Considered one of Italy’s most memorable dishes, Neapolitan pizza originates from the birthplace of pizza; Naples, Italy.
It’s one of the most beloved pizzas that has become an ever-growing obsession all around the world. But what makes this pizza so special, and how is it made?
As the hub of Neapolitan pizza, Naples is home to generations of families that have been groomed in the art of pizza making.
Each family has carefully guarded their recipe and its variations for hundreds of years.
There are three basic types of Neapolitan pizza. The first, which is also called the Margherita, is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil.
This is probably one of the most common types of Neapolitan pizza. The second, also known as the marinara, takes away the cheese and uses garlic and oregano as a replacement.
The third is probably the more traditional out of the three and uses mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) instead of fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), but it is also topped with basil.
Nowadays, the pizza industry has been taken over by American-style pizzas which often feature thicker bases, strange toppings, and stuffed crusts.
It’s not to say that American-style pizzas can’t be nice, but nothing can beat the simplistic but delicious authentic Neapolitan pizza.
Can Anyone Make Authentic Neapolitan Pizza?
You may think that it would be hard to make authentic Neapolitan pizza at home, but anyone can do it! All you’ll need is some patience, time, and a hot oven.
The key with Neapolitan pizza is that time equals flavor, and the crust will get its flavor from a long, slow rise.
To make authentic Neapolitan pizza dough, you’ll need to give the pizza dough 24 hours to proof. So, preparations for making this pizza will have to begin the day before.
Another key part of this pizza is the crunchy crust exterior.
What gives the crust that perfect crunch, combined with a softer base towards the center of the pizza is a really quick bake at a high temperature.
Traditionally, Neapolitan pizza is baked in a wood-fired oven, as they’re capable of reaching the hotter temperatures needed.
Without these high temperatures, you may still be able to make a great-tasting pizza, but it won’t be an authentic Neapolitan pizza.
You will need a wood-fired oven or a pizza oven that can reach temperatures of 900 degrees Fahrenheit (480° C).
If you don’t have access to a pizza oven, you can use either a pizza steel or pizza stone in a regular oven to help build the temperature.
The most true and authentic Neapolitan pizza recipe is defined by the AVPN (the True Neapolitan Pizza Association) international regulations.
However, they can be hard to understand or follow. We’ve simplified the process to give you a step-by-step recipe that anyone will be able to follow.
Neapolitan Pizza Recipe
For the Dough
This will be enough dough for 6 11/12 inch Neapolitan pizzas
- 922g plain flour (00, can use 0 or 1)
- 553ml cold tap water
- 1g fresh brewer’s yeast
- 23g of fine salt
For The Sauce And Toppings
- 400g tin of plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- Tomato puree – 1 tablespoon
- 4g salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 125g of fresh mozzarella
- Olive oil – 1 tablespoon
- Handful of fresh basil leaves
What You’ll Need
- Mixing bowl
- Kitchen scales
- Proofing box (or an air-tight container)
- Pizza peel (to transfer the pizza from the oven)
- Pizza oven (or if you only have access to a regular kitchen oven, use a pizza stone or steel as having high heat is key)
Method For Dough
- This is a 24 hour proof, so make sure you make the dough the day before.
- It doesn’t have to be exactly 24 hours. Anywhere between 20-28 hours will be okay.
- Firstly add water to a mixing bowl and dissolve the salt.
- Then, add 10% of the flour, and mix it in using either your hands or a wooden spoon.
- Once you have smooth, batter-like consistency add the yeast and dissolve it. You don’t want to yeast to be in direct contact with the salt as it can damage it.
- Gradually begin to add the rest of the flour, and keep mixing until you have one mass of dough.
- Take the dough out of the bowl and place it onto a countertop to begin kneading. Knead the dough for around 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer, but the dough will only need 10-15 minutes if you do. You’ll want to knead until you get a pretty smooth dough, as the goal is to develop the gluten and incorporate air into the dough.
- Leave the dough covered, and rest it for 15-30 minutes.
- Fold the dough over itself a few times until it forms a round, smooth dough.
- Now, place the dough in an airtight container – or put it in a large bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Leave the dough to rise for around 14 hours.
- After around 14 hours, take the dough out and cut it into dough balls which weigh around 250g each. You’ll want to make sure the dough balls are smooth and even so you’ll get nice round pizzas.
