True Italian: The Neapolitan Pizza
Made with fresh, all-natural ingredients and cooked in a wood-fired oven, the Neapolitan pizza has made it to Madison.
By Neil Heinen
A little more than ten years ago, Stefano Viglietti, owner and head pizza maker at Il Ritrivo in Sheboygan, was one of just ten pizza makers in the United States to be certified by the Verace Pizza Neapolitan Association (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, or AVPN). Now there are at least four in Wisconsin alone and more than seventy-five in the country.
The requirements are simple, but precise. Ingredients must be fresh, all natural and non-processed. The type of flour, tomatoes, cheese, basil, olive oil, salt and yeast are specified—no substitutions. And the pizzas are to be cooked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at about nine hundred degrees.
The result is a pie roughly circular, with a crust thin in the middle, crisper at the edges, that is simple and fresh with unobstructed tastes of tomatoes, cheese and basil. That’s it. For pizza purists there’s nothing better.
In Madison, Novanta and La Brioche turn out wood-fired pizzas. La Fortuna does as well, from a wood-fired oven on wheels. Pizza Brutta’s Margherita Con Bufala is an exceptional pie with the added attraction of locally sourced ingredients. But only Café Porta Alba and Naples 15 are AVPN certified.
The demands of American tastes require all these restaurants to offer variations on the authentic Neapolitan pizza. But as Café Porta Alba’s owner Vincenzo Pugliese points out, toppings have been about it for pizza innovation, until now.
Pugliese has adopted a Naples tradition, the montanara, and added it to his menu. The dough is flash fried, drained, placed in a skillet, topped with oven-roasted tomato sauce and (in Porta Alba’s version) smoked buffalo mozzarella and finished in the oven. You can get it on the streets in Naples, but it’s finally gaining popularity in the U.S.
Pizza has come to be prized for its ability to accommodate almost limitless variations. But when it comes right down to it, the closer one stays to the original, the beautiful, clean simplicity of the Neapolitan pizza, the better.
Photo of Naples 15 wood-fired pizza by Nicole Peaslee.