Thin, soft, elastic and utterly moreish, the Neapolitan pizza is one of the world’s culinary gems – so much so that the art of the Neapolitan pizza maker has been recognised by UNESCO as part of the intangible heritage of humanity.
The rules for what constitutes a Neapolitan pizza are strict. The base has to be made from a dough consisting of just four ingredients – wheat flour, yeast, salt and water – formed by hand without the help of a rolling pin or other machine. The dough should have a hydration level of around 60%, and the pizza has to be cooked very quickly, in around 90 seconds. Other Italian pizzas, by contrast, might include oil in the dough, have a higher hydration level and be cooked more slowly.
In Naples, a finished pizza comes in just two forms: the margherita and the marinara. Nothing else will do. Here we’ve provided the recipe for the more familiar margherita. To make a marinara, simply dispense with the cheese and basil and replace with slices of garlic and a scattering of oregano.
We’ve veered away from tradition in one way: a seasoned Neapolitan pizza maker will shape the base by flicking it from hand to hand in a rotating, slapping motion. We’ve provided instructions for a less authentic but also markedly less risky method, which will do the job until you’ve mastered the basics.
- Serves: 4
- Cooking temperature: 450°C
- Cooking time: 6-7 hours proving, 90 seconds cooking
For the dough
- 1kg ‘00’ flour
- 2g fresh baker’s yeast (or 1g dry brewer’s yeast)
- 620ml tepid water
- 30g table salt
For the margherita topping
- 2 x 400g tins of San Marzano PDO tomatoes
- A generous pinch of fine sea salt
- 800g buffalo mozzarella
- A handful of basil leaves
Tip the flour onto a large wooden board or a clean work surface. Pour the salt onto one side of the flour pile and the yeast onto the other side, making sure they don’t come into contact with each other. Gradually pour half the water over the yeasty area, while mixing it into the flour on that side of the pile with your hands. Once the yeast has dissolved and you’ve thoroughly mixed that half of the flour, begin mixing in the part of the flour with the salt, while gradually adding the rest of the water.
Once everything has been combined, begin to vigorously knead the dough – use the heel of one hand to stretch it out and roll it back up, while the other hand acts like an anchor. After about 10 minutes, the dough should feel smooth, tight and elastic.
Leave the dough for 10 minutes covered with a damp cloth to keep from drying it out. Divide into balls of about 230-300g each, then place the balls on a tray about 3cm apart.
Cover and leave at room temperature for approximately 6-7 hours, in which time they should double in size. If you want to make the dough the day before you use it, leave the balls to prove for 6 hours then store them in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove from the fridge 1-2 hours before you plan to cook.
Light your oven and bring it up to a temperature of 450°C.
Take the mozzarella out of your fridge and unwrap it so that it dries out a bit. Drain the juice from the tinned tomatoes, place the tomatoes in a large bowl then use your hands to break them down into a chunky puree. Season with a little salt.
Time to roll out your first pizza base. A Neapolitan base is made by spreading the dough with your hands. Lightly flour the worksurface, then use your fingertips to firmly press out from the centre of the ball, causing it to stretch. Don’t push all the way to the edge – ensure you leave a 1cm rim largely untouched. Turn the dough over and repeat the pressing-out process on the other side until you have a flattened disc. Work quickly, as the dough can stick to the work surface if left too long. An extra dusting of flour will help keep things moving.
Lift the newly flattened dough ball on the backs of your hands, ensuring the weight is on your knuckles, which are pushing against the rim, and that your fingertips and nails are not going to poke a hole in the dough. Using the backs of your hands, stretch the dough out as far as you can without tearing it. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat.
Do this a few times until you end up with a base around 25-30cm in diameter, consistently thin but with a slightly thicker rim. Transfer to a well-floured pizza peel then add your toppings.
Spread a layer of pureed tomato over the base. Tear the mozzarella into small chunks and distribute evenly. Finally rip up some basil leaves and sprinkle on top. Don’t overload the pizza – less is more.
Slide the pizza off the peel into the centre of the oven in one quick movement. After 45 seconds, turn the pizza 180 degrees to ensure it cooks evenly. Cook for 90 seconds in total, then remove from the oven. Drizzle some olive oil over the pizza before serving (but never before cooking). Slice evenly and eat straight away.