Making authentic Neapolitan pizza is an art. Originating from Naples, Italy, this pizza is world-renowned for its soft, thin crust, minimal but high-quality toppings, and its unique preparation and cooking method. As with any art, there are standards and guidelines set to ensure that Neapolitan pizza remains true to its roots. One such organization, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), certifies pizzerias worldwide to guarantee that they're making Neapolitan pizzas according to traditional techniques and standards.
In this article, we will delve deep into the world of Neapolitan pizza, its history, the rigorous standards set by the AVPN, and of course, step-by-step instructions to make your own authentic pie.
The Origins of Neapolitan Pizza
Pizza, in some form, has been a staple in Mediterranean diets for centuries. Flatbreads with toppings have been consumed by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. But the modern pizza we know and love came to life in the bustling streets of Naples.
In the 18th century, flatbreads known as ‘pizzas’ were sold on the streets of Naples. They were considered food for the working class and were sold by vendors carrying huge boxes under their arms. The Margherita pizza, topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, is said to have been named in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy in the late 19th century.
AVPN: The Gold Standard of Neapolitan Pizza
The AVPN, or Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, was established in 1984 in Naples. Its primary goal is to promote and protect the "true Neapolitan pizza." To do this, they've set very detailed standards that a pizza (and the pizzeria making it) must meet to be certified as authentically Neapolitan.
For instance, only certain types of ingredients can be used. The dough must contain only wheat flour (type "00" or "0"), water, sea salt, and fresh yeast. Toppings for the classic Margherita pizza must be San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese (from either cow or buffalo milk), fresh basil, olive oil, and salt.
There are also strict guidelines regarding the dough handling, fermentation, and even the method of baking.
Tools and Ingredients: The Backbone of Authenticity
1. High Temperature Pizza Oven
This is non-negotiable. A genuine Neapolitan pizza must be baked at a temperature of about 900°F (485°C) for no more than 90 seconds. This is what gives the crust its signature char and delicate texture. To achieve this at home or in a professional setting, a specialized oven is crucial. You can find some of the best pizza ovens suitable for this purpose here.
2. Type '00' Flour
This super-fine flour creates the tender, airy crumb we love in Neapolitan pizzas.
3. San Marzano Tomatoes
These tomatoes are grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius. They're sweet, tangy, and less acidic, making them perfect for pizza sauce.
4. Mozzarella di Bufala or Fior di Latte
Whether made from buffalo or cow's milk, the mozzarella should be fresh and soft.
5. Fresh Basil, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt
These finish off the classic Margherita toppings.
Making the Pizza: A Step-By-Step Guide
1. Preparing the Dough:
- Combine the water and salt, stirring until dissolved.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour and yeast. Slowly add the saltwater mixture and knead until smooth.
- Let the dough rest for 15 minutes, then divide it into small balls (about 250g each).
- Place the dough balls on a floured surface, ensuring they're not touching. Cover with a damp cloth and let them rise for 8-24 hours.
2. Making the Sauce:
- Crush the San Marzano tomatoes by hand or with a blender.
- Add a pinch of salt. That's it! No cooking or additional seasonings are needed.
3. Assembling and Baking:
- Preheat your pizza oven to around 900°F.
- On a floured surface, gently press and stretch a dough ball to form a 10-12 inch circle. Remember, no rolling pins!
- Spoon on a thin layer of sauce.
- Add slices of mozzarella and a few fresh basil leaves.
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Using a pizza peel, transfer the pizza to the oven.
- Bake for no more than 90 seconds, rotating once, until the crust is golden with char spots and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Expert Opinions on Authentic Neapolitan Pizza
Liz Trementozzi from Simple Italian Cooking delves deeper into the nuances of the pizza's texture and flavor profile. Trementozzi points out:
"The key to a true Neapolitan pizza is how it's cooked and the type of pizza flour. The pizza flour should be high protein so it is slightly chewy after being baked."
She continues by painting a picture of Naples, the birthplace of the iconic Margherita pizza:
"Naples is known for their pizzas, especially the Margherita pizza which is topped with fresh mozzarella, san marzano tomatoes (grown in the regions around Vesuvius), and fresh basil leaves. It is cooked in a brick oven pizza for no more than 90 minutes, just until the dough bubbles begin to burst and char. The dough is slightly chewy and slices can be easily folded in half when eating."
Highlighting the legendary roots of this pizza, Liz states:
"As much as people in the US try to mimic a Neapolitan pizza, the real deal is only truly found at the Pizzeria Brandi, along with authentic ingredients and the original creator of the famous Margherita pizza. That doesn't mean, however, we can't keep trying to get our own versions as close as possible!"
Making an authentic Neapolitan pizza is not just about following a recipe—it's about embracing a tradition, respecting the craft, and using the right tools and ingredients. It's an experience that, when done correctly, results in one of the most delicious and iconic foods in the world. So by following the AVPN's guidelines and adding lots of love, you can recreate a slice of Naples in your kitchen.