“Pizzaiolo” (pizza maker) Nick Strawhecker chats about Verace Pizza Napoletana and Wines To Match.
In order to talk about Neapolitan pizza, we need to first talk briefly about life in Naples. A good place to start is Fred Plotkin’s book, “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler.” Plotkin is a noted expert in Italian food, wine, and music, and notes in his book that Neapolitans are “vibrantly alive” and love to gather in the streets and cafés to “spend time together, drink wine, to sing, to race cars, and to make love.”
The famously animated Neapolitan people live in a densely populated city, and they “tend to focus intently” on the details of life, according to sommelier and wine writer David Lynch. They are apt to have fiery public disagreements about how well a suit has been tailored, whether or not the crema of their espresso is too thin or too thick, and what should and shouldn’t be regarded as “vera” (true) Neapolitan pizza.
Arthur Schwartz, in his excellent book, “Naples at the Table,” takes an exhaustive look at the history of pizza in Naples and the culture that surrounds it. I, like most Americans, believe that anytime is a good time for pizza, but Schwartz tells us that in Naples, “most people eat their big meal in the middle of the day and go out for pizza at night.” I was also surprised to learn that “most Neapolitans would never consider baking a pizza at home and haven’t since the first pizzeria opened” (around 1830). But this certainly can’t be considered the birth of the pizza pie because flat breads have existed in Naples since ancient times.
Schwartz tells us that “the word pizza is related to pita” and that “it is a good bet that both pizza and pita are descended from the year-risen breads of the Egyptians.” It wasn’t until the introduction of the tomato to Italy from the New World that “Neapolitan” pizza was born. The first style of Neapolitan pizza had just tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and oregano, which is essentially what marinara pizza is today. Later, in 1889, Queen Margherita from Piedmont traveled to Naples and a new pizza was created in her honor. This was essentially an embellished marinara with mozzarella and whole leaves of basil. This gave the pizza its “tricolore” or three colors which resembled the Italian flag and the Pizza Margherita soon overtook marinara pizza in popularity.
Neapolitan pizza today is protected by its own DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and must be made with exacting standards from the Verace Pizzeria Neapolitana (Association for True Neapolitan). These “certified” Neapolitan pizzerias have now spread across the globe including the United States. Spacca Napoli in Chicago and the 2Amys in Washington, DC are two notable examples, but there are many more. In these establishments, the dough may only be made using soft-grain doppio zero flour, fresh yeast, water, and sea salt.
Allowed toppings are: Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes; mozzarella di bufala or fresh cow’s milk mozzarella; extra-virgin olive oil; and fresh basil or dried oregano. Fresh garlic may only be used on the pizza marinara. All Neapolitan pizzas must be cooked in a wood-burning oven. Much is made about bufala mozzarella, which has more than double the fat of cow’s milk, making it excellent for melting. Not only can this be a challenge to find but some pizzaiolos prefer the fresh cow’s-milk mozzarella because bufala mozzarella gives off its milky liquid along with juicy chopped tomatoes. These factors make Neapolitan pizza Margherita softer than outsiders expect it to be: it has a thin but not crisp crust, all the better to for eating it “a libretto,” which means to fold it in like a book, a common way for Neapolitans to consume a pizza on the go.
In a pizzeria, its common to see Neapolitans eat their pizza with a knife and fork, and Schwartz mentions in his book that there is a special art to eating pizza this way. Neapolitans carve up the pizza “as delicately as they do a fine fish with bones, eating only the inside seasoned area, never cutting into the [outer] crust, never touching it, leaving the Il Cornicione (the big frame) intact on their plates.”
Plotkin informs us that the typical Campanian “drinks beer or mineral water or even (heaven forfend!) Coca-Cola with pizza, but one classic pizza wine is Asprinio di Aversa, if you can find it.” A quick search on wine-searcher yielded a single result, a 2002 Villa Caraffa Asprinio Aversa at a shop in Illinois. David Lynch describes the Asprinio wine as crisp and dry and sometimes sparkling. While I admit to never having sampled Asprinio with pizza, I’m more inclined to believe that a dry, high-acid red is a better match for tomato.
Sparkling, or at least fizzy, is definitely the way to go. As with beer, the carbonation is just the thing after a bite of cheese and tomato. I believe, however, that the ultimate pizza wine is red and of the dry, and frizzantino variety. That might sound a bit obscure to some ears, but to Italians, dry fizzy reds are an important category and are produced in nearly every region. I lean toward the dry Brachetto produced by Andrea Sottimano in Piedmont, or Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna, a wine I frequently blog about.
Nick Strawhecker, owner and pizzaiolo of Dante Pizzeria in Omaha, encountered a dry fizzy red during his travels in Italy and asked if I could locate it for his new restaurant. It’s produced by a winery called Grotta del Sole in the province of Gragnano in Campania. They call this “Pizza-cola” in Naples, and it’s what the locals drink with their pizza. It’s a fizzy blend of Aglianico, Piedirosso, and Sciasinasso. To test our pairing theory, we ordered a bottle from K&L Wine Merchants, and threw a couple of pizzas in the oven. We concluded it is the ultimate pizza wine.
posted on November 5 2009 by jesse