Five days in Napoli and five pizze Napoletane. There are many reasons why I love Naples - the people, the chaos, the pastries, and yes, the food. Especially the pizza. This trip I dedicated part of each day to pizza. Yes, each day I ate a pizza, a classic margherita or Margherita D.O.C. at five different pizzerie in Naples, my own little pizza lover's odyssey.
All five of these pizzerie make a VPN pizza (Verace Pizza Napoletana) and must follow the VPN pizza-making guidelines laid out by the AVPN (Association of Verace Pizza Napoletana). Although these pizzerie follow the same guidelines and basically use the same ingredients, the pizza varied at each place. As the people at Starita a Martedei explained to me, it really depends on the pizzaiolo. It's the skill and knowledge of this artisan pizzamaker, to first create a dough and then stretch it into the base of the pizza, that determines the characteristics of his pizza.
Those pizzaioli that follow the guidelines set forth by the AVPN and have passed the association's pizzaiolo test, can display the sign of a Verace Pizza Napoletana, one that has Pulcinella as pizzamaker on it.
VPN guidelines: The guidelines cover more than just the ingredients. There are rules about oven temperature (surface temperature must be 905 F), how long the pizza should cook (60-90 seconds) and even what type of pizza peel can be used. Many might find this tedious, but I see it as a love and dedication these artisans have for what they do. Below are some details on making the dough and making one of the classics - the pizza Margherita.
The dough - For the VPN dough, there are four ingredients: water, salt, yeast, flour (type "00" and up to 20% may be type "0"). I'm a little confused about a 5th ingredient because the guidelines state that "all types of fat must be excluded from the dough;" however, it is widely accepted and admitted that lard is a key ingredient in the dough. The VPN also gives suggestions for quantities to be used for each ingredient, but each pizzaiolo can and does determine his unique recipe.
The dough must go through two rising stages, the first lasting 2 hours. The second happens after the dough has been formed into balls (called panetti) of 250 grams each, and the rising period must be between 4 to 6 hours in a temperature of 25 C. Then the dough can be used to make the pizza "base," and must be used within the next 6 hours.
Pizza Margherita - A classic Neapolitan pizza, this pizza with the tricolore of the Italian flag was made in 1889 to honor Queen Margherita, who was visiting Naples. A classic Margherita has sauce from San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte (cow's milk "mozzarella" cheese), olive oil, sea salt, and fresh basil. There are also guidelines as to the amounts of each ingredient and how it is applied to the pizza "base" (the dough).
Usually each pizzeria has another version of the classic, which they call a D.O.C., where they use mozzarella di bufala (Buffalo milk mozzarella) and fresh tomatoes instead of sauce. I actually prefer this version because I think the sauce can tend to make the pizza too wet.
Here are the pizze from my pizza lover's odyssey in Naples. I've listed them in order of my preference.
Pizzeria Starita a Martedei (via Martedei 27/28)
This pizzeria, first famous for being the pizzeria in the 1954 movie "L'oro di Napoli" starring Sophie Loren as a pizzaiolo at Starita, now makes one of the best pizze in Napoli. The D.O.C. (pronounced "dock") at Starita was pure magic for me. The crust might be a little thicker than those at Da Michele and Sorbillo, but much of it is from its bubbling up while in the oven. It was really quite light in texture and "elastic" accordig to VPN regulations, or as I would say, nice and chewy. I also tried a few of their fried treats, the zucchini flowers and crocche (pototoes with cheese), which were also delicious.
Gino Sorbillo (via Tribunali, 32)
I arrived in Naples on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and headed straight for Sorbillo, located on via Tribunali (also known as Spaccanapoli) in the Centro Storico. I hadn't realized that Saturday afternoon's, especially sunny ones in March, meant it was pizza time in Napoli. Many small groups, chatting in Neapolitan dialect, packed themselves around the entrance waiting for their name to be called. After almost an hour, it was my turn to be called to an available table.
I ordered the traditional pizza margherita, and it arrived at my table hot from the oven, evidenced by the smoke rising from the pizza, with scents of tomatoes and basil filling the air. A VPN crust that was chewy around the border and paper thin in the center, the pizza hung over the plate. This pizza had the thinnest crust of all the pizzerie in Naples that I have tried. The amount of cheese on the pizza was perfect. The sauce was rich in flavor, although I would have preferred a little less to balance the cheese/sauce ratio. Here I wish I had had an eating partner or an extra day to try another version, possibly their D.O.C. version.
(Note: There is another "Sorbillo" on via Tribunali, so if you're wanting to go to Gino Sorbillo's pizzeria, make sure you go to 32 via Tribunali.)
Here you can watch a video of pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo at work. How quickly and easily he stretches the dough amazes me each time I watch it.
Like my first kiss, I will always remember eating my first Neapolitan pizza. The Margherita D.O.C. from Trianon da Ciro and the pizzeria will always hold a special place in my heart.
This time I tried the classic pizza Margherita, with tomato sauce and fior di latte. I think it might have been an off day (or the humidity from that day's rain messed with the dough), but this time the dough wasn't as light and bubbly as I've had during my previous times eating there. I definitely prefer their D.O.C. version over the classic Margherita.
Pizza Margherita from Trianon da Ciro
Pizza Margherita D.O.C.
Working the oven at Trianon da Ciro
L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele (via Cesare Sersale, 1)
As one Napoletano pointed out, this pizzeria is one of the oldest and is the most noted of all pizzerie in Napoli (possibly even before the film "Eat Pray Love" came out). They make only two kinds of pizza, Margherita and Marinara.
I had the Margherita. The dough at da Michele left me wanting a little more crunch and flavor when I compare it to the others. The photo below is of the classic Margherita, but you can order the Margherita with "doppio" double cheese. As you may have realized, I like my cheese to sauce ratio to be about equal, so I would definitely suggest getting the doppio here.
Umberto Ristorante & Pizzeria - via Albardieri 31
Umberto is a restaurant that also serves VPN pizza. It's located in the Chiaia district, right off of via Chiaia. For me, this pizza resembled an American version of pizza more than the Neapolitan one. The crust was the thickest and had a much crunchier shell than the others. There was also much more sauce than cheese. This pizza also looks too perfect and round. One sign of a true Neapolitan pizza is that it is more oblong than round, it has black char marks, and the more bubbles in the pizza means the dough/crust will be lighter and more chewy.
Pizza Margherita from Umberto