The first dish that we now know to be pizza was created in Naples, Italy in the 1660s. It was popular with impoverished Neapolitans (people from Naples), who tended to eat it while walking down the street.
At the time, the dish and how it was eaten was looked down upon by the posh, upper class Italians.
But that all began to change in 1889, when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples. The Queen, tired of haute cuisine, asked to try some varieties of pizza.
So a baker by the name of Raffaelle Esposito of the Da Pietro Pizzeria (now Pizzeria Brandi) prepared a pizza pie for the queen, made of tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil (the three colors of the Italian flag).
Queen Margherita was pleased with the end result. And so, the margherita pizza was born!
But it wasn’t until Italians started migrating to the U.S. in the 1800s, carrying their recipes with them, that pizza began to spread outside of Naples.
Even though pizza has since spread all over the world, there’s nothing that beats the original Neapolitan pizza.
The Art of Neapolitan Pizza
So, want to learn how to make the world’s best pizza?
You’re in luck. My current flatmate is from Naples, Italy, and has been making pizze (the Italian word for pizzas) for years. If that doesn’t convince you of his skills, maybe this will: He’s also a professional cook and has been the head chef of an Italian restaurant here in Barcelona for several months.
And this weekend, he made a couple delicious pizzas from scratch. I recorded the steps for you, so you can make it yourself at home.
Note that the most difficult part of pizza is preparing the dough. There’s a lot that goes into it, from the kneading to the leavening and fermentation. For that reason, you’ll need to allow a full day for the entire pizza-making process.
There’s also an art to the actual cooking of the pizza. Traditional Neapolitan pizza is cooked in a wood-burning oven, but if you don’t have that lying around, don’t fret: You can still make a pretty good pizza (we did anyway).
So what makes the Napolitano pizza different from other types of pizza? It mainly comes down to the dough. Typical Neapolitan pizza dough is thin at the base and puffs up along the sides, resulting in a soft, light and airy crust.
Another thing to note is that the Italians (or at least the Napolitanos) have a “less is more” philosophy. They don’t put a lot of toppings on their pizza. And they don’t need to. After all, the main event is that out-of-this-world pizza dough.
To make a simple margherita pizza, you don’t need a lot of ingredients. Just make sure to use the highest quality ingredients possible if you want to get the best results.
We made a couple different types of pizza, so I listed out all the ingredients for each. But feel free to make your own variations depending on your preferred ingredients.
Pizza Dough (enough to make 4-5 pizzas)
- 1 kilo of Italian 00 flour (or otherwise, strong, finely milled white bread flour with a high level of gluten)
- Yeast (either fresh or dry, but ideally fresh): 18 grams of fresh yeast; 7 grams of dry yeast
- 10 grams of sea salt
- 1-3 grams of sugar
- 10-15mg of extra virgin olive oil
Margherita Pizza (for 1 large pizza)
- 1 jar of uncooked fresh tomato basil sauce
- 50g of buffalo mozzarella cheese
- 10g of fresh basil
Vegetable Pizza (for 1 pizza)
- 20g of mushrooms
- 20g of zucchini
- Olive oil (to taste)
- 20g of roasted peppers
- 20g of cream
- 20g of buffalo mozzarella cheese
Making the Pizza Dough
As mentioned, making the pizza dough is the hardest part. And definitely the most time-consuming. But follow these steps and you should be on your way to a delicious pizza.
Step 1: Put 1 kilo of flour in a bowl, along with yeast and sugar, and mix everything together with a spoon.
As for how much sugar, you’ll want to add 1 gram of sugar if the yeast is live and 3 grams of sugar if the yeast is dry (the sugar is what will help to activate the fermentation process).
Step 2: Once mixed, add approximately 700 ml of tepid water. Then mix all of the ingredients and knead with your hands (or with a machine if you have one) for approximately 20-25 minutes or until it becomes a consistent dough.
Pro Tip: For the dough to come out right, you must use your hands and not a rolling pin. Doing so will result in higher dough quality.
Never kneaded before? You should be folding the dough and pushing it inwards repeatedly. Watch this video to see what I mean (but for now, ignore the circles he is making with the dough…that will come in step 4):
Don’t be surprised if your arms and hands start to get tired while doing this. Take a little break if you need to.
