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How to Make Neapolitan Pizza

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Tantalizing the taste buds of countless gourmands around the world, the Neapolitan pizza is more than just a dish – it’s an art form, deeply rooted in the traditions and culture of Naples, Italy. With its soft, elastic dough, rich tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and aromatic basil, each bite transports you straight to a charming piazza in the heart of Naples. But how did this renowned dish come to be? And what makes it so distinctive from its numerous pizza counterparts? This guide explores the history of Neapolitan pizza and how to make Neapolitan pizza from scratch.

Brief history of Neapolitan pizza

The origins of the Neapolitan pizza can be traced back to the 18th century in Naples. Back then, the city was bustling with working-class folk, and the pizza was primarily a street food for the poor. Simple, quick to prepare, and requiring only a few inexpensive ingredients, the early Neapolitan pizzas were a far cry from what’s considered gourmet today.

However, the pizza’s status was elevated in 1889 when the Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito crafted a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita of Savoy. Using ingredients that mirrored the colors of the Italian flag – red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil – the Pizza Margherita was born. With royal approval, the Neapolitan pizza’s popularity soared not just in Italy but eventually around the world.

Why it’s different from other pizzas

The authentic Neapolitan pizza stands apart in several distinct ways. First and foremost is its strict adherence to traditional methods and ingredients. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, an organization founded in the 1980s, set specific rules for what can be called a genuine Neapolitan pizza. From the use of ’00’ flour and San Marzano tomatoes to the dough’s fermentation process and wood-fired cooking technique – everything is meticulously defined.

Furthermore, its characteristic soft, thin center and slightly charred, bubbly crust give it a unique texture and taste profile. Unlike the thicker and denser American pizzas or the cracker-like Roman variations, the Neapolitan pizza offers a delicate balance between a soft chew and a slight crisp.

In essence, the Neapolitan pizza is a testament to the beauty of simplicity and tradition. When the finest ingredients meet time-honored methods, the result is nothing short of culinary magic.

The Fundamental Ingredients

The magic of how to make Neapolitan pizza lies not just in the technique, but also in the ingredients. Each component, simple in its essence, is chosen with care, ensuring quality and authenticity. When combined, these ingredients harmonize to create the unmistakable flavor and texture of a true Neapolitan pizza.

The Dough

Importance of ’00’ flour
The foundation of any pizza is its dough, and at the heart of Neapolitan pizza dough is ’00’ flour. This finely milled flour, originating from Italy, boasts a soft texture and high extensibility. It lends the pizza its characteristic lightness and softness, making it easy to stretch and giving it a delicate, airy cornicione.

Water: The role it plays in the dough’s texture
Water is not just a means to combine ingredients; it significantly impacts the dough’s final texture. The hydration level in Neapolitan pizza dough can range between 55% to 65%, ensuring the dough remains soft, elastic, and easy to shape by hand.

Salt: Its influence on taste and fermentation
While a seemingly minor ingredient, salt is pivotal. Beyond flavor enhancement, salt regulates yeast activity, slowing down fermentation and ensuring the dough rises steadily, resulting in a balanced and flavorful crust.

Fresh yeast or sourdough starter: The natural leavening agents
Traditional Neapolitan pizzas can use either fresh yeast or a natural sourdough starter. Both serve as leavening agents, helping the dough rise. While fresh yeast provides a quicker rise, a sourdough starter imparts a unique tang and depth of flavor to the crust.

The Toppings

San Marzano tomatoes
These tomatoes, grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius, are revered for their sweet taste, low acidity, and rich tomato flavor. Their thick consistency makes for a perfect pizza sauce, oozing with authentic Italian taste.

Fresh mozzarella cheese
Authentic Neapolitan pizza often uses Mozzarella di Bufala, made from buffalo milk. This cheese is creamier, tangier, and more luxurious than cow’s milk mozzarella. However, both varieties melt beautifully, lending the pizza its iconic gooey and stretchy texture.

Fresh basil leaves
Basil isn’t merely a garnish; its aromatic quality infuses the pizza with a distinctively fresh and peppery note, making it a vital ingredient in the traditional Margherita variation.

Extra virgin olive oil
Drizzled atop before baking, extra virgin olive oil enhances the flavor profile, adding a fruity richness and creating a beautiful golden hue on the crust as it bakes.

Preparing the Dough

Creating the perfect Neapolitan pizza dough is both an art and a science, demanding meticulous care at every step. From mixing and kneading to fermentation, the process may seem deceptively simple. Yet, it’s these foundational steps that pave the way for that characteristic soft, chewy crust that Neapolitan pizzas are celebrated for.