- Place the dough balls into a light floured proofing box. If you don’t have a pizza proofing box, you can place the dough balls in individual bowls and cover them with plastic wrap instead. Leave the dough to rest for a further 10 hours.
As the dough is rising, you don’t have much to do. You can, however, make the pizza sauce ahead of time too as it can be kept in the fridge until needed.
Making The Sauce
It’s pretty simple to make the sauce and doesn’t require much effort as pizza sauce does not need to be cooked before being spread on the pizza.
Cooking pizza sauce beforehand will cause the sauce to burn during the “second” cooking.
Simply add the tomatoes to a mixing bowl, along with salt. Rip up some fresh basil leaves, and finish off with some olive oil.
Mix all the ingredients together, making sure the sauce is smooth. You can use a blender to help puree the sauce.
As pizza sauce needs to be a thicker sauce, you can add some tomato puree if you feel like it’s too thin.
Some people like to add a little bit of sugar to their pizza sauce too, as it gives it a tangy taste that compliments the fats and oils in the mozzarella.
Ideally, you don’t want to use much sauce on a Neapolitan pizza as it can make the pizza crust soggy.
The general rule of thumb is that you need around 100g of sauce for a 12-inch pizza. So one 400g tin of tomatoes will be enough for 4 pizzas.
As mentioned earlier, you can keep pizza sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week after you’ve made it.
You can also keep it in the freezer for up to 2 months – just remember to thaw it first before you use it.
Baking The Pizza
Once your dough has been proofed, and your sauce is ready, you can begin preparing and baking the pizza.
- Preheat your oven. If you’re using a wood-fired pizza oven, make sure you preheat it until the floor of your oven is around 850 degrees Fahrenheit (430° C), and that ceiling is around 900 degrees Fahrenheit (480° C). To check the temperature of your pizza oven, use an infrared thermometer. If you’re using a regular home oven, you can use a pizza stone or pizza steel to increase the temperature of your oven. Just preheat your oven to the hottest setting for at least an hour before cooking, making sure the pizza stone or steel is in there too.
- Take out one of the dough balls – a pizza spatula or dough scraper can make it easier. Sprinkle some flour around the edge of the dough ball and use a spatula to loosen the sides if it’s stuck to other dough balls.
- Create a small pile of flour on your countertop and place the dough in the pile. Using the palm of your hand, press gently in the center of the dough ball using the palm of your hand. The key is to stretch the dough out from the center, but make sure you leave it half an inch thicker around the edge of the dough as this will form the crust. Stretch out the dough until you have a 10/11 inch disk.
- Remove any excess flour and place the dough on a clean part of your countertop.
- Add around 80g of the Neapolitan pizza sauce in the centre of the disk, and spread it evenly around the disk using the back of your spoon.
- Add your mozzarella cheese.
- Slide your pizza onto your pizza peel and quickly transfer it to the oven, work quickly so that the pizza doesn’t become stuck to your countertop or peel.
- Due to the heat of the oven, the pizza only needs to bake for around 60-90 seconds, but make sure it gets an even bake. If you’re cooking in a home oven using a pizza stone or steel, bake the pizza for around 4-8 minutes depending on how hot your oven is. If you have a grill or broiler function on your oven, turn it on during baking to ensure an even hotter bake – this will be as close to a pizza oven that you can get.
- Use your pizza peel to remove the pizza oven and transfer it to a plate to serve immediately. Neapolitan pizza must be eaten straight from the oven.
You can also add some fresh basil leaves to the top of the pizza.
What Makes Neapolitan Pizza Authentic?
Naples has a long and rich history and is known most for being the birthplace of the pizza we know and love today.
What’s so special about Neapolitan pizza is that it is a simple and well-balanced dish that is made from high-quality ingredients.
Because of its simplicity, the most important element of a Neapolitan pizza is the crust. Developing the perfect crust takes a lot of time and patience, especially if you want to develop the flavor properly.
Neapolitan pizza is traditionally (and commonly) cooked in a wood-fire pizza, which is what gives the pizza its iconic charred crust.
There are also several traditions surrounding the making of Neapolitan pizza which are protected by the AVPN – or the True Neapolitan Pizza Association.
The AVPN has a set of internationally recognized regulations for a true Neapolitan pizza.