Step 3: Once the dough is consistent (or looks like it does in the above video), add 10 grams of sea salt and knead the dough again for 2-3 minutes or until fully mixed.
Step 4: Add 10-15mg of olive oil to the mix and go back to kneading the dough for another 2-3 minutes or until the olive oil mixes completely with the flour.
Now, rewatch that video from step 2 again. Notice how the chef is making circles with the dough while kneading it? Towards the end of the kneading process, when the dough becomes spongy, you’ll want to do the same. Doing so will help to prepare the dough for the next step (the first stage of fermentation).
Pro Tip: You might have to add a bit more dough to the mix as you’re kneading it. So how do you know when the dough is ready? It should be smooth and spongy, without any lumps.
Step 5: After you’ve finished kneading (woohoo!), let the dough sit for one hour at room temperature. Be sure to keep something on top of the dough so that it doesn’t dry out. Like so:
Step 6: After the mass of dough has been sitting for an hour (at which point you’ll notice that it’s already started to rise a bit) cut the dough and form it into small balls of more or less 200mg each.
Step 7: For each ball, continue to knead the dough a bit more until it’s firm and elastic.
Pro Tip: When forming the balls, be sure to close them well to avoid air escaping. The more air there is inside the dough, the softer it will be after baking and the closer you’ll get to the typical Napolitano pizza.
Step 8: Now, let the balls of dough sit in an oiled baking pan, covered, for 7-8 hours at room temperature (a bare minimum of 6 hours if you’re in a warmer environment; if it’s colder, you’ll have to allow it to ferment for a bit longer).
Once done, they should look a little something like this:
Step 9: Next, put a sheet of baking paper on a pan and sprinkle some olive oil on the paper.
Step 10: Place the balls of dough on top of the greased baking paper. Flatten the balls and give form to the pizza dough, ensuring that each pizza is no more than 3mm thick.
Cooking the Pizza
Before cooking the pizza, you’ll want to do a thorough cleaning of your oven, so as not to contaminate the pizza. If you use chemical-based cleaning products, be sure to wipe down the oven once more afterwards with water and vinegar.
Step 1: Layer the flattened pizza dough with a thick layer of tomato sauce and some mozzarella cheese. Leave about a 1/2 inch edge without sauce.
Step 2: Put the pizza in the oven and cook at maximum temperature for about 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is starting to char.
Step 3: Take the pizza out and then sprinkle a bit of basil and olive oil on top.
And voilà, you’re done!
Step 1: Put olive oil in a pan. Add the zucchini, mushrooms, a touch of salt, and sauté the veggies for a few minutes.
Step 2: Once done, let the vegetables sit for 5 minutes or so (until they are no longer hot).
Step 3: Add the cooked vegetable mix to the pizza dough, along with 10 grams of cream, roasted peppers and mozzarella cheese.
Step 4: Put the pizza in the oven at maximum temperature and cook for 8-10 minutes.
That’s all there is to it!
When is the Pizza Ready?
Take the estimated cooking times in here with a grain of salt. The exact cooking time will depend on your oven and how fast it cooks, along with the ingredients. Wood-burning ovens, for instance, make pizza at lightning speed: just 90 seconds to cook a traditional margherita pizza!
So how do you know when the pizza is ready? According to our chef, it should be “stuck to the pan.”
More likely than not, though, you’ll know when it’s ready. It should look a little something like this:
As you can probably tell from that photo, le pizze we made came out crunchy and delicious.
If you follow the steps in this recipe, yours should too. But if your pizza doesn’t turn out quite the way you wanted it to the first time around, don’t feel disheartened. It takes trial and error and lots of practice to get it just right.
Introducing the Chef
While I would love to take credit for these mouth-watering pizza recipes, I’m just the messenger here. The oh-so-talented chef who made these delectable pizzas and was generous enough to hand the recipes off to me is…
Meet Mattia D’Amato, from Naples, Italy. For the past nine years, Mattia has been a professional chef. He credits his mother for teaching him how to make pizza years ago—and claims that if an Italian mother doesn’t teach her children how to cook, then they never learn!
Lucky for me, he did learn…and now makes pizza at home approximately once a week.
So, how did your pizza turn out? Would love to hear. Share in the comments below!
And if you have any questions for the chef himself, just holler and I’ll get them answered for you (I may not be the greatest chef, but I am a decent messenger!).