The History Of The Neapolitan Pizza

The History Of The Neapolitan Pizza – Introduction

The Neapolitan Pizza is the style of pizza I make in my own wood-fired pizza business. In this article I break down the history of Neapolitan pizza.

One of the first things that come to mind when hearing “Italy” is pizza. Besides being a symbol of the country’s culture, pizza is the ultimate comfort food.

Let’s answer that age-old question, “Is Pizza Italian?”

While there are plenty of varieties of pizza out there, the Neapolitan Pizza continues to be a crowd favorite, and for a good reason.

This pizza style is the original wood-fired pizza. Italy’s peasants used to eat it 300 years ago, and today it’s now a staple in many people’s diets. As a result, the Neapolitan will always have a top spot in the pizza hierarchy amongst pizza enthusiasts.

Its refined simplicity and unmistakable flavor make it a go-to for individuals worldwide.

What Is Neapolitan Pizza?

As it’s known in Italy, Pizza Napoletana is characterized by its simple, fresh ingredients and mouth-watering taste.

You can recognize this type of pizza by its raw tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. These toppings evoke the colors of the Italian flag, making Neapolitan pizza a significant symbol of Italian food and culture.

We can thank the King of Naples, Fernando of Bourbon, for contributing to the popularity of pizza back in the 1700s. Although he was a brutal ruler, his affinity for the dish helped bring it into more aristocratic circles and elevate its regional specialty.

It’s hard to believe that people used to look down on pizza!

Naples City Skyline
Naples City Skyline

Neapolitan Pizza History

Naples was the birthplace of the pizza we all know and love today. Napoli sits on the southwest coast of Italy and is the third-largest urban municipality in the country.

Modern pizza originated in 1760s Naples, although documentation of the word pizza dates back to 997 A.D. in central Italy.

So you may have wondered, “What city has the best pizza in the world?”

Naples, of course!

In the 18th century, poor Italian residents started adding tomatoes to their flatbread, and modern-day pizza was born.

At that time, tomatoes weren’t popular with the wealthy, as they were suspected to be poisonous like their other nightshade relatives.

However, the poor man’s trend of a flatbread baked with tomatoes and herbs quickly became a hit. It circulated town, eventually attracting the higher classes of society and foreign tourists.

To this day, pizza purists will only prepare and consume two types of pizza: The Marinara and Margherita Pizza.

The Neapolitan Marinara pizza came from la marinara, the seaman’s wife, who prepared the dish for him after his fishing excursions.

The Marinara pizza has the classic Neapolitan pizza toppings are fresh garlic, D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, and fresh basil. Yes, it’s a cheese-less variation, perfect for those who can’t or won’t eat cheese. Vegans and dairy intolerants rejoice!

The Margherita pizza is the only other pizza that purists will accept. As a result, it’s sometimes referred to as the classic Neapolitan pizza.

It is said to have originated from the Pizzeria di Pietro, which opened its doors in 1880.

The Margherita pizza is topped simply with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil.

Many Italians prefer either the Marinara or the Margherita pizza, and lots of traditional pizzerias will only serve those two varieties.

An exciting tale tells of the Italian royal, Queen Margherita of Savoy, who visited the Pizzeria di Pietro in 1889 and expressed her admiration for this simplistic pie.

As a result, the pizza was named the Margherita in the Queen’s honor.

Whether it’s true or not, the legend casts an even more positive light on the humble yet delectable Margherita pizza.

In 1807, there were already over 50 pizzerias in Naples; this number doubled a few decades later.

True Neapolitan Pizza Association was founded In 1984 to protect the integrity of the traditional and beloved pizza Napoletana.

The Association created strict rules for crafting a proper Neapolitan pizza.

This includes hand kneading the dough, with no mechanical mixing equipment that should be used, but they are.

The shaping pizza into a circle less than 35 centimeters in diameter and no more than three millimeters thick at its center.

In addition, it must be a wood-fired pizza prepared in a domed oven.

However, gas-fired ovens have started to be popular in recent times.

You can even make this pizza syle in the comfort of your home. More and more home pizza ovens are coming on the market, and the two leading players are Ooni and GozneyCheck out my home pizza oven reviews here!

The methods and philosophy of the True Neapolitan Pizza Association have been passed down to other pizzerias and pizza makers around the world, after a strict selection process, of course!

The History Of The Neapolitan Pizza - Neapolitan Margherita Pizza
Neapolitan Margherita Pizza

The Difference Is in the Ingredients!