Back in 2017, the culinary practice of baking Neapolitan pizza was actually granted UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) status.
What Makes A Great Neapolitan Pizza?
When it comes to Neapolitan pizza, the crust is truly the star of the show.
The pizza sauce, cheese, and any other toppings are simply extras to add to the crust, which is why most Neapolitan pizzas have very few well-balanced toppings, and why most guides focus on perfecting the dough.
What Sets Neapolitan Pizza Apart?
Authentic Neapolitan pizzas are thin and round, but they have a raised edge called “cornicione”.
It’s important that the edge of the pizza puffs up in the oven so that the pizza is tall and crispy on the outer edge but softer towards the center.
This unique consistency can only be achieved through a short, hot bake.
A common misconception is that Neapolitan pizza must be crispy, but that is only true for the edge of the pizza. The center needs to be soft and moist.
The AVPN True Neapolitan Pizza
As mentioned earlier, the AVPN has a strict set of regulations that you must follow for your pizza to be considered a true Neapolitan pizza.
The association was founded back in 1984 and was created to protect the art of making an authentic Neapolitan pizza.
The AVPN defines every step of the baking process from the ingredients to the toppings and even the method of making the dough.
This method is based on the AVPN regulations, so you can be sure you’re making a true and authentic Neapolitan Pizza.
There are a lot of AVPN regulations for a true Neapolitan pizza, but here are some of the most important ones:
- The diameter of the pizza should be somewhere between 8.5 to 14 inches
- The center of the pizza should be around 0.25 cm / 0.1 inches thick
- The dough should be proofed between 8-24 hours
- Each dough ball should weigh somewhere between 200-280 grams
- The pizza must be cooked in a wood-fired oven at around 485° C. That means the floor should be between 380-430° C.
- The pizza should be cooked in a wood-fired oven for 60-90 seconds
- Neapolitan pizza should be consumed within 10 minutes of cooking
The regulations go into many further details but these are some of the main takeaways. You should also use fairly strong flour.
In order to be a true Neapolitan pizza, it must be baked in a wood-fired oven. However, the temperature and cooking time is the more important part.
As long as you can get the temperature and timings right, you’ll get the same results in any oven.
Elements Of A Neapolitan Pizza
An authentic Neapolitan Pizza has three elements: Dough, sauce, and toppings. In order to make a great pizza, you need to understand each element.
As we’ve already gone into detail about the dough, it’s time to focus on the other two elements.
Making Neapolitan sauce is a simple process, but it requires high-quality ingredients.
This is because the quality of the tomatoes will affect the taste of the sauce. All the ingredients must also be balanced so that the tomato flavor remains the highlight.
It’s also important that you never cook the sauce before you top your pizza with it. That’s because pizza sauce is cooked at the same time as the dough and toppings.
The heat of the oven will cook the sauce at the same time, but the shorter cooking time will preserve the freshness of the tomatoes
What Tomatoes Should You Use For Neapolitan Pizza Sauce?
For an authentic Neapolitan pizza, you should use San Marzano tomatoes. These are Italian plum tomatoes that are grown in the fertile soil at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius near Naples.
These tomatoes are perfect as they have a strong and sweet flavor but also provide a touch of acidity.
You can get canned San Marzano tomatoes in most delis or Italian markets, however, they can be on the pricier side.
If you can’t get hold of San Marzano, any kind of canned plum tomatoes will be fine to use.
Do not use tinned chopped tomatoes, however, as these are very watery and it’s important that pizza sauce is thick.
A pizza sauce that is too thin or watery will have excess liquid that will be absorbed by the dough and create a soggy base and crust.
Cheese And Other Toppings
As Neapolitan pizza is a very simple dish, the toppings that go on the top are also simple.
In Naples, there are usually two variations of a Neapolitan pizza: Pizza Marinara and Pizza Margherita. These two combinations are based on local ingredients in the Naples region.
This is possibly the first pizza ever invented, as was most commonly eaten by sailors (or “Mariano” in Italian).
For Pizza Marinara You Need:
- 100g tomato pizza sauce
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- Sprinkling of oregano
- 5g of extra virgin olive oil
The Pizza Margherita is known all over the world and is considered the best pizza thanks to its flavorful and well-balanced toppings.
