Naples is the birthplace of pizza. We were lucky enough to be able to spend a little time in Naples and eat at some of the most celebrated pizzerias. Read about our experience and the best recipe for making Neapolitan style pizza at home below.
After much deliberation, we finally decided on which two pizzerias we were going to eat at during our day in Naples. The first was L’Antica da Michele.
This unassuming shop was first opened in 1906 and is probably the most famous pizzeria in Naples. If you plan to eat here, be prepared for a wait. We showed up an hour before lunch time hoping to beat most of the crowd. As you can see from the picture below, we didn’t succeed in avoiding the crowd. This place is so popular that I would imagine no matter when you showed up, there would be a long line.
But trust me, it is so worth it.
L’Antica only serves two types of pizza; marinara (sauce, oregano, garlic) and margherita (sauce, mozzarella, basil). These are the two classic varieties and they don’t stray from that. You can order a small (the serving size for one person) for only 4 euro.
This is the entire kitchen area. These men work together like a machine. They pump out pizzas faster than you would think is humanly possible. Here’s their system:
The stack of clear boxes is full of dough. The man at the counter grabs the dough and stretches it (no tossing or rolling) over a pizza paddle that the man in the middle holds up to the counter for him. He then tops it with a ladle of sauce, a handful of mozzarella, a couple of basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. The man in the middle then moves the pizza paddle into the pizza oven and slides the pizza off. The man on the right is watching the pizzas cook. After about 60 seconds he pulls the pizza out with his paddle and slides it onto a large plate that the man it the back has ready for him. The pizza then immediately goes to the table.
In the 10 minutes or so that we stood there waiting for our pizza we probably saw them pump out at least 50 pizzas. All but two of the pizzas were margherita. It is definitely the more popular variety.
Here is a picture of our beautiful pizza from L’Antica.
The biggest difference in the flavor of this pizza compared to the many other margherita pizzas we ate in Italy was that in this pizza we could really taste the flavor of the wood used in the pizza oven.
You can’t really see it in the picture of the oven above, but the entire oven (other than the space where the pizza is slid in) is full of burning wood chips. The oven burns really really hot which is why the pizza cooks so quickly and I would imagine also why you can taste the wood-fired flavor in the pizza itself.
It was really delicious and very different than any of the other pizzas we ate. It’s worth the wait. Definitely eat here if you get the chance.
For dinner, we chose to eat at Gino Sorbillo. This pizzeria opened in 1935 and is highly acclaimed. This line pictured below goes down the street and wraps around the corner. We took this picture 20 minutes before the restaurant opened for dinner service.
The unique thing about Gino Sorbillo is that they don’t just serve the traditional marinara and margherita style pizzas. They have a menu with several pages full of pizzas with different toppings to choose from all served on a perfectly executed Neapolitan style crust.
We chose to order a margherita (because can you go to a pizzeria in Naples without getting one?) and a pizza topped with a soft local cheese, pancetta, and basil. Both were absolutely delicious.
In Italy, one pizza is supposed to serve one person. They are the diameter of an american medium pizza, but the crusts are quite thin and they are light on the toppings. If you order a pizza to share in an Italian pizzeria, don’t be surprised if the waiter becomes quite confused.
These are our “contemplating pizza” faces.
Mine looks more like a “lost in pizza bliss” face. There is definitely peaceful bliss to be found when eating pizza in Naples.
There is a specific way to eat Neapolitan pizza and its not with your hands. They bring you a full, uncut pizza and a knife and fork. You are meant to cut the pizza into pieces, then fold it up and eat it with a fork.
You can see from these pictures that when I say Neapolitan pizza has a thin, soft crust, I truly mean thin, soft crust. You really couldn’t pick it up and eat in in slices if you wanted to.
If you order a pizza takeaway they will cut it into quarters for you. Locals on the street can often be seen eating a folded up quarter of a pizza while on the go. It’s been the street food of choice for generations.
Making Neapolitan style pizza is definitely an art. It’s not just any old pizza crust with any old toppings. There are hundreds of years of history and development that have gone into this style of pizza and I want to respect that by not creating my own version. The Guardian has a great article about Neapolitan pizza which includes a recipe from the Italian pizza masters that you can read in full here. I have also written the recipe below. It’s not at all difficult and can be done without any fancy equipment or a pizza oven. The pizza comes out just like the ones we had in Naples.
If you’ve ever been curious about what true Italian pizza tastes like you should give this recipe a try!
1. To make the dough, add the flour to a large mixing bowl and make a crater in the center, so that it looks a little like Mount Vesuvius.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour it into the middle of the crater. Using your hands, start pushing the flour into the water. When it reaches the consistency of custard, add the salt, then continue mixing until it comes together as a dough.
3. On a clean work surface, knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes and knead for another 10 seconds.
4. Compact it into a ball, tucking the dough in on itself, and cut into 250g balls – each 250g ball should give you a 30cm circular base.
5. Leave these to rest on a large tray or chopping board under a sheet of cling film, at room temperature, for at least eight hours, although 24 hours is best.
Naples Style Margherita Pizza
For the crust
- 7 cups of OO flour (875 g)
- 1.5 g fresh yeast
- 4 1/2 tsp salt (25 g)
- 2 1/8 cups cold water (500 ml)
For the sauce
- 14 oz can of Italian tomatoes (400 g)
- 1 large pinch of salt
- 6 leaves of basil
For the toppings
- 1 1/2 cups fresh mozzarella (375 g)
- Olive oil for drizzling
- 4 leaves of basil for each pizza
- To make the dough, add the flour to a large mixing bowl and make a crater in the center, so that it looks a little like Mount Vesuvius.
- Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour it into the middle of the crater. Using your hands, start pushing the flour into the water. When it reaches the consistency of custard, add the salt, then continue mixing until it comes together as a dough.
- On a clean work surface, knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes and knead for another 10 seconds.
- Compact it into a ball, tucking the dough in on itself, and cut into 250g balls – each 250g ball should give you a 30cm circular base.
- Leave these to rest on a large tray or chopping board under a sheet of cling film, at room temperature, for at least eight hours, although 24 hours is best.
To make the sauce, it’s really important you use good quality canned Italian plum tomatoes. We use San Marzano tomatoes from the Italian region Campania. No need to cook them: just blitz or mash them up with a pinch of salt and the basil, keeping a bit of texture.
Dice the mozzarella into small cubes.
- Make the pizza base. In Naples, rolling out a pizza is a cardinal sin, but we’d recommend using a rolling pin if you’re doing this for the first time. Just don’t roll to the edge of the dough – that stops it from getting a nice crust. I stretch the dough like we watched them do in Naples. I start by running my hands around the edge to create the round shape. Then, I place the dough on the counter and stretch it to the size I want. The dough should only be about 1/8 thick.
- Turn the oven on full blast until it’s properly hot, then switch over to the broil. Heat up a large frying pan on the hob. Add a pizza base to the pan without oil. Cook until the bottom of the base has browned and the crust has slightly risen – this should take between 90 seconds and a minute.
- Meanwhile, ladle on a thin layer of tomato sauce, leaving 2.5cm around the edge for the crust to rise.
- Sprinkle over the mozzarella.
- Less is more with the toppings – a drizzle of olive oil on top and three or four leaves of basil is all you need.
- To heat the top, put the pan under the grill, as close to it as possible, and cook for another minute or so until the cheese has melted and the top crust has browned and risen.
- Serve hot and repeat with the rest of the dough.