In even the most elaborate algorithms of science and math, you will find one of the few consistencies in the universe to be this: pizza is the perfect food.
Served everywhere from children’s parties to wakes, pizza is one of the very few dishes behind which people of all ages and backgrounds can rally. There’s even a well-documented feud over who has the best pizza here in the States: New York or California.
Be it street food you fold up and wolf down in a hurry or a gourmet selection topped with caviar, artisan Italian meats, and quail egg, there’s just no other food in the world quite like it.
And where did it all begin? Naples, Italy. While people long before the 17th century had been topping flatbreads with creative ingredients, the peasants in Naples were the first to habitually top theirs with the once-believed-poisonous tomatoes.
The addition of cheese would come almost 200 years later (in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy), but it is the use of the tomatoes that gave birth to what we know of today as “pizza.”
Pizza in America is convenient and oftentimes delicious, but Italian pizza – true, genuine pizza using fresh ingredients and blazing hot ovens – still reigns (ahem) supreme.
The Two “True” Pizzas
Credited to a baker named Raffaele Esposito, the pizza Margherita is the staple pizza of Naples, and the measuring stick by which any pizza joint worth their weight in flour-dusted countertops should be judged.
Consisting of tomato sauce, fresh basil, and homemade mozzarella cheese, the Margherita is as elegant as it is simple, and best when drizzled with a little quality extra virgin olive oil just after cooking.
Sans cheese, this pizza is traditionally just tomato sauce, olive oil, fresh garlic, and oregano. Getting the moniker from its history as a pizza made by the wives of seafaring men, the Marinara is the perfect example of a peasant-style pizza, using nothing but flat bread, oil, and fresh tomatoes and herbs that could be pulled from anyone’s garden.
As you might imagine, Naples takes its pizza seriously, and any pizzeria looking to be a certified Pizzeria Napoletana must be certified by the L’Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.
How prestigious is this certification? Well, only 54 restaurants in the entire United States carry it.
Simply put, the Napoletana is a thin (1/8”-inch thick) crust pizza cooked at 900+ degrees for 90 seconds in a hand-crafted, oak-wood burning oven made in – you guessed it – Naples.
Wanting a piece of the pizza pie, the Romans chimed in with their style of pizza, the Lazio. Thicker and chewier than the Napoletana, the Lazio could be called the predecessor to the pizza with which most people are more familiar.
Unlike the crust of the Napoletana, that of the Lazio actually eats more like a bread, with more numerous and sizable air pockets inside. From the Lazio base, you get things like Sicilian-style pizza and calzones.
Now, while these styles and types of pizza are technically and historically accurate, don’t feel like you must strictly adhere to either of them when trying to cook an “authentic” Italian pizza.
If making one at home, just remember to add a sugar to your starter dough to feed the yeast, allow proper proofing times, and crank your oven up as high as it will go when baking.
Don’t forget you can always get Italian cookbooks to help with the creative juices.
If the genuine Italian dining experience is what you crave, just remember this: never eat alone. Even the world’s best pizza is better when enjoyed with friends and family!