Pizza vs. Pizza: Roma, Napoli, or Sicilian?
For many Canadians, pizza doesn’t have too many complexities. They’re round, with some sort of generic crust, and a bunch of toppings depending on what kind of meats and veggies we are feeling at the time. But in Italy, pizza is much more complex. From the thickness of the dough to the precise moment when oil is applied, you could say making pizza is an artform. Italians take their pizza so seriously that Italian authorities have even gone so far as to create pizza police — no, we’re not kidding.
Napoletana Pizza started being “policed” in 1984, by the Vera Pizza Napoletan (VPN) The goal was to protect the cultural history of the traditional Napoli pie, and to ensure anyone trying to cash in on that history took the necessary steps to replicate the true process.
In 2004, the Italian Agriculture Prime Minister enacted a similar set of rules that insisted on traditional techniques disallowing the use of machines and rolling pins, and exclusively allowing Italian ingredients to be used; only toppings like tomatoes from San Marzano and mozzarella from Italy were permitted. Focus was placed on fresh, traditional toppings, which is a stark contrast to the processed toppings many North Americans are accustomed to today.
So what makes pizza truly authentic? Italians differentiate pizzas depending on their origin with three main varieties at play: Roma, Napoli and Sicilian. Let’s take a look at their differences and what makes each type so unique.
Pizza created in the Italian capital of Rome tends to be less ‘policed’ than say, pizza created in Naples. Roman pizza dough usually has a thin to medium-thin crust. It is made with olive oil, flour, water, yeast, salt and a bit of sugar. The Roman dough tends to be a bit heavier than the Napoli because of the addition of olive oil.
Pizza Roma is usually split into three styles:
1) Traditional: This is the pizza described in the article. Lower hydration than Napoli keeps the pizza stiffer and more crunchy on the crumb.
2) Roma Al Taglio: Pizza baked in thick blue steel sheet pans, often up to 4-5 feet large, served by weight or length
3) Romana Tonda: Similar dough to a Napoletana, but the use of a rolling pin pushes the dough as thin as possible, giving that airy crisp thin bite.
You could say the pizzas we eat in North America are similar to the Roma style, because of their weightier texture. Using olive oil gives the crust much more flavour and allows the dough to be easily stretched out by hand. Makers of Roma pizza also use a tougher wheat so the final product doesn’t lose its crispiness in the process. The crusty dough also means you can pile on the toppings without worrying that the whole pizza will collapse — which is usually the case with its Neapolitan counterpart.
When walking around in Rome, you’ll often see their signature pizzas being sold in storefronts. And they’re usually not round, but rectangle instead. They’re sold in square slices, freshly cut from the rectangular sheet pans they’re baked in.
You could say Italy’s pizza police would be offended by Roman-style pizza because their toppings go way beyond the simple list decreed by the government. Common Roma pizza toppings include mushrooms, artichoke hearts, spinach, prosciutto and even hard-boiled eggs.
The pizza battle between Rome and Naples has been going on for decades. Pizza makers in the city of Naples would argue that they’re the true guardians of authentic Italian pizza. They have, after all, been doing it the exact same way for over a century. Naples has its own pizza association dedicated to protecting the Napoli style. Members are always on the lookout for imposters and alert the pizza police for any affronts to Italian cuisine.
Napoli dough must be made with only flour, yeast, water and salt. There is no sugar added like its Roman counterpart, and definitely no olive oil. This makes the dough very light, soft, and chewy. It doesn’t have the crispiness we’re used to in North America either. There are also rules surrounding the use of tomatoes. Napoli pizzas must only use San Marzano tomatoes — nothing else will do. This places a heavy demand on San Marzano growers near the volcanic plains south of Mount Vesuvius.
Neapolitans always bake their pizzas in a wood-burning brick oven. The bottom is often made of volcanic rock, and the pie must be cooked on the oven’s floor. This is very different from the way Roman pizzas are baked, usually in rectangular pans or trays. You’ll often see black marks on Napoli pies because the edges get charred in the wood-burning oven, which gets extremely hot.
Napoli pizza is often described as ‘soupy,’ and it’s very difficult to eat by hand. Some people choose to use a knife and fork because the cheese and sauce tend to accumulate in the centre. However, in Naples you’ll see a lot of people pinching the crust in the middle, creating what is know as a “libretto” — the italian word for booklet — to eat their Napoli pizza. Although tasty, some North Americans are not used to this texture and may prefer the Roma pizza instead.
One of the oldest pizza styles in Italy, the Sicilian is known for its thick, spongy crust that can be up to 1” high. You could say the crust is most comparable to Chicago’s deep dish pizza. The bottom is usually crunchy because it’s pretty much fried in a well-oiled square tray. Like Roma pizza dough, Sicilian dough also contains olive oil and is allowed to rise. It’s usually topped with foods easily available in the region like tomatoes, garlic, onions, olives and anchovies. Sicilian style pizza is also topped with a grated hard cheese, like pecorino. One of the unique characteristics of Sicilian pizza is that the sauce is often spread on top of the toppings, to keep it from soaking into the thick dough.
Although Sicilians enjoy their pizzas all year round, they make it a point to serve these pies especially hot on December 7th. This is when Italians celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. During the warmer seasons, Sicilians serve their pizzas at room temperature.