The ingredients in a Neapolitan pizza are critical and regulated by law!

In 2004, the Association of Genuine Pizza Napoletana and Association Pizza Napoletana sent the European Union’s Ministry of Agriculture a petition to register the classification of proper Neapolitan pizza.

To be authentic, the ingredients must be –

  • The Dough – Wheat flour type “00” with flour type “0” – Sea salt – Natural mineral water -Natural mineral water.
  • San Marzano Tomatoes – or Cherry Tomatoes.
  • Mozzarella di Bufala cheese.
  • Extra virgin olive oil.

Yes, the Neapolitan pizza is serious business! Ingredients need to be fresh, fresh, fresh!

The pizzaiolo must make the pizza base from risen dough that is hand-kneaded, and the tomato base and cheese should be D.O.P. Protected Designation of Origin.

Read more about D.O.P. Protected Designation of Origin here!

The cheese is certified authentic and will carry the S.T.G. label on its packaging.

The crown jewel is mozzarella di Bufala D.O.P., a traditional cheese from the milk of southern Italy’s buffalo. Another southern Italian cheese made from cow’s milk, Fior di Latte, may also be used.

Some pizza makers are particularly picky about their ingredients and will only use San Marzano or Roma tomatoes grown on the volcanic plains of Mount Vesuvius. and may only use mozzarella di Bufala from Campania’s marshlands. Campania is the regional Italian state of Naples.

Another distinction in pizza Napoletana is the ratio of sauce to cheese. Again, it’s a bit different from other types of pizza. For example, the Neapolitan version has more sauce and less cheese.

As a result, the center of the pizza can get soggy and heavy, which is why many Neapolitan pies come in smaller sizes.

Don’t expect to be ordering an extra-large Neapolitan at a traditional Italian pizzeria! Instead, customers will serve you the pizzas in a smaller 10″ to 12″.

Once the ingredients are taken care of, it’s time to focus on using the proper equipment.

How Are Neapolitan Pizzas Cooked?

The Neapolitan pizza is traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven, just like it was back in the day.

In fact, wood-fired ovens bear a striking resemblance to the ovens that have been excavated at the ruins of Pompeii. Coincidence? We think not!

Pizza Napoletana is wood-fired pizza, plain and simple. We’ll get into wood-fired ovens in a bit, but know that you can’t get the same flavor profile and texture without one of these domed ovens.

Other than that, the primary piece of equipment you’ll need is your hands. Many master pizza makers rely on the good old hand-kneaded dough to get that soft, elastic pizza base.

Wood-fire Pizza Oven
Wood-fire Pizza Oven

The pizza can’t be an authentic Neapolitan without a wood-fired oven, even with the right ingredients and the proper preparation process.

These old yet efficient baking methods give the marinara and Margherita their distinguished flavor.

These wood-fired ovens work with a fire that’s lit at the back of the device. While the fire burns, it reacts with the gases, producing a thermodynamic effect and a more extensive heat source.

The flame burns over the domed roof towards the front of the oven and out of the chimney.

Meanwhile, the lower half of the oven provides a source of oxygen to allow the fire to keep burning.

Wood-fired ovens involve three types of heat and can reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit!

The first type of heat is convection, which transfers the heat through air and gas movement. The second type is radiant heat, which comes from the intense temperatures of the fire. This heat moves around the oven, directly and indirectly cooking the pizza. From the radiant heat comes conductive heat, which transfers from the cooking floor to the pizza.

You may be wondering, what about the wood? It is a wood-fired oven, after all!

Pizza makers’ most commonly used woods include ash, beech, hornbeam, oak, and olive.

The dome’s height should be 37.5% of the oven’s diameter, so if the oven dome is 35.4 inches, its height would be 13.3 inches.

There you have it; a thorough history of the Italian staple we’ve all come to love.

Now that you know what goes into a true Neapolitan pizza, you might have a bit more reverence for this humble dish.

What Are The Characteristics of the Neapolitan Pizza?

Neapolitan pizza sets itself apart from other pizza styles due to the extremely high temperature and rapid cook time.

This gives this pizza style a spotted charred crust, called a Cornicione that is fluffy & crisp yet has a chewy texture with a wet, juicy, and almost soupy center and soft light base.  

Being wood-fired and topped with the finest produce gives the Neapolitan pizza a fresh, light, and smokey taste to die for!

Because of the long fermentation time, these pizzas are easy to digest and will not bloat the consumer.