Neapolitan pizza

Neapolitan Pizza – Characteristics, History, and General Preparation

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What is Neapolitan pizza, what are its defining characteristics and historical background, what can you expect when eating it, and how is it generally prepared? This post will provide you with all the details about Neapolitan pizza

General Background and Characteristics

Neapolitan pizza is considered the queen of all pizzas and serves as the origin for the pizza styles we enjoy today. Its most distinctive feature is the puffy, soft, and leopard-spotted crust achieved by baking at a very high temperature for a short time. Neapolitan pizza is a defining characteristic of Naples’ culinary tradition.

Apart from the puffy and soft crust (known as the “cornicione”), Neapolitan pizza is round and thin, allowing the ingredients to shine. It is cooked at a scorching temperature of approximately 450°C (900°F) for a maximum of 90 seconds. Traditionally, Neapolitan pizza is eaten with a knife and fork.

The Neapolitan style can be categorized into two main variations, with additional sub-versions even within Naples itself:
1) “Classic” Neapolitan, or Ruota di Carro (“cart wheel”), features a relatively flat (yet puffy) crust that resembles a cart wheel, with a thick center and a thin outer rim. This represents the traditional and “original” Neapolitan pizza preserved by the AVPN organization. It harkens back to a time when folding the pizza into quarters and eating it on the go was common.
2) “Modern” Neapolitan or Neo-Neapolitan refers to various variations that deviate from the strict definitions set by the AVPN organization. Modern Neapolitan pizzas may incorporate techniques such as high hydration, the use of a preferment, cold fermentation, longer bake times, or any other method that contradicts the AVPN rules. The crust of a modern Neapolitan pizza is often puffy and airy, sometimes taking up to 50% of the pizza’s surface. An example of a modern variation is the Canotto style, which translates to “inflatable boat.”

There are also variations that fall between the two main types mentioned above, like the one shown in the image above.

Another notable variation is the Pizza a Portafoglio, or “wallet pizza.” This is a slightly smaller and thinner Neapolitan pizza, with both the base and the rim being thinner. It is sold as street food and meant to be eaten on the go from street stalls and pizzerias in Naples, particularly in the Centro Storico area. This pizza is folded into quarters, forming a cone shape, hence its name. It is a great option when you want to enjoy pizza on the go in Naples. It is not typically sold in this form outside of Naples, but you can always make a regular Neapolitan pizza and fold it yourself if you wish to experience it at home.An organization called AVPN was established in Naples to protect the cultural heritage of Neapolitan pizza. AVPN serves as the official regulatory body for all matters related to Neapolitan pizza and provides clear and precise rules for the authentic preparation of this culinary specialty on its website. These rules cover the entire process, including preparation techniques, ingredients, and baking methods. The organization is dedicated to preserving the ancient Neapolitan tradition and maintaining 100% authenticity. According to AVPN, any deviation from their protocol renders a pizza not truly Neapolitan (as Italians say: La verace, “the real one”). Therefore, pizzerias seeking official AVPN approval must strictly adhere to this protocol.

It is worth noting, based on my own experience, that many Italians, as well as individuals within the pizza industry, have serious reservations about the AVPN organization. They argue that instead of promoting authenticity, the organization allegedly encourages corruption to obtain its stamp of “authenticity.”

While Neapolitan pizza may not be as popular in Italy (outside of Naples) compared to other regional varieties, it has gained significant worldwide popularity in recent years. The factors contributing to this phenomenon, such as the pizza’s photogenic appearance in the age of social media, the influence of trends, the emergence of small home pizza ovens, and whether it was simply discovered late, all warrant separate discussions and deserve their own dedicated posts.

Roots and History of Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan pizza has a rich and picturesque history deeply intertwined with the city of Naples and its culinary tradition. To trace the origins of pizza as a baked good, one must look back to ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, and other Mediterranean peoples who have been baking various versions of flatbreads for thousands of years.

However, it was in Naples that pizza as we know it today was born.

The roots of Neapolitan pizza, or pizza in general, can be traced back to the 18th century when Europeans discovered America, and the consumption of tomatoes, a key ingredient in modern pizza, began. Tomatoes were brought to Europe in the 16th century by Spaniards returning from their travels in America. Initially, Europeans were suspicious of tomatoes and considered them poisonous and unsuitable for consumption. During this time, pizza, or flatbread, was seen as a simple and affordable food primarily eaten by the working class and peasants.

