Pizza with Pizzazz

Pretend you’re in Italy this winter by hosting a pizza party at home!

Photography courtesy of Paul Lally

Our notion of pizza is a lot different than a traditional pie made in Italy; and visitors to Naples, the home of pizza, are surprised to find they do not receive the “Americanized” version they were expecting.

Pizza making is taken very seriously in Naples. There are rules surrounding what can be classified as a true pizza as determined by the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, an organization that certifies pizza makers. To earn the coveted designation of la vera pizza Napolitano (true Neapolitan pizza), strict rules must be followed. Everything from the ingredients to the temperature of a wood-burning oven is laid out in an eleven-page document!

There are really only two classic Neapolitan pizzas. The most well known is Pizza Margherita. Named for Queen Margherita, this recipe was the invention of a pizza maker by the name of Raphael Esposito (no relation). He constructed a pizza representative of the colors of the Italian flag: sliced plum tomatoes or tomato sauce for red, basil for green and buffalo mozzarella cheese for white. The other classic is Pizza Marinara, which combines tomatoes, oregano, olive oil and garlic.

Pizza is a universal and very old food. It started out in ancient times as nothing more than flour and water mixed into a flat disk of unleavened dough that was baked on hot stones. In some regions of Italy, such as Umbria, unleavened dough is still made but baked on a hot clay tile called a testo. 

Neapolitan pizza has character. Never more than dinner-dish size in diameter,Neapolitan pizza is meant for one person and never shared. It is thinner in the middle and thicker at the edges. It is wetter in the middle, too, with it edges slightly charred. The ratio of topping to crust is very important. A Neapolitan pizza is never piled high with ingredients, and is either eaten with a fork and knife, or folded in half and called a libretto (little book).

Oh, and one more thing to know; if you order a “peperoni“ pizza in Naples, don’t expect some sort of hot dry sausage. Peperoni means peppers in Italian. You have been warned.

Of course, you can buy pizza, but it is so much fun to make your own. Friday night is pizza-making night in my kitchen, but we don’t enjoy pizza until Saturday, preferring to let the dough rise slowly and be refrigerated overnight. You only need four ingredients to make the dough: warm water (about 110ºF); dry packaged yeast; a high-gluten, allpurpose flour, such as King Arthur; and salt. Once combined and allowed to rise, these ingredients work their magic. I use very little yeast (1/4 teaspoon) when making the dough because this controls how fast the dough rises; a slow rise gives a tangier, almost sourdough-like taste. However, if you are in a hurry and want a more rapid rise, go ahead and use the whole package of yeast—but don’t expect the same flavor.

Mary Ann's Pizza Recipes

Basic Pizza Dough

Two-Crusted Pizza/Pizza Rustica

​Pizza Palermo Style

Nutella Pizza

Sweet Pizza with Fruit Topping

More of Mary Ann Esposito's recipes you may be interested in

Cuccidatu (Sicilian Fig Cookies)

Makes 2 dozen

Sicilian Chocolate Cookies from Modica

Makes 5 1/2 dozen

Mom’s Date Bar Cookies

Makes 16 bars

Sicilian Chocolate Spice Cookies

Makes about 28 large cookies

Mom’s Dried Cherry Cookies

Makes 4 1/2 to 5 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutter; you can make more by making these cookies mini-size.
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