Making “Proper” Pizza… (The Classic Neapolitan)

When it comes to “proper pizza”, this can mean many different things, but typically it refers to a classic Neapolitan slice from the home of pizza, Naples in Italy (a.k.a Napoli), which follows the most traditional methods of pizza-making, and it’s just groovy.

You might class New York pizza or even Chicago pizza as being proper pizza, and that’s fine too, but here we’re talking Neapolitan pizza and how there’s a certain standard that defines what it means for pizza to be “proper”, according to Naples.

In other words, we’re referring to the rules and regulations set by the Italian organisation that is the AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana – translated to ‘True Neapolitan Pizza Association’). So let’s cover the AVPN and their guidelines for making proper, authentic Neapolitan pizza.

The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN)

The AVPN is a non-profit organisation founded in Naples, Italy, in 1984. Its mission is to preserve and promote the culinary heritage of traditional Neapolitan pizza. To achieve this, the AVPN has specific regulations that pizzerias must follow to be certified as purveyors of “Verace Pizza Napoletana” or “True Neapolitan Pizza.” This certification distinguishes pizzerias that adhere to the AVPN’s guidelines and guarantees an authentic Neapolitan pizza experience.

AVPN Rules for Making Neapolitan Pizza

The Dough

The foundation of any groovy tasting pizza obviously lies in its dough. According to the AVPN, Neapolitan pizza dough should be made with specific ingredients and undergo specific processes. The rules include:

Flour: The dough should be made with highly refined, soft wheat flour (Tipo 00) or a mix of Tipo 00 and a higher protein flour (such as Manitoba) is also allowed.

Water: Only fresh, potable, natural water should be used, free from impurities and at a specific temperature range. Basically, your pizza water needs to be drinkable. The dough’s hydration should be between 55% and 59%.

Yeast: Only fresh compressed yeast should be used, avoiding any chemical leavening agents.

Salt: Fine sea salt should be used, which adds flavour and helps control yeast in the fermentation process.

Toppings

The AVPN’s guidelines for Neapolitan pizza toppings are focused on simplicity and quality. They include:

Tomato Sauce: Only San Marzano tomatoes or other approved varieties should be used for the sauce. The tomatoes should be crushed by hand or with a manual mill, without additives or preservatives.

Mozzarella Cheese: Neapolitan pizza traditionally uses fresh mozzarella cheese made from cow’s milk (otherwise known as fior di latte). The cheese should be sliced into pieces and evenly distributed over the pizza.

Additional Toppings: Proper traditional Neapolitan pizza is usually sparsely topped, and the use of additional ingredients should be minimal. Classic toppings include fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, oregano, and anchovies.

Technique

Neapolitan pizza-making involves specific techniques to achieve the desired result:

Dough Mixing: The dough should be mixed by hand or with low-speed machinery to ensure proper hydration and gluten development. Water is usually poured into a bowl or container first, with the yeast then added and dissolved, before the flour and salt are mixed in, ahead of kneading.

Long Fermentation: The dough should undergo a slow fermentation process, typically lasting 24 to 48 hours, allowing flavours to develop and the dough to rise gradually. Shorter fermentation times are allowed by the AVPN, but 24 hours is seen as somewhat standard.

Shaping the Dough: The dough should be handled gently when shaping, to preserve the air within the dough. It’s shaped into round discs by stretching and hand-tossing, ensuring an even thickness and a slightly raised edge, which will form the crust (also called the ‘cornicione’).

Assembly: The pizza is assembled by spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce over the dough, leaving a border for the cornicione. Fresh mozzarella cheese and any additional toppings are then added, without overloading the pizza.

Cooking: The pizza is carefully slid into the preheated wood-fired oven using a long-handled peel. It’s positioned near the intense heat source to achieve rapid cooking. The pizza is regularly rotated to ensure even cooking and to prevent too much charring.

Presentation: Once cooked, Neapolitan pizza should have a soft and chewy crust with a leopard-like spotting, a light and airy interior, and a flavourful combination of toppings. It is traditionally served uncut, allowing the diner to savour it by tearing slices apart by hand.

The Oven

The AVPN emphasises the use of a wood-fired oven for authentic Neapolitan pizza. The oven should be heated to an extremely high temperature (at least 400°C / 750°F), allowing the pizza to cook quickly and achieve the characteristic blistered and charred crust. The baking process should take no more than 60-90 seconds.

In Summary

Making “proper” (Neapolitan) pizza means sticking to the strict guidelines laid out by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN). From the dough to the toppings, and the hand techniques used to the oven, every aspect of the pizza-making process plays a vital role in crafting an authentic Neapolitan masterpiece.

Following the AVPN rules will have you making and eating pizza that’s as close as possible to the uniqueness and grooviness that is a proper traditional Neapolitan, without even needing a trip to Naples…

Stay Groovy. Eat Pizza.