Pizza is one of the most popular foods across the globe.
There are so many different types of pizza with influences from different cultures and countries- Chicago deep-dish pizza, New York thin and crispy pizza, Siciliana pizza with a thick puffy crust, a calzone folded pizza, and even dessert pizza with melted chocolate and marshmallows.
So what is a Neapolitan pizza? It is considered to be the most traditional, Italian-style pizza and one of the oldest types of pizza in the world.
It is made in a specific way, with particular toppings, and is incredibly delicious. Keep reading to find out more about Neapolitan pizzas.
Naples is the third-largest city in Italy and is considered to be the place where Italian pizza originated.
Neapolitan, or Napoletana, means anything that comes from Naples, hence why this traditional pizza is called a Neapolitan pizza.
Naples was an independent city until 1861 when it became part of the newly unified Italy, and it has retained some individuality in its culture and traditions.
This makes it a unique city with a rich history, which includes the cuisine!
Pizza is thought to have been created by the working classes of Naples in the 1700s, with cheap ingredients that were readily available to them.
The recipe for Neapolitan pizza dough is fairly basic, and the base is topped with local tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and some fresh basil leaves.
The result is so delicious that it quickly became popular with people of all classes, including the aristocracy.
People all over the world had been eating flatbread for many years, but it was the addition of tomatoes that turned flatbread into what we consider to be pizza.
Whilst you can get white pizzas, red tomato sauce is a classic characteristic of pizza.
Many Europeans used to believe that tomatoes were poisonous, but word soon spread that this was not the case when the Naples natives began topping their bread with tomatoes.
People traveled to Naples from all over Europe and even countries much further away. They visited the poorer areas specifically to seek out and try this new and exciting food.
In 1889, King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples and were served a pizza topped with mozzarella.
The pizzeria who made their pizza chose the toppings based on the colors of the Italian flag- white cheese and green basil on top of the red tomatoes.
The King and Queen loved the pizza, and this is where the classic ‘Margherita’ pizza is thought to have come from.
The most traditional form of Neapolitan pizza is ‘la marinara’, which only has tomatoes as a topping with no cheese.
La marinara means ‘seaman’s wife’, and this traditional pizza was often cooked as the first meal after the seaman returned home.
What Is Neapolitan Pizza?
Now you know more about the history of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, what exactly is it?
What makes this type of pizza different from the one you get in your local takeout shop or in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store?
There are certain characteristics that define a traditional Neapolitan pizza- the crust, the tomatoes, and the cheese.
The crust is an important defining feature. The dough is a simple recipe of ‘00’ flour, water, salt, and fresh yeast.
The flour helps to make the dough soft, yet crisp on the outside when cooked at a high temperature.
The dough should be left to prove for at least 24 hours to allow it to rise and develop bubbles of air.
The crust should be thin, but airy so that the crusts puff up and hold in the wet toppings.
The crust should bubble up, with dark charred spots from the wood fire called ‘leoparding’ by pizza chefs. These pizzas should be cooked in a very hot wood-fired oven, and take less than 2 minutes.
These pizzas have a very simple tomato sauce. The tomatoes are not cooked beforehand like they are on some American pizzas. The tomatoes are added to the pizza dough raw.
Some people lightly season the tomatoes with salt and pepper, but traditionally there is no seasoning.
Because the tomatoes are raw and unseasoned, it is very important to use excellent quality tomatoes that are packed with natural flavor.
This is why many pizza chefs favor San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown in Italy and California.
There is more sauce than cheese on these pizzas, which means they can be quite wet. They are not designed to be eaten in slices like American pizza and are usually only 10 to 12 inches in diameter.
The cheese is fresh mozzarella, torn or sliced and dotted on top of the tomato.
When the pizza is cooked, you won’t have a layer of cheese coating the whole pizza, and there will still be plenty of red sauce visible.
You should not use pre-grated mozzarella as it is too dry and will not create the right flavor combination with the cheese. Fresh basil is used to flavour the pizza, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
As Neapolitan pizza and Italian cuisine became more popular across the world, chefs started to experiment with the recipe and find ways to make the dish unique.
Cooking is, after all, a form of expression and many chefs wanted to add their own stamp to the traditional pizza.
The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) was founded in Naples in 1984 to protect the authentic artisan traditions that defined Neapolitan pizza.
Restaurants must apply for certification, and there are certain requirements that they must meet. There are only a few hundred restaurants in Italy and around the world that are certified.
The dough for the pizza must be made with refined ‘0’ or ‘00’ wheat flour. It must contain fresh yeast, not dried, water, and salt. The dough should be kneaded by hand or with a slow-speed mixer, and never with a rolling pin.
In terms of the topping, the tomatoes should be raw San Marzano tomatoes from Italy.
The mozzarella can be either fior di latte made with cow’s milk, or mozzarella di bufala made with water buffalo milk.
