Explore the Italian style and marketing approaches
The combination of San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil has yet to be superseded in the pizza game. Its simplicity in perfection is unrivaled. It’s very serendipitous that the Italian flag, the inspiration for the naming of the Margherita, in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, has those three colors which yielded those three iconic Italian ingredients. If there was blue in the Italian flag, who knows what would have become of the original Margherita.
Neapolitan or Napoletana styles have not gone anywhere since their inception. It’s only grown from its base. The original three styles of pizza, Margherita, Marinara and Mastunicola (rendered fat, a sprinkling of cheese, and basil), still exist today. With that said, nothing compares to the overall popularity of the Margherita.
In Naples today, a popular ingredient on pizza is pistachios, roasted by the fire; it is truly unique. I love this topping, but I rarely see it on American pizza. The toppings of 100 years ago to those of today all share the same ethos, simplicity and perfection. Naples style crust is exceptionally unique and specific and not easy to duplicate. Regardless of your pizza crust, be it Detroit style, New York, Chicago, Roman, Sicilian, or St Louis; fresh mozzarella, San Marzanos and basil will always work on any pizza. So, what else can work? What other notes can we pull from Naples to translate to our own in-house crust?
I’m very lucky and happy to have multiple styles of pizza at my restaurants. At Andolini’s Sliced we have our own Tulsa style, which is a mix of classic New York style and California ingenuity with an Oklahoma flour. Additionally, at Sliced, we pay homage to New York style, Romana, as well as Napoletana, cooked in a wood-fired oven. I get to see first-hand what works in translating the Napoletana mindset across multiple styles of pizza. In each variation of this, I do use a Margherita. With a pizza style so simple, you’d think options would be limited, but they are not.
Mozzarella: In Naples, fresh mozzarella typically prepared from pre-cut chunks. However, you can slice it from the ovaline or tear it thin or in large chunks. This will affect how it melts, thinner shred turns hard and burns faster, larger chunks, and the top will sear, especially in a wood-fired oven. When placed close to the edge the mozzarella will burn and harden. If you use a block shred instead of fresh mozzarella, it will melt in the classic Americana fashion with entirely different results and lose some authenticity.
San Marzano: From the plum out of the can, you can place it through a food mill for the classic texture of a thicker sauce free of tomato flesh. Or you can rip apart the plums for a more rustic look. You can remove the seeds before milling for a more uniform sauce or leave them in. Classically the Marzano won’t need a lot of help. Still, if applying this style of tomato to a different pizza crust, you can choose how you want to modify it, be it adding EVOO or Romano to the sauce or any other variation you prefer in your base sauce.
Basil: How crazy can this topping get? it’s just leaves, right? Well, the devil is in the details. In Naples, basil is sometimes put on the pizza right in the center, one to three leaves that will not be in every bite of the pizza once cooked. Almost done for show rather than taste. I like the mozzarella placed on top of each ripped basil leaf to protect the basil from burning. That’s how I prepare wood-fired basil as a topping. For my other styles of crusts, I like to julienne the basil and place it on post bake, so it’s spread evenly. Sometimes it’s ripped and placed on the pizza right before going to the table to maximize the fresh scent of newly torn basil. I genuinely do not care for the look or taste of burnt basil leaves but to each their own.
A make line in a Naples kitchen is simple; all killer, no filler ingredients. Some salami added to make it a Diavolo or the lack of tomatoes to make it a Bianco. Everything in its simplicity. I love simple prep lines, its streamlines execution.
For these styles, you can name them what they would be on a Naples menu or something completely different that you create. When you do name it the same, it becomes an homage and takes on the responsibility of being authentic. If you love the flavor combination but do a significant variation to it, you set yourself us for failure naming it the same as Naples. For example, I would never name a pizza that has julienne basil on it a Margherita because you would never see that in Naples.
Therein lies the marketing aspect of this. It will never come off wrong as long as it’s performed with some level of authenticity. Diced tomatoes or balsamic glaze on a pizza seeking an authenticity pull screams phony and bush league. Not just to pizza purists but to anyone who’s ever been to Italy or loves Napoletana. I mentioned earlier pistachios on a pizza is very Napoletana even though not pervasive. There is a lot of simple ingenuity to glean inspiration from in Naples.
A style I saw in Naples called the four stations; it used two thins rolled pieces of dough to separate the Naples style pizza into quadrants where four different toppings styles placed in each of the four quadrants of the pizza. I thought this was a very unique and exciting idea. We do it ourselves and it sells very well and garners a lot of praise.
Another way to link Naples to your menu is blending the regions in your naming of items. For example, we named a Napoletana style pizza the Parma because it had Prosciutto de Parma and Parmesan Reggiano on the pizza. Using buffalo mozzarella as opposed to cow’s milk mozzarella lends itself to the authenticity of Naples and the naming of items with a Napoletana flair. All these ways of integrating Naples into whatever style of pizza you serve distinguishes you and your brand as knowledgeable, as well as thoughtful to your customer. The marketing of it as such only serves to advance your cause. If you are seeking the push for authenticity in your brand approach, earnest and knowledgeable Naples style homages work. When done thoughtfully, I’ve never seen it not work regardless of the style of pizza crust.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma.