You’ve probably seen a lot of recipes out there for Neapolitan pizza dough but what is Neapolitan pizza exactly? With so many Neapolitan pizza recipes out there how do you know which ones are authentic and why?! Our Development Chef, Joe Boiling tells us more.
Long before every New York corner had a slice joint, before Wolfgang Puck was topping salmon pizza with caviar in California and before every frozen shopping aisle was stocked with approximately 999 versions of exactly the same thing, there was Neapolitan pizza. If we were to create a family tree of pizza styles there would be a clear and obvious head of the family.
The Godfather, if you will.
Once Upon A Time in Naples
Flatbreads of sorts had been being eaten for centuries over much of the world but the lightbulb moment of topping these delicious dough creations with tomatoes and cheese happened in Naples. Many Europeans were initially untrustworthy of the tomato; believing them to be poisonous and throwing them out. But enterprising peasants on the streets of Naples (with no such qualms about the potential death these red fruits could potentially cause) began to devour them on flatbreads and soon enough these (and other differently topped ‘flatbreads’) were available throughout the city.
Word spread throughout Europe as writers and travellers of the late 19th century would look to seek out the poorest parts of the city in hopes of sampling this… this… bread thing! And by the end of the Second World War the secret was well and truly out and pizza was on its way to becoming a global sensation
By the 1980’s some in Naples began to worry that the quality of pizza’s bearing the Neapolitan pizza name weren’t quite up to the standards the city demanded. The US pizza scene formed when first generation Italian immigrants showed America the absolute joy of putting tasty stuff on some dough - before long they were running with it!
Pizza was a worldwide phenomenon and the eyes of Naples were scowling in the direction of the US, appalled at some of these… ‘pizzas’ they were seeing claiming to be Neapolitan!
The Birth Of The A.V.P.N
Remember the episode of The Simpsons where Homer joins the Stonecutters? It was a knowing joke at the expense of secret societies such as the Freemasons or the Illuminati but it could just as easily be about the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (from now on known as the AVPN to preserve word count). A mysterious, secretive almost mafia-like Italian organisation formed in 1984 and set up by a group of pizza chefs to ensure only authentic, approved Neapolitan pizza could be labeled as such.
They began a quest to promote and protect Neapolitan pizza, culminating in earning it protected DOP status in 2004. By encouraging the use of Calibrian ingredients throughout it’s guidelines they not only ensure protection of the traditional methods of making Neapolitan pizza, but for the economy of the home of the pizza itself.
Neapolitan Pizza Crust
To ensure anyone offering a Neapolitan pizza was making theirs correctly, a detailed, scientific 14(!) page pdf document is available on the AVPN website that forbids any oil in the dough at all as well as laying out clear, strict instructions for the stages and processes involved in the dough making.
President of the AVPN, Antonio Pace was quoted as saying “Too often a bad course is passed off as our Neapolitan speciality. Too often the consumer is deceived, that’s why we suggest to set up regulations”.
The AVPN guide suggests (well, demands) “The diameter of the disc should not exceed 35cm. It should be presented as an oven baked product with a raised border (cornicione), the centre covered by condiments”. The Neapolitan pizza crust “should deliver the flavour of well-prepared, baked bread. The consistency of the pizza should be soft, elastic, easy to manipulate and fold.”
The document points out ‘the centre of the pizza should be particularly soft to the touch and taste’ which is why Neapolitan pizza will sometimes be referred to as a ‘knife and fork’ pizza or as being ‘soupy’; both desirable qualities according to the AVPN.
Neapolitan Pizza Dough
Bearing in mind that Neapolitan pizza dough only contains four ingredients and is accompanied by a 14 page pdf document detailing strict instructions on the exact rules and method, it may then seem odd that there could be so many recipes out there.
And it’s probably equally perplexing how, despite the AVPN’s work, pretty much every Neapolitan pizza you see, taste, smell or bake will be slightly different and pretty much NEVER exactly the same.
The lack of a definitive Neapolitan dough recipe is partly explained by this quote from AVPN president, Antonio Pace, “You can standardize the process, but not the art”.
And that’s the thing.
Despite this lengthy, detailed, scientific guide, that’s all it is; a guide. The document seems to assume it’ll be read by a passionate young chef who will spend the next 5-10 years working alongside an experienced senior pizzaiolo who will teach him how to feel the dough and develop an understanding of the relationship between nature and pizza; the art.
Which, whilst beautifully romantic, isn’t a position many of us find ourselves in.
But since you probably don’t have a grey haired, tattoo sporting, popeye armed experienced Neapolitan pizzaiolo of your own to teach you the basics, I would recommend our 5 part Neapolitan dough series. It’s great.
It will take you by the hand and teach you the basics, the science. Experience (and eating thousands of pizzas) will then teach you the art.