The pizza should be topped with fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. All of the ingredients should be fresh.
The pizza should be cooked for 60 to 90 seconds in a stone oven with a wood fire. The minimum temperature of the oven should be 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooking time must not exceed 90 seconds.
There are only three variants of Neapolitan pizza that will be accepted. Pizza Marinara, topped with tomato, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.
Pizza Margherita, topped with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. Pizza Margherita extra is the same but with buffalo mozzarella.
If a restaurant applied for certification and meets all of the requirements then they will be able to serve official, authentic certified Neapolitan pizza,
There are plenty of restaurants, pizzerias, and mobile pizza chefs that serve Neapolitan-style pizza without being officially certified.
This gives them more freedom when it comes to choosing toppings and experimenting with different flavor combinations. Here are some of the best toppings for a Neapolitan pizza.
The Cossaca pizza is similar to a Margherita, but with a fine sprinkling of parmesan or pecorino romano cheese instead of mozzarella.
You can also add some black pepper to taste. It is thought to have been named to honor a Russian Tsar that visited Naples in the 1840s.
Pizza Diavola is another popular topping for Neapolitan-style pizza. Diavola means devil, and this pizza is spicy and packed full of flavor.
Along with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil, this pizza has Italian Salami and fresh chili.
Some modern variations also include nduja. The meat will release oil onto the pizza, so be sparing with the olive oil.
Pizza Nduja takes the classic Margherita and adds the delicious spreadable salami that has a punchy flavor, making this pizza a simple meaty delight.
The nduja will melt into the tomato sauce as the pizza cooks. The flavor is quite powerful and can overwhelm the mild mozzarella, so you could add some aged cheese like parmesan or pecorino romano.
As with the pizza Diavolo, the meat will release oil so be careful how much olive oil you add.
Pizza Prosciutto e Funghi is a classic combination of mushrooms and prosciutto, Italian cured ham.
These delicate flavors go perfectly with mozzarella, and the prosciutto won’t overcook or dry out in the cooking process as it is cured.
Make sure the mushrooms are sliced thinly so that they cook fully, then you won’t need to cook them before they are added to the pizza.
Pizza Carrettiera, also known as Pizza Salsiccia e Frairielli, is a very popular topping in Naples. As well as tomatoes and mozzarella, there is pepperoni, salsiccia, rapini, and smoked provolone cheese.
Quattro Formaggi, or four-cheese pizza, is a simple but delicious option.
Most people choose a combination of the following cheeses- mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, gorgonzola, fontina, Reggiano, and stracchino.
Just be sure to add only a small amount of each cheese to create a light blend that doesn’t completely overpower the tomato.
Quattro Stagioni, or the four seasons pizza, is a great idea for people who can’t decide what they want. The pizza is topped in four separate sections, each with one single topping.
The traditional toppings are ham, mushrooms, artichokes, and black olives, but you can experiment with your own.
Whilst these are the most popular Neapolitan pizza toppings that are true to traditional Italian cuisine, there are many other flavor combinations you can try.
Anchovies, olives, arugula, and garlic are also great topping choices. Any ingredients that you find in traditional Italian cooking could make an excellent addition to Neapolitan-style pizza.
One thing to consider when choosing your toppings is the weight of the pizza. The crust is thin and delicate, if you weigh it down too much with heavy toppings then it will be difficult to eat. You also have to think about how the pizza is cooked.
It is launched into a stone wood-fired oven, then turned rapidly with a pizza peel. It is also held up to the flame for charring on the crust. This whole process requires fast movement.
If the pizza is too heavy then the dough could split before it has been cooked when the pizza is slid onto the peel, or the toppings could fall off as the pizza is turned in the oven.
How To Spot A Good Neapolitan Pizzeria
If you want to eat a Neapolitan-style pizza at a restaurant, then you will want it to be good!
The restaurant doesn’t have to be certified to serve up a great pizza, but there are some things you will want to look out for.
A good Neapolitan-style pizzeria will have a wood-fired pizza oven, most likely made out of stone.
Many restaurants use their pizza oven as a design feature, as they are pretty impressive to look at, and they have an open view into the restaurant so the customers can watch their pizza being prepared.
A great pizzeria will hand stretch their dough to order, so you will be able to see the chefs busy stretching the dough in the kitchen.
The dough should be room temperature and freshly made- not premade, frozen, and then defrosted.
The dough should be made with ‘00’ flour if you want that traditional Neapolitan flavor and texture.
The tomatoes should be San Marzano or a variety with similar quality and depth of flavor. The cheese and any other toppings should be fresh.
Many great pizzerias will source their produce locally from butchers and farmers, ensuring the freshest and most flavorsome ingredients.
If you speak to the servers or the chefs, they should be able to talk passionately to you about their ingredients and equipment. They won’t want to give out their specific recipes- these are trade secrets!
But you should be able to gauge whether they know their stuff and are serving up authentic Neapolitan pizza.