I hope everyone is doing well with this craziness happening around us. Last month I wrote about pizza dough, and now I’m going to write about the toppings for a pizza. The most common first topping for a pizza is a pizza sauce. This is different than a pasta or tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is made by cooking the tomatoes with aromatics while a true pizza sauce is an uncooked puréed tomatoes and aromatics.
Neapolitan pizza is where the dish got started. Naples is in the southern region of Italy and lies on the west coast of the Italian peninsula. On a map of the boot-shaped Italy Naples is just above the ankle. It is the third largest city in Italy behind Rome and Milan. Since Naples is close to the Mediterranean Sea, vegetables are a big part of their diet. As well, since it is on the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea, seafood is another big part of the diet.
In Naples they take their pizza very seriously. For a pizza to be called Neapolitan there are strict guidelines on how it is made, the ingredients and the cooking method. The prize designation for a pizza is a VPN, which stands for Vera Pizza Napoletana, also called the Veraci Pizza Napoletana.
Many people go to Naples to get a certification showing they have learned to make the Neapolitan pizza, but the certification can cost about $2,000. The guidelines for a VPN have a few components, such as the sauce, which is limited to one of two types: marinara and margarita. The former consists of tomatoes, oil, oregano and garlic. The latter sauce includes mozzarella, grated cheese and basil. The second component is the texture. The finished pizza should be soft elastic and easy to manipulate and is foldable. The third criteria is that the dough must be made with finely milled white flower with a 00 designation. This designation shows how finely ground the wheat is. The most commonly available here in the United States is the King Arthur brand, unless you want to mill your own. The VPN would prefer that.
Additionally, no dried yeast or fat is permitted in the dough; if it needs to be added the requirement for yeast must be freshest or natural yeast as in sourdough. Additionally, the fermentation should be at room temperature about 77°F and the dough ball needs to be completely made by hand with no mechanical or rolling pins allowed. The oven must be wood fired only and the baking temperature should be between 800° and 900°F. The baking should not exceed 90 seconds.
Some people say the tomatoes from San Marzano are the best, but there are bad tomatoes that come from that region. Another thing that you should do is buy a DOP tomato, which is a protected designation of origin.
White pizza traditionally comes from the northern part of Italy. This is where the temperature is more seasonal and there are a lot of dairy farms that produce white cheeses. White pizza is made from a sauce very similar to an Alfredo sauce, but much richer. It’s made with milk, salt, pepper, garlic and Parmesan cheese that thickens with a roux (butter and flour).
Now onto the cheese. There are a huge number of variables as well, and the marinara pizza has no cheese. Most pizza is made with shredded mozzarella, which is easy and convenient. If you buy it shredded, it has been coated with cellulose, which is made from wood pulp. The cellulose is an anti-caking product. This prepackaged product melts well and has a very mild flavor to it. You can also put fresh mozzarella cheese on the pizza. This is the same product before the drying part. Fresh mozzarella is another variable including what milk it is made from. The most common is from the cow but the water buffalo is the original milk used to make fresh mozzarella and is still available today. Another thing to think about is the water content of the fresh mozzarella. When heated, the cheese can exude water while cooking, so you should test different brands. No one wants extra water on the pizza.
For hard cheeses many people use Parmigiana-Reggiano, which can be quite expensive. A cheaper version many people use is Grana Padano, which will be cheaper but still costly. Pizza dough is very versatile and can be used for any course, including dessert.
Who knew there was this much to learn about pizza?