February 22, 2008
You can have pizza everywhere in the world, and everywhere in Italy. But Italian cuisine is very regional, and Naples is the city where the modern pizza was born and developed. So, it's in Naples and its wonderful bay where you can get the real Italian pizza experience. Flour, water, natural yeast and salt are the only ingredients needed to make a real Neapolitan pizza dough. Actually, people in Naples can get really serious about their simple and beloved specialty. Two rising processes of up to 8 hours, sea salt, local fresh ingredients, a quick baking process in a stone oven with a wood fire (about 1.5 minutes at 900F) - they all are an important part of the pizza napoletana and its traditional nature.
What you get is a wonderful baked product, elastic, tender and fragrant... all about the crust. The center is soft and really thin (0.1 inches), but around the edges you simply have to get the cornicione, a thick, crispy, nice and golden brown border (0.4 - 0.8 inches). I hate when pizzas are thin all around without the crispy cornicione.
Here is my homemade version of a Neapolitan pizza. This is the closest you can get with everyday ingredients and appliances. You'll notice that with only water and yeast mixed with the flour you get a very elastic and puffy dough.
Ingredients (2 15" pizzas)
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water. Add the sugar and put the mixture in a warm place for about 1 minute. Check if the yeast is really active: make sure that after 1 minute the mixture has risen a bit and see if there are some bubbles forming over the water. If the yeast is active, let the mixture rise until it doubles in volume. Meanwhile, prepare la fontana with the flour (you know, a hole in the flour where you'll pour the wet ingredients in). Add the active yeast and 1 more cup of warm water. Stir with a fork, gradually incorporating the flour. When everything is incorporated, add the salt and begin to work the dough with your hands. We don't add the salt before because it stops the rising process of the yeast. While working the dough with your hands you'll notice that it gets elastic and tender faster than when using my previous recipes. In fact, this dough is easier to work if the yeast has correctly risen, and this rising process requires a bit of practice. The kitchen has to be warm enough, the water at the right temperature (not too cold, not too hot), and the yeast has to be active and not dead. In my previous recipes, using ingredients like olive oil, milk and eggs you assure that you won't have a brick instead of a pizza even if the yeast hasn't done its work well.
When the pizza dough is smooth, elastic and everything is well incorporated, you have to let the yeast continue its work. Place the pizza dough in a covered bowl and let it rest at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours. If you prefer to bake the dough later you can put it in the fridge and continue the day after.
When the dough has doubled in volume, work the dough with your hands again for a bit, and then form 2 balls (for 2 pizzas). Take one ball, sprinkle it with some flour and press it with your hands forming a thick pizza shape. You can use a rolling pin, but that's absolutely forbidden in Naples. If you're brave enough you can do a little trick that works well without all the skills of a real pizzaiolo (a pizza expert). Raise one of your hands as if you want to hit someone. Put the center of the dough in that hand, and with the other hand stretch the border of the dough as far from the center as you can while moving the arm away from you, without creating holes in the dough. Repeat this process, slightly rotating the dough in order to stretch the pizza all the way around. You have to stop when the dough is really thin at the center and you have a pizza that has reached a diameter of about 14"-15".
Preheat the oven as hot as possible and bake with your favorite topping for about 25 minutes at 450°F until nice and golden brown. Note that the Neapolitan tradition accepts only two kinds of toppings. Yes, no kidding. One of them is the pizza margherita (mozzarella, tomatoes, basil) and the pizza marinara (tomatoes and garlic). Yep, no seafood in the marinara pizza... only tomatoes and garlic because that's what the sailors could afford. So don't be surprised if you go to a traditional pizzeria in Naples and all you get is these two choices. But they are so simple and yet so delicious that you won't regret it!