Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Great Neapolitan Pizza Quest

In case I haven’t talked about pizza enough on the The Purple Carrot … it’s time for a little history lesson! One major component of our road trip involves lots of it! I’ve talked over and over again about Erik’s love of pizza, and this contagious love has spurred on a cross country pizza quest. We’re stopping at authentic Neapolitan pizza places along the way to experience, taste, and compare. But first, here’s an important introduction into Neapolitan pizza written by Erik himself.

(Okay, I actually typed it and he dictated it to me while driving. Either way … it’s all from him!)

What is Neapolitan Pizza and how did it develop?

True Neapolitan pizza was developed in the late 1600s in Naples, Italy. The pizza began as a poor man’s food, on merely a flat bread with very few toppings (such as oil and garlic) that street vendors would pedal through the city of Naples.  Over the centuries, flat breads slightly evolved and a few more toppings were added. But the simplicity of the pizzas, and the way they are cooked remains the same.

Characteristics

True Neapolitan pizza is typically found in two very common forms:
  • Marinara: comprised of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, oregano, olive oil and sea salt.
  • Margherita: composed of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella de buffalo (or fior di latte), basil, and olive oil.
The crust is made with four simple ingredients: water, flour, salt and yeast.

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Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN)

A lot of Neapolitan pizzerias in the US are VPN certified. Vera Pizza Napoletana is a movement formed whose goal is to promote and protect the name and the product Pizza Napoletana; a style of pizza and tradition found in Naples. It upholds the strict standards that true Neapolitan pizza demands.

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Here are a few of the basic guidelines:
  1. A Wood-Burning Oven: Pizza Napoletana must be cooked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at roughly 800ºF.
  2. Proper Ingredients – only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients are used in these forms:
    • Flour: Flour must be 00 in type, which is the finest mill in the world. It is extremely fine, and has a dusty quality to it.  The most popular 00 flour is made by Caputo.
    • Tomatoes: Tomatoes must come from the Capania region of Italy, called San Marzano tomatoes. They are said to be the sweetest in the world due to the rich volcanic soil they are grown in. True San Marzano tomatoes must be DOP certified.
    • Mozzarella: All natural Fior di Latte or Bufala mozzarella
    • Fresh basil, salt, and yeast
  3. Proper Technique: Your pizza dough must be kneaded either by hand, or with a low speed mixer. No mechanical dough shaping is allowed, such as a dough press or rolling pin, and proper pizza preparation. Pizza baking time should not exceed 90 seconds.
Though many awesome pizzerias serving up true Neapolitan pizzas don't go the VPN route, there are currently 49 VPN certified restaurants in America.

Neapolitan Wood Fired Pizza Ovens

While this doesn’t apply to every oven, the majority of Neapolitan style pizza ovens are made by artisans using textures found in and and around Naples, Italy. Typically these oven builders are fourth or fifth generation. Each oven is hand crafted and no two are exactly alike. The characteristics of a Neapolitan pizza oven include:
  • A dome: Neapolitan pizza needs to cook so quickly that the dome height has to be low in order to produce uniform cooking. The mouth is also smaller than wood fired bread ovens to retain temperatures between 800 and 1,200 degrees.
What is true Neapolitan pizza like?

True Neapolitan pizza is assuredly different than any pizza you’ve had in your life.  It compares to nothing.  Being from New York, I grew up with what I thought was the most wonderful pizza I’d ever tasted in my life. New York pizzas are known for their thin, but crispy crust, being easily foldable and very large. The toppings for New York pizza typically can range from a simple cheese to wild creations such as ziti or lasagna pizza. Neapolitan pizza could not be any more different:
  • They are typically always 12 inches in diameter.
  • They are not served sliced (or are cut into four slices), are minimalistic in quality and contain very few ingredients.
  • The texture is also completely different. A Neapolitan pizza is much softer than a NY pizza.  NY pizza typically uses a high gluten flour making the dough more rigid.  Neapolitan pizza should be soft, pliable, and almost droopy in the middle.
    • In Naples, people will often eat their pizza with a knife and a fork. The crust is very soft and almost buttery in texture.
  • The wood fired oven develops a blistering, or char around the edges and on the bottom, giving it a very unique quality.
  • Neapolitan dough is often very moist because of its short cook time.
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Once you’ve had one of these true Neapolitan pizzas, you will really appreciate the art that has been upheld over the centuries.

What are we doing?

During our road trip, we are stopping at as many authentic Neapolitan pizzerias as we have time for. At each pizzeria, we’ll order a Marinara pizza and a Margherita, observe, take photos, experience, taste, and blog all about it! We’re officially on The Great Neapolitan Pizza Quest!

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