Think Italy, think Pizza!
You can't go wrong with pizza in Italy, but what makes it the best?
Pizza is hands down my favourite food of all time - ask me what I'd eat right now and I'll default to pizza - it's comforting, moreish, satisfying and all I could ever ask for in one dish.
But, there's pizza and then there's pizza...
When I moved to Italy 25 years ago, on Friday and Sunday nights the queues would stretch along roadsides from every pizzeria door. In a relatively 'normal' sized town, you'd find 4 or 5 pizzerie and they'd all be packed but some queues would be longer than others because the pizza was deemed to be better. With 5 million pizze made every day in Italy and 5 billion worldwide, it makes sense some would be tastier than others.
So what makes good pizza? Because the possibilities are endless...
The best pizza officially comes from Naples where it was given a title in1889. Legend goes that Raffaele Esposito from Pizzeria Brandi was summoned to make some street food for Her Majesty, Queen Margherita, who'd tired of the usual lavish spread at Palazzo Capodimonte. He produced three variations of his city's beloved flatbreads (you can imagine the pressure) but her favourite remained the most patriotic of them all - red, white and green. His tricolore-coloured pizza featuring the region's finest tomatoes, mozzarella and basil was thus named after her and Naples claimed the fame.
Naples insists there's no need for anything complicated... at Da Michele, the most worldly-famous pizzeria ever, you'll find Margherita and Marinara on the menu, e basta.
There are two factors that define good pizza and only two.
Time is a factor we can't skimp on here. To make pizza that bubbles and stays bubbled, the dough must sit for 12-14 hours in a temperate room with no draughts. In Italy these days, many pizzerie offer wholegrain pizza bases, ai ceriali, in some they can wangle a more nutritious pizza in the form of the ancient grain flour, Kamut, or flavour the dough with pumpkin in autumn, impasto di zucca. I always ask if they have alternatives because one of the most interesting in a local pizzeria near our home is impasto nero al carbone - black charcoal dough, which is not always available but incredible!
Ingredients must be 'TOP'. Most pizze outside of Italy fall short purely because of the quality of ingredients. Put simply, every, single food in Italy is made with the pride and perfection as you'd be making it for you mamma. Or she'd be making it for you. There's love, time and dedication in Italian food which might not sound like an ingredient, but go put some love into your dish and then see how your food tastes.
Whether it's love of who you're cooking for, love of food or just the love of cooking, I've never met a pizzaiolo who's not proud of what they do.
Beside the non-physical ingredients, Margherita has only a few:
Flour with a protein quantity of 11.5%, mainly 'Type 0' says Francesco and Salvatore Salvo (Pizzeria Salvo) for the best 'digestibility' but try to buy it straight from the mill.
Water, salt and yeast is mixed with a 'sensitivity' one quickly learns. Ciro Oliva from Pizzeria Oliva states: "1 litre of water, 1.4kg of flour, 50g of salt during the winter and 3g of yeast. In the summer, add 6 grams more salt to strengthen the dough and never let it rest in the fridge!"
Bake in one minute in a wood-burning oven at 400 degrees where the steam puffs up in the dough to form the signature bubbles and slightly burnt crust which some say is the best part.
Peeled San Marzano tomatoes from the region of Campania are a pizzaiolo's go-to, in particular, Piennolo del Vesuvio tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius. Chopped by hand with a sprinkling of salt, these are smeared onto the stretched base with not too much sauce because the tomatoes must not overpower but rather blend the ingredients together in a harmonious balance, says Cirio.
Buffalo Mozzarella left to drip to eliminate excess water, chopped roughly before cooking and scattered in 'leopard spots' says Ciro Salvo from 50 Kalò and 'non maltrattarla' says Gino Sorbillo from Michelin-starred Sorbillo, just off Spaccanapoli.
Mistreat a pizza?
Now who would ever dream of doing that?