Mixing and Kneading

In the authentic Neapolitan tradition, the dough is mixed and kneaded by hand. The process begins with a well in the center of the ’00’ flour, into which water, salt, and yeast are added. The ingredients are mixed to form a shaggy dough, followed by a careful kneading process. The key is to work the dough until it’s smooth and elastic, yet not overworked, to achieve the desired soft, airy texture.

Though traditionalists swear by hand-kneading, many modern pizzaiolos utilize stand mixers for convenience without sacrificing quality. If you opt for this route, use a low-speed setting to mimic the gentle action of hand kneading. The objective remains the same: a smooth, elastic dough that is neither too sticky nor too dry.

The Fermentation Process

The fermentation process is critical for developing flavor and texture in the dough. Slow fermentation allows the yeast to fully metabolize the sugars in the flour, resulting in a dough with complex flavors and a lighter, more digestible crust. It also allows for better gluten formation, which contributes to the dough’s elasticity and extensibility.

For authentic Neapolitan pizza, the dough typically ferments at room temperature for about 8 to 12 hours. However, some recipes recommend cold fermentation in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours for a more nuanced flavor profile. Both approaches have their merits; the choice often depends on how much time you have and what flavor characteristics you seek.

By paying close attention to each of these aspects of dough preparation, you’re well on your way to mastering the art of Neapolitan pizza making. The love and care invested in the dough will surely shine through in the final, delectable product.

Shaping and Prepping the Pizza

After the meticulous process of fermenting the dough, we’re met with a blank canvas, poised to be transformed into a culinary masterpiece. Shaping the pizza and applying toppings might seem like intuitive steps, but there are techniques and traditions embedded in these phases that are pivotal to the final taste and texture of the authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Stretching the Dough

In the heart of Naples, you’re unlikely to see a rolling pin in sight when it comes to shaping the dough. Hand stretching is the traditional method, allowing for gentle manipulation that preserves the air bubbles in the dough, leading to a light, airy crust. Using the fingertips and palms, the dough is pressed and stretched, rotating in a circle until the desired size is achieved. On the other hand, while using a rolling pin might seem more convenient, it compresses the dough, eliminating those desirable air pockets and resulting in a denser crust.

Neapolitan pizza is famed for its thin center, which allows for quick cooking and a soft, slightly chewy texture. The edges, or “cornicione,” should be thicker, forming a puffy and airy crust when baked. Aim for a center thickness of about 2-3 millimeters, while allowing the edges to remain thicker for that beautiful, bubbly crust.

Applying the Toppings

The sequence in which you layer the pizza toppings can greatly impact the final taste and texture of the pizza. Start with a thin spread of San Marzano tomato sauce, ensuring it covers the base but isn’t overly generous to prevent sogginess. Then, distribute chunks of mozzarella evenly, followed by fresh basil leaves, torn or whole. Lastly, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil completes the setup before baking. Remember, less is more. The beauty of Neapolitan pizza lies in its simplicity, where each ingredient gets a moment to shine.

Achieving balance in your toppings is essential for a harmonious flavor. Overloading the pizza can lead to a soggy base and overshadow the delicate dough. Use about 60-70 grams of cheese for a typical 12-inch pizza, ensuring even distribution. The tomato sauce should be applied sparingly, with the goal to just coat the base. Basil and other toppings should complement rather than dominate. The aim is to have a bit of everything in each bite, where flavors meld seamlessly.

In these stages of pizza creation, it’s essential to handle the dough with love and respect. It’s a dance of precision and intuition, with the culmination being a pizza that not only looks inviting but tastes divine.

Cooking the Pizza

Learning how to make Neapolitan pizza requires understanding the intricacies of the cooking process. The journey of crafting the perfect pie sees all your prior efforts come together, transforming the prepared dough and toppings into the delicious pizza we cherish. From traditional wood-fired ovens to innovative modern adaptations, the method of baking is pivotal in producing the iconic charred crust and melted toppings characteristic of Neapolitan pizza.

Traditional Wood-Fired Ovens

There’s a charm and authenticity to wood-fired ovens that’s hard to replicate. Beyond tradition, these ovens offer a unique cooking environment. The high, consistent heat, combined with the aromatic smoke from the burning wood, imparts a distinctive smoky flavor and ensures rapid cooking. This quick baking process ensures the crust remains soft and airy on the inside while gaining a slightly charred exterior.

Temperature is crucial for Neapolitan pizza. Traditional wood-fired ovens can reach temperatures of 800°F (430°C) or even higher. To achieve the desired cooking profile—a crispy base and a perfectly melted cheese topping—the pizza needs to cook quickly, usually in just 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Regularly stoking the fire and using a reliable oven thermometer can help maintain the optimal temperature.

