Pizza comes in a wide range of forms and styles. Every country in the world has its version of this Italian cuisine. However, among these many styles, one stands out - the Neapolitan pizza.
However, what exactly is Neapolitan pizza? Moreover, what makes it so popular among pizza lovers?
Also known as pizza Napoletana, is one of the world's favorites alongside other popular styles such as Sicilian and New York-style. Moreover, you often find it in most pizzerias' menu.
As the name implies, it originated in Naples, Italy so we can only expect nothing but the best. Created from the home of pizza, Neapolitan style represents the most basic form of this Italian food.
Unlike the fancy (and sometimes overstuffed) American styles, Neapolitan style is made with fresh and simple ingredients.
It uses raw tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese, and olive oil on a lean dough, with no fancy toppings.
Another thing that makes it different from American styles is that it uses more sauce than cheese. This makes the middle layer soft and wet.
For this reason, this style is generally made quite small, about 10 – 12 inches which are strictly equivalent to a medium-sized pie.
Typically, it has a thin crust with raised rim and is cooked at extremely high temperature (about 900 F) to achieve its crispy texture.
There's a very vast selection of styles to choose from, and each has its distinctive flavor and texture. However, you haven't had authentic pizza until you've had the Neapolitan style.
Moreover, later on, we'll teach you how to make Neapolitan pizza at home with our authentic Neapolitan pizza sauce recipe.
The concept of adding ingredients on top of a flatbread can be traced back to the Neolithic age in ancient Greece. However, the idea was further developed in Naples, Italy where tomato was considered as the most essential ingredient.
During the 16th century, this dish was sold in the street and was referred to as pizza. Due to its simplicity, it was even tagged as the dish for the poor people.
Moreover, then people began to add more diversity to the toppings. Probably the most notable turning point was on June 11, 1889, when the Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created a pizza to honor the queen.
Naming his created as pizza Margherita (from the queen’s name), he presented a flatbread topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. The colors of the toppings cleverly represented the national colors of the Italian flag.
Esposito’s creation sparked ideas and inspiration to revolutionalize this simple dish. When the Allied Troops was stationed in Italy during World War II, the soldiers came across this cuisine and seemed to enjoy it.
The distinct flavor of pizza was introduced to different parts of the world particularly in the United States. Moreover, the once-simple dish has evolved in more ways that we could imagine.
So, if you are wondering how the ‘original’ pizza tastes like, we strongly recommend the Neapolitan style. One bite of this classic Italian dish and it will surely take you back to its humble beginnings.
Pizzerias can't merely write down this dish on their menu. Before they can serve it to the customers, they need to obtain an official certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) first.
This organization aims to approve and certify pizzerias that are using proper artisan traditions in making authentic Neapolitan pizza.
For a restaurant to be granted with this certification, it must apply for it officially. Then it must meet all the requirements and standards set by the VPN.
Only VPN certified restaurants are allowed to offer Neapolitan pizza. However, sadly, some restaurants seem to disregard this and still serve this dish even without a VPN certification.
So, the next time you eat out and order this dish, make sure that you’re eating from a VPN certified restaurant.
VPN is very meticulous with regards to the requirements. This is to ensure that customers are getting authentic Neapolitan pies with the freshest ingredients of highest quality.
Furthermore, VPN needs to validate whether the dish is prepared and cooked in an artisan way. Again, this is to make sure that the chefs entirely develop the recipe and not by automated machines.
VPN officials will be paying close attention to the dough. First and foremost, it must be made with highly refined Italian flour grade 00, also known as Tipo 00.
Along with the Tipo 00 flour, fresh brewer’s yeast (not dry yeast), salt, and water are the ONLY ingredients required for the dough. Kneading should be done by hand and is often shaped and formed without the use of a rolling pin.
The dough should be garnished with a unique variety of plum tomatoes called San Marzano tomatoes. Moreover, the tomatoes should be raw and pureed. Also, no, you can't use other types of tomatoes aside from San Marzano.
That also goes the same with the cheese because you can't use other types of cheese aside from mozzarella. However, then again, there are only two types of mozzarella that you can use.
Neapolitan pies should be topped with fior de latte (cow’s milk) mozzarella and mozzarella di bufala (buffalo’s milk).
Lastly, it should be topped off with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh basil. No additional toppings are required.
It must be baked in a wood-fired oven that typically reaches up to 1000 F. Baking time should not exceed 90 seconds, and oven temperature should not fall below 800 F during the baking process.
As simple as it is, Neapolitan style comes in 3 official variants to choose from. Varieties include:
Known as the original variant of Neapolitan style, it follows the essential ingredients consisting of tomato, fior de latte mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil.
This variant doesn't have mozzarella cheese. It still uses raw plum tomatoes and extra-virgin olive oil. However, instead of fresh basil, it is topped with garlic and oregano.
