In Naples, the birthplace of the celebrated Neapolitan pie, pizza is an art form and birthright.
It’s more than a simple slice of sustenance, and the Neapolitans are serious about the heritage of their pizza. So serious that the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana awards authenticity certificates to pizzerias around the globe that preserve the traditions of true Neapolitan pizza following extraordinarily stringent set of rules, outlined in this 11-page document.
Christopher Mark, co-founder of Black Sheep Restaurants, studied the pizza sacrament under maestro pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia at his world-renowned Pizzeria La Notizia in Naples.
“Neapolitan pizza is the purest expression of the dish, and it has been made the same way for generations,” says Mark. “When practicing pizzaiuolo, the art of Neapolitan pizza-making, there is a true reverence for tradition and you feel like you’re part of history.”
Mark explains that pizza as we know it originated with the simple Neapolitan pie, which serves as the blueprint for styles as wide-ranging as fluffy deep dish, greasy New York slices and sophisticated tarte flambée.
He walks us through the specifications of the sum of the revered pizza’s simple but sublime parts:
The crust starts with the Godfather of flour: the Caputo 00 prized for its fine ground and low gluten. Water, salt and yeast are added and kneaded for at least 15 minutes then allowed to rise for 12 hours. It’s then hand-portioned into balls, or panetti, and allowed to rest awhile longer. Guidelines stipulate only the hands can be used in shaping the dough, so it is painstakingly stretched into a thin, roughly 12-inch circle. No rolling pins here.
Only vine-ripened San Marzano tomatoes, which grow in volcanic soil and become sweet and concentrated under the Italian sun, will suffice for the sauce. The uncooked canned tomatoes are spread on the dough and topped with fresh mozzarella.
The pies should be cooked in a blazing hot, wood-fired oven, and Stefano Ferrara’s hand-built ovens are a point of pride for pizzerias. The ovens are cranked to a screaming 485 degrees Celsius and the pizzas are cooked for no longer than 60 to 90 seconds. The authentic preparation lends the pies their signature charred yet tender crusts with leopard-spotted blistering and smoky flavour. The liquid from the sauce and cheese meld to create a soft, molten centre.
The correct way to eat a Neapolitan pizza is a subject of fierce debate.
First, you’ll never see this pie by-the-slice. It’s best served whole to preserve the prized soupy centre.
And second, don’t feel weird eating with a knife and fork as it’s how the Neapolitans do. Or for those on-the-go, a fold into quarters is a convenient, authentic package.