I cannot imagine life without Pizza, it is just one of those things I can’t live without. Maybe because I am Italian and it is in my DNA, or simply because it is the most delicious treat I can have at any moment of the day. Pizza is as popular as pasta or the word Ciao and as soon as you say it…you are in Italy. The fastest of all the fast foods in every age, the recent findings in Pompeii have clearly proved that pizza, or an earlier version of it, had always been appreciated.
What is not to like? A soft yet crunchy flavorful dough, succulent tomato sauce, delicious mozzarella, extra virgin, seasonings, and that touch of basil that makes a whole difference. Classic Margherita here in Italy, but in the rest of the world that’s the image of pizza. Simple, flavorful, and colorful. Easy to eat. Cold, hot, or warm it does not matter. It is always satisfying. Served as an appetizer, main dish, or even a dessert, pizza comes in thousands of variations and interpretations. Deep dish pizza, like the one served in Chicago, or thin and slightly garlicky like the New York Style, Neapolitan with anchovies, or fruity like the Hawaiian version…they are all unique and good in different ways.
But have you tasted all the regional Italian versions of Pizza? Probably not. And I am not talking about toppings or thickness. I am talking about styles, baking methods, and different types of dough. Science! Some Pizzaiolos use barley malt, others use sourdough, purists let it ferment for 24/36 hours, others use Manitoba flour, and others use a mix. More water, less water, type of water…a book will never be enough to contain the world of Pizza.
Alla pala ( baked and served on a peel) Fritta ( fried) Pinsa Romana, the spongy Sfincione siciliano, Calzone, Tripizzino Romano, al Tegamino (pan baked), Frusta Sorrentina…and then crunchy, soft, thin-crusted, thick-crusted…These are just a few examples of regional Pizza here in Italy. They are all different, flavorwise and texturewise. Hard to forget, once tasted.
A look back in time: Italy was unified in 1861, and with the unification of Italy taxes had increased everywhere in the South, which was considered a backward area of Italy with high levels of poverty and crime. Then in 1889 King Umberto and Queen Margherita were visiting Naples. Needless to say, the king was not liked nor welcome in the South, especially in Naples. It was the month of June and people were crowding the streets eating flatbreads topped with some kind of sauce. Raffaele Esposito was the owner of a tavern with a very extravagant name: Pizzeria di Pietro e basta cosi ( Pietro’s Pizzeria and it’s enough). He and his wife Maria Giovanna Brandi were famous in town for their pizzas with tomato, garlic and anchovies, what they named the Napoletana. Pizza was a quick and convenient meal for the population. It was also a good way to recycle ingredients that would otherwise be wasted. The invention of the toppings had just casually started just because of that. The inviting smell of pizza pervaded the narrow streets of the Spanish Quarters and all those close to the Royal Palace. The Queen, tired of eating French food, was interested in tasting that simple flatbread that everyone seemed to enjoy. Raffaele Esposito, a humble man but considered the premier pizza maker in town was invited with his wife to make his pizza. And he did. He made a pizza with no garlic as he thought it was an offense for her majesty’s palate, using only tomato mozzarella and basil, and of course olive oil and seasonings. He named the Pizza Margherita, in her honor. We are not sure if the Royals gave up on French cooking and embraced a more rustic way of eating but we know they loved Pizza.Is this the true story? Some say yes, 100%. Others say nah! One thing is for sure: Pizza was born in Naples and to me, Naples is the best place to enjoy it.
And you? What is your favorite pizza?
Alessio’s Pizza Dough (60%Hydration)
650 gr 00 flour (Mulino Marino)
350 gr buratto flour (Mulino Marino)
600 gr water at room temperature
25 gr fine sea salt
3 gr brewer’s yeast
In a mixing bowl combine water and Brewer’s yeast and mix by hand until the yeast is completely dissolved
Slowly add the 00 flour and buratto four and combine well
Add the salt and then the rest of the flour and continue to mix
Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes
After 10 minutes the dough should look soft and smooth
Form a ball and transfer it into a large container. Cover with a lid or sarand wrap
Let the dough proof for 2 hours at warm room temperature and then transfer it into the refrigerator for 24h
The next day take the dough out of the fridge and transfer it on a work surface
Cut the dough with a bench scraper into individual pizza balls of 200-250gr
Once shaped into balls, tranfer to a floured baking sheet
Cover with plastic wrap and proof at warm room temperature until the dough doubles the size (about 2-3 hour)
Gently flour a work surface with semolina and roll the dough out using a rolling pin or by hand into a round shape
Top the pizza with tomato sauce, fresh basil, salt, black pepper and mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 525F or higher for 5-7 minutes
Topping for Margherita
3 cups canned San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freashly ground black pepper to taste
fresh basil ( add it when the pizza comes out of the oven)
fiordilatte or buffalo mozzarella ( in case you opt for the buffalo type, cut it and drain it before adding)
In a medium sized bowl blend tomato puree, extra virgin and seasonings and let it rest for at least 30minutes before using. Spoon the sauce on top of the raw pizza pie, garnish with mozzarella before baking.