in the dough, the preparation process for creating the dough, and how the dough is leavened. The flour to be used is identified as ‘Tipo 00’ representing the finest grind of flour in Italy. In the U.S., our flour is classified based in terms of protein or gluten content where in Italy, the flour makers classify their products by grind. The best known pizza flour producer is Antico Molino Caputo. Caputo pizza flour is used throughout most of the pizzerias in Naples and also is renowned worldwide, and can be sourced in the U.S. through various Internet Retailers.
The three other ingredients allowed in the dough are natural water, sea salt and compressed or natural yeast. No dough conditioners like oil, milk, honey, sugar or eggs are allowed. The standards allow the dough to be mixed by hand or slowly in a mixer. The formation of dough balls must be made by hand and the dough is proofed in two phases.
San Marzano tomatoes are the preferred choice for pizza napoletana. Considered the best for both pizza and pasta due to their low acidity and full-tomato flavor, the San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the Nocerino-Sarnese area of Campania and carry a ‘DOC’ status as well. Canned San Marzano tomatoes can be found easily in the U.S. The standard allows for using either fresh tomatoes or canned ones when fresh tomatoes are not in season.
The fresh tomatoes allowed include the San Marzano, small round tomatoes known as Pomodorini di Corbara or Carbarini, and a red cherry tomato known as Pomodorini del piennolo del Vesuvio, sliced and served on the margherita extra. Canned San Marzano tomatoes are the recommended choice in the off season. Additionally, using fresh or industrially prepared Roma tomatoes are approved in the DOC standard.
Besides the two types of mozzarella noted above, other ingredients allowed include extra virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh basil, and garlic. On the margherita versions, a small amount of grated hard cheeses are acceptable including Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana padano and Pecorino.
The marinara version dates back to 1734 and it is believed that local fishermen from Naples would have this style of pizza before heading out for the day’s work on the sea. The margherita pizza used to be known as pizza mozzarella. In 1889, Queen Margherita (Margaret) of Savoy was visiting Naples. A pizza maker by the name of Raffaele Esposito made three pizzas for the Queen at her royal summer palace. The third one he prepared included the now famous combination of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil, representative of the colors of the Italian Flag. Queen Margherita preferred this pizza and as legend goes, Raffaele dedicated his pizza creation to her by naming it ‘pizza margherita’.
The beauty of the pizza in Naples is found in its simplicity. The wood-fire oven adds a depth of flavor with hints of smokiness and a slight char from the high heat of the oven. Married with simple but incredibly fresh and high quality ingredients, pizza napoletana is the height of the pizza experience.
While we may not be able to head to Naples or a VPN-certified pizzeria soon, we can achieve a close resemblance at home by using Caputo Flour, San Marzano Tomatoes, Sea Salt and EVOO. Top it off with some imported mozzarella and a pizza stone, and you can be Raffaele Esposito for a short time. Buon Appetito!