Are You a True Neapolitan – Pizza?

Nicli AnticaHow often have you thought about pizza?  It has a crust, sauce, toppings, herbs and cheese.  Sounds simple, but it takes true skill to make simplicity seem simple, and delicious.  Take into consideration a Neapolitan pizza.

I was invited to learn about Neapolitan pizza at Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Gastown.  The owner, Bill McCaig, undertook training in how to create a true Neapolitan pizza, and gave us an introduction to Nicli Antica Pizzeria and the things he needed to do in order to be certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN).

The making of a “True Neapolitan Pizza” requires strict adherence to the culinary discipline of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, from the preparation of raw ingredients to the cooking method in an approved wood fired oven (Bill purchased his oven from Italy). Only organic “Pomodoro di Napoli”, fresh mozzarella, fresh herbs, and fresh yeast are permitted.  Bill tries to locally sources his ingredients but still does need to bring in some Italian products, such as the cheese.

Pizza fresh from the oven

Pizza fresh from the oven

What is the Verace Pizza Napoletana?

The VPN is an international non-profit association founded in the mid-1990’s by a group of Neapolitan pizzaiolis (pizza makers) seeking to cultivate the culinary art of Neapolitan pizza making. In June 1998, they were officially established as a denomination of control (DOC) by the Italian government, a designation that made the VPN a legal entity able to give special designation to pizzerias who meet strict requirements that respect the tradition of the art of Neapolitan pizza making. (Source: Association of Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), 1998 Charter).

Making a Neapolitan Pizza

We learned about the steps to make and recognize a Neapolitan pizza.  The dough is made simply from flour, water, and salt, then hand rolled.  Each ball of dough for a pizza is exactly 220 grams. When the dough is rolled out and baked it should be no more than 0.4 cm in the center.  The pizzaiolo pushes the dough from the centre of the pizza to the edges to make a diameter not greater than 35 cm.  The pizza is baked in a wood-fired oven for between 60-90 seconds.  That’s fast!

It is then served without being sliced.  We were told that this is the traditional way from Naples to serve a Neapolitan pizza, as it tends to be a bit wetter.  The wood to fire the oven is any hardwood that does not impart flavour. Nicli Antica uses birch.

The first Neapolitan pizza created was the Marinara pizza, that had for the first time in Europe, tomatoes on the pizza!  The second Neapolitan pizza created was the Margherita pizza, which used mozzarella cheese for the first time, along with tomatoes.

We were served a Margherita pizza and enjoyed it with a glass of Tormaresca Neprica 2011 redwine from the Puglia region of Italy. The pizza crust edge was crispy, the center was wetter than other pizzas I’ve had, but that is OK.  The wetness came from a very fresh, vibrant tomato sauce.  Not spicy or full of herbs, just bright tomato flavour.  On top of the pizza were sprigs of fresh Italian basil.  I probably could have eaten the entire pizza myself.

Margherita pizza at Nicli Antica

Margherita pizza at Nicli Antica

Talking with the Chefs

Bill McCaig trained Chef David Tozer in the intricacies of making a Neapolitan pizza.   David was trained through the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, and worked in various restaurants, including the Rocky Mountain Flat Bread company.

Chef David Tozer with a penchant for pizza

Chef David Tozer with a penchant for pizza

I had a chance to talk with both Bill and David,  finding out the back of restaurant tasks of these men.  I learned about them having to start making the dough at 9am every day, between 40-80 kg, which are then divided into the 22o gram balls.  The tomatoes are all hand crushed, and sounds like very hard work.  An evening’s work can be very taxing; for example on a Friday or a Saturday night, they could produce 250 pizzas each evening.  I can truly appreciate their hard work.  I look forward to trying more of their pizzas over the summer.  Enjoy!