Pizza Versus Pizza - What is a real Italian Pizza?

Enjoying pizza in Naples
Pizza is probably with Pasta the best know Italian food export loved by everybody around the world. Visitors to Italy expect to find pizza and pasta on every menu right along the length of the peninsula. However one of the great joys of Italian cooking is that it is regional. Naples is the home of modern Pizza but around Italy and beyond it has been adapted and sometimes the resemblance to its original archetype is pretty remote (i.e. pineapple pizza). Since medieval times throughout Italy, a large variety of baked bread dough fare topped or stuffed with cheese, vegetables, anchovies and whatever the locals had to hand, have been enjoyed. They have different names but they are a variation of focaccia, a mediaeval word that means something cooked in the fire (foco/fuoco).

Lucca is my city but I am married to Enzo, a Neapolitan and must confess that I now seldom eat pizza outside his native city, but you may ask what is the difference? Before I try to explain  here is a little bit of history:

Pizza Margherita in Naples
The Neapolitan legend tells us that a pizza maker in the city, Raffaele Esposito from the Pizzeria Brandi, that still exists, created the Pizza Margherita for Margherita of Savoy, the Queen consort of Italy on her visit to the city on 11th June 1889.  The Margherita is still probably the most eaten pizza around the world. The fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil reflect the colours of the Italian flag of red, white and green made this dish an important symbol of the recent unification of Italy.
The pizza, as we think of it, was unknown outside the Naples region before the 19th  century.

Over the years I have tried to pinpoint why pizza in Naples is so special?
The main difference lies I think in the dough and the cooking.

Pizzeria in Centro Storico in Naples
A Neapolitan Pizza has a much thinner dough, the topping is placed in the middle leaving the edge free so it rises in the cooking forming a "cornicione" frame. An international pizza (and often a general Italian Pizza) is made from a much drier firmer dough and the topping covers the whole pizza. The cornicione is also good but everybody prefers, of course, the middle, so I leave it to the end. In the old times when nothing was thrown away, the rule was to cut the cornicione  first, eat it then enjoy the rest. Most pizza purists in Naples still stick to the old rule like my brother in law.

Neapolitan Pizza marinara
Italian pizza capricciosa
I have occasionally asked the pizza man in the pizzerias around Italy at what temperature they cook it. The average temperature is about 260C (500F) but not in Naples where a perfect Neapolitan pizza requires 480C (900F). In order to reach and keep this temperature safely the oven must be built in a different way and is required to have amazing insulation, the trick being the insulation is created by using generous amounts of volcanic material beneath the baking surface and in the dome (not so easily available in other parts of the world). The volcanic rocks have fantastic properties, first they store heat and keep the temperature stable, secondly, they do not crack the oven, a potential occurrence with ordinary brick ovens at high temperatures.
The high temperature means the pizza will stay in the oven seconds rather than minutes.

Neapolitan pizza oven
I have heard tourist complain about the Neapolitan pizza's being soggy but remember this is where the dish was invented and they know how to do it. I love the fact it is not dry. It is a pizza, not a biscotto.
One can still buy in the morning a small pizza to eat while walking to work or school. It is called Pizza “a portafoglio” (like a wallet) because it is easily folded twice and eaten.

Enzo remembers that in his time in Naples Pizza there were only traditional pizzas that I’m going to list in a minute, so to get something different he used to go with his friends on a pilgrimage to a place called Elettroforno in Piazza San Luigi where they could get a rectangular slice of pizza with a soft airy base.

Traditionally in Naples, there were only a few toppings:
Marinara: Olive oil, sieved tomatoes, oregano, garlic.
Margherita: (created in honor of Queen Margherita): Olive oil, sieved tomatoes, mozzarella (or fior di latte), parmesan cheese, basil leaves.
Ripieno (also called calzone): Shaped like a raviolo, stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, salami.
Capricciosa: topped with a bit of everything: olives, tomatoes, prosciutto, mushrooms. Every pizzeria has their own variations.
Quattro stagioni (Four seasons). The pizza is divided into four quadrants, each vaguely representing each season of the year.

Now Neapolitan pizzerias, influenced by the development of pizza outside Naples are widening their menu and you might find quite a few new pizzas (still not as many as a rest of Italy). A couple of them have become established, first of all, Pizza con salsiccia and friarielli (Neapolitan sausages and bitter greens) then mozzarella di bufala e pomodori del piennolo (buffalo mozzarella and a bunch of small tomatoes from the Vesuvius area that keep fresh in the winter). These ingredients are only found in Naples.
My sister in law loves one made from broken cocchè on top (deep fried potato croquette with mozzarella inside). Enzo is not convinced.

Outside Naples apart from their historical focacce, Pizza has taken different directions. In Sicily,  they now have a classical Sicilian Pizzas often made with extra semolina flour in the dough and the wonderful “sfincione” in Palermo, which has an airy light dough as a base, a perfect street food.

Pizza al taglio in Lucca
In Rome Pizza also developed as Pizza al Taglio, baked on large trays and sold in square slices as a takeaway by the weight. The base is more firm and heavy. They have thousands of variations of toppings.  Enzo, says he survived on Pizza al taglio during his national service in Rome a thousand years ago.

Whatever Pizza you choose Buon appetito!


  1. La mia preferita è ai funghi, ma anche gorgonzola e speck oppure al lardo non scherzano! Ciao, Arianna


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