31 March 2008

That's Amore!

Over Easter weekend we went to Napoli.

And I fell in love.

Before our trip I thought I had eaten good pizza. At times I would even say I have had great pizza. I've lived in New York, a pizza city if there ever was one. I have explored pizza joints all over Chicago (Gino's East is my favorite there.) On past trips to Italy we have also raved about the wonderful, fabulous pizza we have had.

So I am not new to loving pizza.

But never in my wildest imaginings could I have ever expected the rush of love I experienced when I took my first bite of pizza in Napoli.

Eating pizza in Napoli was a revelation.

It begins with the crust. The foundation of pizza-ry goodness. I have had thick and chewy crusts. I have had thin and crispy crusts. But never have I had crusts that were thin and chewy with a little crunch and a wonderfully yeasty, fresh baked taste that almost made me cry with joy.

And then it is topped with just a touch of simple, fresh tomato sauce. Tomatoes with a bit of salt and pepper. Not too sweet from the added sugar that is required when tomatoes are perhaps not quite ripe enough. Not too heavy with  an excessive number of spices and unnecessary flavors. Just pure, fresh tomatoes that allow you to taste the Italian sunlight.

Next comes the cheese. They use the freshest mozzarella available. And if you are willing to spend a little bit extra, you can get the buffalo mozzarella. And yes, we were willing to spend the little bit extra that is required.

Finally, it is topped with 2-3 small leaves of fresh basel, placed dead center on top. Somehow those small leaves spread their essence throughout the whole pizza.

After cooking for a short time on a stone in a super hot oven, it is rushed to your table while the sauce is still bubbling.


It is perfection. Pure and simple perfection.

"Ah," we said to each other, "this is what pizza is meant to be."

We had pizza for lunch and dinner every day we were there. If pizza for breakfast was an option, we would have had it then too. Didn't even matter where we ate it. Although some places within Napoli were better than others, every place had better pizza than anyplace else we have ever been.

And it really is no wonder. See, Napoli is where pizza was born. It is what they are known for. It is an intrinsic part of their identity. They take pizza so seriously in this city that they have a pizza association that tests the quality of the pizza on offer. If the quality is subpar, the restaurant is no longer allowed to serve pizza. So really, regardless of where you go, it is hard to go terribly wrong.

Since returning from Napoli I have been researching Neapolitan pizzas. My goal is to figure out the secret. How do you make this heavenly pie? What ingredients do I need to mix? What process do I need to follow?

Experimentation shall begin. My goal is to replicate the taste of that pizza as closely as is possible. Because flying down to Napoli every time I get a yearning for pizza might get a tad expensive.

More stories (and lot of photos) about our trip will follow. After I finish the two freelance writing projects I am currently doing.


Pointless Drivel said...

I have a pretty good handle on cooking, and I think you have the basics down. Fresh dough, sauce made from properly ripened (and actually fresh) tomatoes, and a little bit of basil -- are probably the key.

Of course, there is the one thing you probably don't have...an oven that can reach 700F to 800F degrees (around 48-million degrees centigrade. Or seven. I always have trouble with the conversion).

The oven is the key because, at those temperatures, it can make the dough crispy on the outside but leave it soft on the inside, and it will heat the ingredients and melt the cheese, without burning them.

I have a grill I can get up to those temperatures. Next time you're around, let's give it a shot.

Global Librarian said...

We should definitely try grilling a pizza next time I'm in Minnesota.

But keep in mind it would actually be cheaper for me to fly to Napoli when I get a yearning for pizza than it would to fly to Minneapolis.

So I still need a solution for here!

Some of the research I've read seems to indiciate the importance of using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. Something about the gluten levels.

CanadianSwiss said...

You're certainly both right with the heat and with the flour - not to mention the freshness of the ingredients. I can well imagine that the lighter/finer/fluffier (which adjective do I use here? You get the point), the finer the dough gets. It probably also makes a difference, how long you kneat the dough. BUT, I was told that the extreme heat is the secret, once you have the rest.

I guess now you either have to make the trip to Minnesota or to Napoli, or get a special oven ;)

J said...

Naples is a love it or hate it plkace, and I totally love it.

Global Librarian said...

I have ordered a pizza stone that can be used in the oven or on our grill. I have a recipe from a pizza maker from Napoli for the dough and the sauce.

Let the experimentation begin!

rinjin said...

tom is right, you need the oven at obscenely high temps. ours maxes out at 500 deg and with a pizza stone we can get pretty crisp crust, but it's not the same. damn.

also, i hope you didn't eat too much of the buffala mozzarella. the mafia is trying to kill you.

see here:


Global Librarian said...

Ah yes, but the pizza stone ON THE GRILL does get hot enough. Our new pizza stone arrived today. The experiments begin tomorrow.

And we heard about the dioxin issue the day after we got back from Napoli. After spending 3 days eating buffalo mozzarella all day, every day.

Link said...

If you read the EU report carefully, the genuine mozzarella may not be affected like people feared. Even with the existing concern, you'll have to eat tons of mozzarella for a long time to be possibly affected. Though, rules are rules, it's a good way to get people to realize that the mafia controlled toxic waste dumping business is criminal and affects everyone. For sure Napoli could use Swiss administration.