So how did tomatoes find their way onto the flatbread of the people of Naples? It was through courage, desperation, and perhaps a little luck as well.

According to historical records, the residents of Naples were the first Europeans to experiment with growing and eating tomatoes. They started using tomatoes as an addition to the flat yeasted breads they baked, with the aim of providing themselves with additional nutrition.

Thus, unintentionally and with touching innocence, the Neapolitans forever changed the culinary culture not only of their own city but of the entire world.

Fast forward to the 19th century, in 1830, when a pizzeria called Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba opened in Naples. It is believed to be the first pizzeria ever opened, although it had been operating since 1738 as a hawker’s stand and not as a pizzeria. From that moment, pizza began to spread throughout Naples, and by the early 20th century, it had firmly established itself in Neapolitan food culture.

During World War II, pizza became a symbol of hope and local resilience for the people of Naples. Despite the destruction and hardships of war, pizzerias continued to operate and feed the city’s inhabitants. In the years following the war, pizza spread beyond Naples (primarily through immigrants from the town of Tramonti in the province of Salerno, rather than from Naples itself). It eventually made its way across Italy and the rest of the world, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1984, the AVPN organization was established in Naples with the purpose of preserving the tradition and heritage of Neapolitan pizza, which, as we have just learned, dates back hundreds of years.

Eating Characteristics of Neapolitan Pizza

When prepared correctly, Neapolitan pizza boasts a unique texture and flavor profile. The crust is soft, lacking any crispiness, and has a “liquid” and floppy center, differentiating it from other pizza styles. The bottom of the crust is also soft and floppy, without any crispy elements. Due to its “delicate” nature, Neapolitan pizzas typically feature minimal toppings, as the soft crust may struggle to support heavier ingredients unless eaten with a knife and fork.
First-time Neapolitan pizza tasters

Those who try Neapolitan pizza for the first time often struggle to compare it to other styles. This is primarily due to the distinctively soft texture of the crust, setting it apart from all other pizza styles. The soft texture may not appeal to everyone; personal preferences may vary (personally, I prefer other pizza styles). Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize this distinction to ensure that first-time tasters know what to expect when trying Neapolitan pizza for the first time 🙂

To eat a slice of Neapolitan pizza, it is customary to fold it in half. If needed, fold the edge of the slice into its base to create an envelope-like shape. While these “instructions” are not set in stone, attempting to eat a Neapolitan slice like other pizzas may lead to toppings spilling onto the plate or even your clothing. In Naples, some take it a step further and forego slicing the pizza altogether, choosing instead to eat it with utensils or even rolled up as a “pizza wrap”.

Preparation of Neapolitan Pizza

In the case of Neapolitan pizza, specific and well-known guidelines exist. The AVPN organization provides a detailed document on its website that outlines the step-by-step process for preparing an authentic Neapolitan pizza. This includes:
– Using 00 or 0 flour.
– A dough hydration of 55-62%.
– Making the dough with only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast (compressed, dry, or sourdough), and salt, without any added fat or sugar.
– Allowing the dough to ferment at room temperature.
– Stretching the dough by hand only.
– Baking the pizza at a temperature of approximately 485C/900F (the temperature inside the oven cavity; the baking surface temperature should be around 400C/750F), directly on a stone without a pizza disk or pan, for no more than 90 seconds.

Regarding toppings, the traditional options for Neapolitan pizza are Margherita or Marinara.

Is it possible to achieve these standards at home? Absolutely.
Is it necessary? As you may have already gathered from the previous section, the AVPN guidelines primarily target professional pizzerias. As home bakers, we are not obligated to prove “authenticity” to anyone, so we are free to experiment and follow our own preferences (and appetites).

When it comes to toppings, the typical cheese for a Neapolitan pizza is whole milk, high moisture (“fresh”) mozzarella. It’s important to remember that with Neapolitan pizza, less is more. Overloading it with toppings can make it difficult to eat without losing half of them on the way from the plate to your mouth 🙂

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