The Rise of Affordable Home Pizza Ovens

In recent years, there’s been a surge in the popularity of home pizza ovens. Brands like Ooni, Bertello and Gozney have made it possible for enthusiasts to recreate pizzeria-quality pies right in their backyards. These portable ovens, designed specifically for pizzas, can reach the high temperatures previously only achieved by traditional wood-fired ovens. With sleek designs, fuel versatility (wood, gas, or pellet), and rapid heating capabilities, they’ve become a favorite for many who wish to bring the Neapolitan pizza experience home. Their rise in popularity underscores a global appreciation for authentic pizza and a desire to craft it personally.

Modern Oven Adaptations

If you’re using a conventional home oven, you won’t be able to achieve the soaring temperatures of wood-fired ovens. However, you can still make a respectable Neapolitan-style pizza. Preheat your oven to its highest setting, typically between 500°F (260°C) and 550°F (290°C). While this will necessitate a longer cooking time (usually 7-10 minutes), it’s essential to keep a close eye on the pizza to prevent overcooking.

To mimic the intense heat of wood-fired ovens, many home chefs turn to pizza stones or pizza steels. These tools absorb heat and then transfer it rapidly to the pizza, allowing for a crispier base. Preheating the stone or steel for at least an hour before baking can make a marked difference in the pizza’s crust texture.

In essence, while traditional methods remain the gold standard for Neapolitan pizza, modern innovations and adaptations ensure that pizza aficionados everywhere can attempt to recreate this culinary wonder in their kitchens. Whether through traditional or contemporary means, the goal remains the same: a pizza that’s a joy to both craft and consume.

Serving and Enjoying

Once the aromatic pizza emerges from the oven, golden and bubbling, the temptation to dive right in is often immense. However, the serving and savoring of this masterpiece is just as crucial to the overall experience as its creation. From the way it’s sliced to the drinks and sides accompanying it, these final touches can elevate your Neapolitan pizza experience to sublime heights.

Cutting Techniques

In Naples, you might encounter a pizza served whole, uncut, intended to be eaten with a fork and knife. This method preserves the soft, delicate center and allows diners to relish every element in its pristine state. However, for a more communal or casual setting, pizzas are sliced. Modern ways typically involve cutting the pizza into triangular wedges using a rolling pizza cutter. This method provides even slices, ensuring everyone gets a taste of both the center and the puffy, crispy edge.

Pairing Suggestions

The beauty of Neapolitan pizza is its versatility in pairings. A crisp, light-bodied white wine like a Pinot Grigio or Falanghina can beautifully counterbalance the richness of the cheese and olive oil. For those who prefer reds, a young, fruity wine like a Chianti or Primitivo can complement the tang of the tomatoes and the char of the crust.

Beyond wines, many enjoy their pizza with beers or non-alcoholic drinks. A pale ale or a lager can work wonders with the pizza’s flavors. For a non-alcoholic pairing, consider sparkling water with a splash of lemon to cleanse the palate or a traditional Italian soda for a sweet contrast.

Side Dishes
Neapolitan pizza is quite satiating on its own, but if you’re looking to create a fuller spread, consider simple Italian salads like a Caprese or a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. Marinated olives, grilled vegetables, or a classic antipasto platter can also offer delightful contrasts in texture and taste.


The guide on how to make Neapolitan pizza takes you through a journey, from choosing the finest ingredients to savoring the final bite. This process is a celebration of tradition, artistry, and flavor. Making this pizza is more than just preparing a meal; it’s a representation of Neapolitan culture and a testament to the beauty of simplicity. Each layer, from its airy crust to its rich toppings, narrates a tale of centuries-old traditions handed down through generations.

But while the guidelines for making Neapolitan pizza are rooted in tradition, there’s always room for individual expression. The world of pizza-making is vast, and the beauty lies in its adaptability. Every oven, every hand, every choice of topping adds a unique twist, leading to endless possibilities. This dynamism invites both seasoned chefs and kitchen novices to immerse themselves in the experience, to experiment, and to find their signature touch.

To every reader embarking on this delicious journey: embrace the heritage, revel in the process, and most importantly, savor every bite. Your perfect combination, that ideal balance of flavors and textures, awaits discovery. Whether you’re replicating the streets of Naples in your kitchen or adding a personal flair, the essence of Neapolitan pizza—its heart and soul—remains constant. Enjoy the art, the taste, and the joy of one of Italy’s most cherished culinary treasures.

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Jeff is a pizza enthusiast with over 15 years of experience of working in pizzerias.