This is pretty much like the original variant, but instead of fior de latte, it uses mozzarella di bufala instead.
Other essential ingredients such as plum tomato, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil as still used as toppings.
Getting an official certification from VPN involves adhering to strict guidelines in making authentic Neapolitan pizza. However, there's no need to obtain certification if you want to make this dish at home.
It's technically impossible to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza without a wood-fired oven. However, don't worry, we will try to get you as close to the real thing as possible.
For best results, choose high-quality ingredients and make sure that they are fresh.
While you would find it tempting to add more toppings, we recommend that you stick with the essential rules. Remember, Neapolitan style pizza is a representation of the classic Italian cuisine that exudes simplicity and authenticity.
There's no room for other sophisticated ingredients or fancy toppings.
There are 3 functional categories on how to make Neapolitan pizza. The steps include making the dough, concocting the authentic Neapolitan pizza sauce recipe, and assembling the pie.
We’ve listed down the specific steps to undertake in each category to make the preparation and baking easier for you. Let’s begin!
Prepare and make the dough at least 8 hours ahead of time to allow fermentation to take place.
While you wait for the dough to rise, gather the ingredients for the sauce to concoct the authentic Neapolitan pizza sauce recipe. Peel the plum tomatoes and make sure to remove all the seeds.
Push and smash the tomatoes through a food mill to make a puree. You can also put the peeled tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until the tomato sauce is formed.
That’s it! You’re done with the simple and authentic Neapolitan pizza sauce recipe.
When it’s done, a Neapolitan pie should have a crispy underside with small dime-sized black chars or dark spots.
The outer rim should be raised with an airy and thick texture. Moreover, the crust should be thin and crispy but not cracker-like. Despite the thinness, the crust should be soft and chewy.
Lastly, the mozzarella cheese should be melted appropriately and should be bubbling straight out of the oven.
You’ve probably heard about Neopolitan pizza and perhaps assumed that this is the same as Neapolitan pies.
Well, you're about to learn the truth. Don't be confused now. The name Neopolitan was derived from a neo-Neapolitan term which means new Neapolitan. This style was America’s version of the authentic Neapolitan pie.
When this Italian cuisine was introduced in the United States and became famous, Americans tried to tweak some Neapolitan guidelines.
In southern Italy, the wood-fired oven is often fed with two types of untreated wood – oak and birch. A combination of these woods is necessary to supply extreme internal temperature (dense oak wood) and create flame (light birch wood).
Unfortunately, some Americans couldn’t afford these pricey woods. Instead of using woods to fuel their ovens, they switched to cheaper coals.
Sadly, coals weren't potentially sufficient to provide extreme temperatures to bake a pie in just 90 seconds. As a result, baking time has to take longer than 2 minutes, which is considered unacceptable for the Neapolitan method.
Furthermore, they have to import Italian flour and mozzarella cheese from Italy which can be too costly. So, Americans have to find locally-sourced ingredients as substitutes.
Since these changes have dramatically altered the original Neapolitan expression, pizza-makers decided to carve it out as a new style.
Moreover, the Neopolitan pizza has found its place in the American pizza market.
Here's a chart to demonstrate the level of necessity for Neopolitan pizza as compared to the fundamental characteristics of Neapolitan pizza:
12 inches max
Raised or flat rim
180 – 120 g
Only flour, salt, water, yeast
May include additional ingredients
Wood-fired oven required
Oven floor ~905 F
Oven floor 700 – 800 F
Raw, plum tomatoes
Any tomato product
Fior di latte or mozzarella di bufala
60 – 90 seconds
Over 120 seconds
As you can see, making Neapolitan style pies requires following strict rules and its parameters are tightly controlled.
On the contrary, Neopolitan pizza allows you more freedom, and you can practice your creativity according to your liking.
In the United States, Neopolitan pizza is dearly loved. However, then again, it is NOT Neapolitan.
So, the next time you order a Neapolitan pie in an American restaurant, read the menu carefully to avoid confusion. More importantly, make sure that the restaurant is VPN certified to serve this authentic Italian dish.
Neapolitan pie is not just a crust topped with sauce and toppings. This style is rooted in Italian tradition that represents the foundation and history of the cuisine itself.
It's true that other styles are bursting with more flavors and ingredients compared to this simple dish. However, Neapolitan pizza is not just about flavor varieties or exquisite toppings; it's about tradition.
Specific guidelines and strict parameters are required to be followed as a respect to the deep-rooted Italian tradition. Besides, that’s what this style is all about.
It's nice to go over the board and indulge yourself with American overstuffed and cheese-overloaded styles. However, let's not forget how it all began.
This Italian dish has come a long way since then. Moreover, Neapolitan pies are one of our remaining links to the classic, original taste of Italian cuisine.
We hope this article helps you understand the deeper essence of Neapolitan style as it also teaches you how to make Neapolitan pies.