Not all that glitter is gold: a stairway to a heavenly pizza

Pizza. Love of one’s life, fire of one’s taste. One’s sin, one’s soul.

The tip of the tongue hardly prevents one’s mouth from drooling when it’s about pizza.

She – sorry! – It is like a beautiful lady: we love her without even really knowing her.

Pizza – which is a female noun in Italian language – is an abused word to mean “a bread-like base with something tasty on it”, which can loosely be a definition of a true pizza, but gives too much freedom to the cook.

There is only one kind of authentic Italian pizza, and it’s rarer than expected.

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People are easy to say pizza, but…

To be precise, talking about Italian authentic pizza is not completely correct. Original pizza comes from Naples, so we should talk about Neapolitan pizza. On the other hand, Neapolitan pizza has spread so diffusely in Italy, that whenever an Italian of any region says “pizza”, we can be sure he or she is talking about Neapolitan one.

So, “Pizza” is, in Italy, synonym for Neapolitan pizza, which is considered pizza par excellence, even if there are baked food from different part of Italy which are also named “pizza”; however, an apposition is always used to distinguish them from Neapolitan one.

Probably, Italian most famous “non-pizza pizza” is pizza bianca from Rome. Its name means “white pizza” and it doesn’t resemble Neapolitan pizza at all. It is more like a fluffy Ligurian focaccia topped with stracchino cheese (but don’t tell Romans it’s just a “focaccia”, they can become quite sensitive about the originality of their pizza bianca). Pay attention, because in almost every pizzeria in Italy “pizza bianca” is meant to be any Neapolitan pizza topped with any combination of ingredients that doesn’t contain tomato sauce nor tomatoes.

The less known, on the other hand, in all likelihood is pizza gialla all’orvietana. Its name means “Orvieto style yellow pizza”, being Orvieto the town in southern Umbria it is typical of. Its unusual color is due to its main ingredient, which is not wheat flour, but corn flour, so that this tasty dish is a sort of flat, crispy polenta (no records on people from Orvieto’s touchiness are available).
In any case, even if you order a pizza in a restaurant in Orvieto or in Rome, you will always be given a Neapolitan pizza, unless you point out you want a different one.

Brief history of Neapolitan pizza and its spread

Reason why Neapolitan pizza has spread so largely is blatant: it’s delicious, how could people resist?
What’s arcane is why it took pizza such a long time to spread.
A flat bread topped with tomato sauce and oil (and probably garlic, like nowadays Marinara) was a common popular food in XIX century in Naples, and probably it was consumed in the area since ever.
The prototype of modern pizza is conventionally assumed to be pizza Margherita, first prepared by pizza chef Raffaele Esposito in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, who was visiting Naples in 1889. It is topped with red tomato sauce, white mozzarella and green basil to resemble Italy’s flag colors.
Since then, no pizza-mania had spread in newly united Italy until the end of the Second World War. In the Fifties, there still were a lot of Italians from northern regions who visited Campania and discovered this yummy dish they never had heard before. Short later, booming economy brought a lot of people from southern regions to migrate to northern Italy. Many of those who didn’t work in industries dared to open pizzerias, spreading pizza’s gospel.
Due to the huge demand of pizza, a lot of pizzerias opened, in Italy and overseas, but not all of them could boast a skilled pizza chef, so that authentic Neapolitan pizza could be tasted in Naples only for a couple of decades more, (with some notable exceptions, of course).
Nowadays it’s much easier to find quality Neapolitan pizza all over Italy, even if they say that the one eaten in Naples is still incomparable.

Identikit of an authentic (Neapolitan) pizza

Let’s step out of Italy, and may the god of pizza have mercy of heretics.
Obviously, there are a lot of pizzerias all over the world that bake excellent Neapolitan pizzas, even because communication era helped people becoming more demanding in matter of food, too.

Despite this, there still are a lot of people out there who call pizza any warm piece of bread with tomato on. That’s not pizza. A bun with ham, cheese and pineapple may be tasty, but it’s not pizza.

Authentic pizza must be made of a round, flat bread of wheat flour (00 type, doppio zero), yeast (saccharomices cerevisiae), water and salt. And nothing more. No oil, no sugar, no egg (sacrilege!), no milk, no beer, no wine: nothing but flour, water, yeast and salt.

The mixture is long kneaded, and the dough is left rising for two hours; then, it is cut into portions of about 200 grams (7 oz) each, which are left rising for six further hours.
Once the dough is risen, a thin disk is made out of it. This will be the basis of the pizza, and has to be thinner than half a centimeter (0.2 In), with a thicker edge (called cornicione, “big frame”), but not thicker than one or two centimeters (0.4-0.8 In).
Authentic, traditionally made Neapolitan pizza disk is enlarged by hands only, without using any mechanical press, nor even a simple rolling pin.

Topping a pizza is a controversial matter in Italy, too. A Neapolitan association, aiming at protecting pizza’s quality and traditional making, states only a few topping recipe can be considered traditional (and namely the ones known as Marinara and Margherita), but it is common use to dress pizza with almost anything edible, this resulting in two facts: on one hand, many non-typical topping recipes became so popular and common that they are assumed to be traditional as well (for instance Capricciosa, Diavola, Quattro formaggi…); on the other hand, always new topping recipe are being experimented, bringing to the growing trend of gourmet pizzerias, with own (expensive) finest specialities.

Whatever your favorite pizza dressing is, be it a canonical “tomato and mozzarella” or an apocryphal “chef’s flair”, make sure you are having it on a traditional flat, thin bread disc, made with the right few ingredients.
Thou shalt have no other pizza before it.