According to Legend, this pizza was invented to honor Queen Margherita of Italy when she visited Naples back in 1889.
The toppings represent the colors of the Italian flag: the tomato sauce is the red, the cheese is the white and the basil is the green.
For Pizza Margherita You Will Need:
- 100g tomato pizza sauce
- 80-100g of fresh mozzarella – this can either be buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte (cow’s milk)
- 4 or 5 large leaves of basil
- 5g of extra virgin olive oil
You can also add some pecorino or parmesan cheese.
What Cheese Can You Use For Neapolitan Pizza?
Traditionally, fresh mozzarella is used for Neapolitan pizza. Either buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte is fine, as long as you stay away from low-quality grated supermarket cheese.
In fact, it would be a sin to add grated mozzarella to an authentic Neapolitan pizza.
Both fior di latte and buffalo mozzarella have a very creamy and fresh taste, and both melt beautifully in the intense heat of the baking period.
However, buffalo mozzarella can be harder to find and can be more expensive. It does have a saltier taste to it than fior di latte if that’s what you prefer.
It’s also quite common to add hard, aged cheese to a Neapolitan pizza. The two most popular choices are pecorino and parmesan.
These cheeses will give a stronger and saltier flavor to the pizza, but you don’t want to add too much or it’ll overpower the pizza. Around 5g per pizza is normally enough.
Can You Add Other Toppings To Neapolitan Pizza?
Although AVPN has a list of ingredients that make a true Neapolitan pizza, you can add some of your favorite toppings (just make sure it’s not pineapple!)
Some of the more common toppings include:
- Fresh tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Parma ham
The Secret To The Perfect Dough
As mentioned previously, Neapolitan pizza is all about the crust. No amount of toppings can save a bad crust, so you need to make sure you get it right.
There are two secrets to the perfect pizza dough; use high-quality ingredients and set aside a good amount of time.
Firstly, to make a good pizza you need good quality ingredients for both the dough and the toppings. Secondly, you need to dedicate time to making it, as the flavors need time to develop.
When dough is left for a long proof, there are several processes happening such as gluten formation.
The development of the gluten will affect the dough’s stretching ability and the consistency of the cooked dish.
The Fermentation Process
The fermentation process is where the yeast turns the flour into flavor.
It’s an essential part of Neapolitan pizza making as it gives the dough time to develop flavor and improves the consistency of the dough.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Flour To Use For Neapolitan Pizza Dough?
One of the most commonly used flours in Naples is Caputo Pizzeria as it’s considered one of the top pizza flours in the area. It’s also an official AVPN supplier.
Caputo Pizzeria is a 00 flour that has a gluten content of 12.5%. It also has a strength of W260-270 which makes it perfect for 24-hour proofing.
If you can’t get hold of Caputo Pizzeria, make sure you use a similar flour for the best results.
Can I Use Fresh Tomatoes To Make The Pizza Sauce?
Although you can find fresh tomatoes in the grocery store all year round, these tomatoes are often tasteless and are not that great for making pizza sauce.
Making pizza sauce from fresh tomatoes is only great when the tomatoes are in season. San Marzano tomatoes are often their best from July through to September.
To be on the safe side, it’s probably best just to use canned tomatoes as these taste great all year round and are full of flavor.
Can I Make Neapolitan Pizza Without A Pizza Oven?
According to the AVPN, an authentic Neapolitan pizza should be cooked in a wood-fired oven. Not only is this the traditional way, but it also gives the pizza that signature charred crust.
You can, however, cook Neapolitan pizza in a home oven but it will be difficult to recreate the heat of a pizza oven.
There is a way this can be done using either a pizza steel or pizza stone. This will help your pizza get hot enough during the baking process.
When you’re ready to prepare for the baking process, place your pizza stone or steel inside your oven and set it to the highest temperature.
Leave your oven to preheat for an hour, and place your pizza onto the pizza stone or steel to bake it. It’ll take around 4-8 minutes to cook your pizza.
If your oven has a grill or a broil setting, it’s worth switching it on when your pizza is baking to increase the temperature further.
What If I Can’t Find San Marzano Tomatoes?
Although San Marzano are the best tomatoes to use if you can’t get hold of them you can use other sweet plum tomatoes instead. These are usually a lot cheaper too.
Cherry tomatoes also make great substitutes.