With around 20 percent of the world on lockdown, being at home has brought the baker out in many of us. Scrolling mindlessly through Instagram seems to have inspired us to whip up some banana bread, bake a cake for a flatmate’s birthday or even make some fairy cakes just for cheer. Flour has also reportedly flown off supermarket shelves almost as fast as toilet paper, and we all appear to have a light dusting of it on us from our latest project.
And although these sweet treats can be whipped up without much hassle, if you’ve tried you’ll know that a Neapolitan pizza, with a soft and chewy crust that’s also charred just right around the edges, is a little tougher to get right.
Making a Naples-style pizza is an art so serious it has its own governing body – the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) – created solely to preserve the craft of making verace (original Naples pizzas).
If your pizza base is too hard – or if you accidentally bought the wrong flour – we’re here to help with these tried and tested tips.
We’ve all eaten a pizza with too many toppings, and Chicago’s deep dish variety is especially guilty of excess. Naples-style pizza, in contrast, has just two toppings: mozzarella and fresh tomato sauce. The dough is made with four basic ingredients, fine grain “00” flour (200g/7oz), yeast (6g/0.2oz), warm water (125ml/4.2fl oz), and salt. If you want, you can add in a tablespoon of olive oil and some sugar. The olive oil adds flavour and prevents the crust from getting too soggy, and the sugar helps the dough to brown. When mixing your ingredients, remember to first dissolve the salt in water as direct contact with salt damages yeast cells.
A good pizza has to be kneaded with a lot of love. Skipped your arm workout today? That’s great, you’ll get it in while kneading your dough for about 20 minutes. Make sure it’s smooth and elastic enough to mould into a ball. Otherwise, keep kneading.
You can leave your dough to rest for about four hours at room temperature, or for 24 hours (but no more than that) in the fridge. Once your dough has risen – it should ideally double in size – stretch it out to form a round base that’s between 22cm-35cm (8.5in-14in) in diameter, which is the size AVPN recommends. Now the fun starts. Spread on the passata and sliced mozzarella, and you’re set to cook your pizza.
The single biggest challenge when it comes to making a pizza à la Naples is that our home ovens just aren’t hot enough. Restaurants have wood-fired ovens that can blast a pizza to perfection in 60 seconds. But at home, your best bet is to preheat the oven to full blast (240C/475F/gas 9), and cook the pizza for eight minutes until the crust starts browning. Garnish with fresh basil.
Naples pizza isn’t meant to sit in boxes; eat yours right away to prevent it from getting soggy. Bonus points if you have a bottle of Italian red, and if your pizza is pliable enough to fold, which is how it would typically be eaten in Naples.
And there you have it, making a Neapolitan pizza can seem complex, but the process is too much fun to not give it a try. We’ll never take one made for us by an Italian chef for granted again, but until we can go back to our favourite Naples pizzeria, we’ll keep trying to recreate the experience at home. Buon Appetito!