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How to make Neapolitan pizza from scratch [recipe from a Neapolitan chef]

The first dish that we now know to be pizza was created in Naples, Italy in the 1660s.

It was a food meant for the working class. Poor Neapolitans (people from Naples) would eat pizza on the go, while posh, upper-class Italians didn’t go near the stuff. 

But that all started to change in 1889, when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples. The Queen was tired of haute cuisine, so asked to try a few 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 her. It was made of tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil (the three colors of the Italian flag).

Queen Margherita was happy 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. 

Psst: It’s all in the dough 

Okay, before you think I’m some self-proclaimed pizza expert, I’ve gotta tell you…I got this recipe from a REAL, LIVE ITALIAN.

(Sadly, I didn’t wake up one day and learn how to cook.) 

My current flatmate, who’s from Naples, Italy, has been making pizze for years. *And* is currently the head chef of an Italian restaurant here in Barcelona. So let’s just say that he knows what he’s doing. 

So what makes Napolitano pizza so special? 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. 

The bad news? It’s not easy to make. There’s a lotta kneading, leavening and fermentation. So make sure you leave a full day for the pizza-making process.

Ingredients 

To make a simple margherita pizza, you don’t need a lot of ingredients. But don’t skimp on quality. 

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.

Pizza Dough (makes 4-5 pizzas)

  • 1 kilo of Italian 00 flour (or 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

Ok, so let’s start with the pizza dough. 

Step 1: Put 1 kilo of flour in a bowl, along with yeast and sugar, and mix everything together with a spoon.

Add 1 gram of sugar if the yeast is live and 3 grams of sugar if the yeast is dry (the sugar will help activate the fermentation process).

Step 2: Once mixed, add approx 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’ve gotta use your hands and *not* a rolling pin.

Never kneaded before? You should fold the dough and push it inwards repeatedly. Watch this video to see what I mean (but for now, ignore the circles he’s making with the dough…that’ll come in step 4):

 

Step 3: Once the dough is consistent (or looks like it does in the 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 should do the same. That’ll help 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. When the dough’s ready, it’ll be smooth, spongy and lump-free. 

Step 5: After you’ve finished kneading, let the dough sit for an 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, close them well to prevent air from 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 let it 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. Each pizza should be no more than 3mm thick.

Cooking le pizze

Before cooking the pizza, clean your oven! Otherwise, it can get contaminated.

If you use chemical-based cleaning products, wipe down the oven afterwards with water and vinegar.

Margherita Pizza

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!

Vegetable Pizza

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’re 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.

And that’s all there is to it!

So…when’s it ready?

The cooking time will depend on your oven and how fast it cooks (well duh), along with the ingredients. Wood-burning ovens cook margherita pizza in just 90 seconds. 

When the pizza’s ready, it should be “stuck to the pan” according to our chef. 

You’ll probs know when it’s ready. It should look a lil’ something like this:

 

And the credit goes to…

(drumroll please)

 

Mattia D’Amato, from Naples, Italy. Thank him for this delicious recipe, not me. 

 

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