(All natural, fresh, and non-processed---needless to say)
The Flour must be 00, which stands for Doppio Zero (Double Zero). This flour is the most finely ground and highly refined. Though 00 is so soft it seems like powder, it is actually is quite high in protein. Since 00 is very hard to find outside of Italy, All Purpose flour is the closest substitute. The flour used for pizza is never bleached, bromated, or enriched. The strength of the flour is measured with a number before a “W”. The ideal strength for pizza flour would be from 220W - 380W, with 220 W being the weakest and 380W being the strongest permissible. Stronger flour means it absorbs a greater amount of water. The perfect flour for pizza should absorb about 70 % of its weight in water. The stronger gluten content of the flour helps the dough expand and give it the chewy and fluffy qualities that true pizza is known for. Some Italians even blend their own flours to achieve the desired W strength. For example, the strong Canadian Manitoba flour (400 W) can be blended with a weaker 180 W flour for a perfect balance.
Luckily, some flour producers save us a big headache and make flours specifically for pizza.
The Tomatoes must be San Marzano, coming from in and around the town of the same name. The growing area includes the vast provinces of not only Naples, but also Salerno and Avellino. These tomatoes are simply the best for sauce. Grown near Mt. Vesuvius, the volcanic soil makes these unique tomatoes the most sought after in the world. Compared to others, San Marzano tomatoes have a thicker flesh with a robust taste, fewer seeds, are slightly sweet, and have lower acidity.
The Cheese must be either Mozzarella di Bufala or Fior di Latte, if the Bufala is not available or preferred. Mozzarella di Bufala is a fresh cheese made from buffalo milk. Fior di Latte is a cow's milk mozzarella that can be substituted for the Mozzarella di Bufala because it has less water, which seems to make it more suitable for baking and melting.
The best Mozzarella di Bufala comes from the cities and surrounding areas of Battipaglia (Province of Salerno) and Aversa (Province of Caserta). The very best, I must say, comes from Battipaglia. And there's nothing like it.
Mozzarella di Bufala is a pasta filata cheese. Pasta Filata means “spun paste” in Italian and this cheese is made by stretching and kneading the curd after it has been given a bath in hot whey. People who make this cheese typically have a slight reddish tint to their hands from keeping them in the hot bath while shaping the cheese to obtain a pliable texture. The name is derived from the Italian verb “mozzare” which means to cut off and refers to the cutting off of the cheese when shaping it.
True Mozzarella di Bufala contains only 100% buffalo milk but nowadays can be “cut” (tagliata in Italian) with cow's milk to reduce costs. A very popular, and in my opinion preferable, form or shape of Mozzarella di Bufala is the bocconcino. Bocconcino means “mouthful” and refers to not only the size of these 2-inch balls of Mozzarella di Bufala but also to the appetizing appeal of the food. The word Bocconcino can also be used for other foods such as veal. There is also Mozzarella di Bufala Affumicata, which is smoked. A popular form of Mozzarella di Bufala is the “Treccia”, which means braids and refers to the braided shape of the elongated, oval-shaped Mozzarella. Treccia is sometimes preferred to use on pizza because it has less water. Burrata is a Mozzarella stuffed with a cream filling and hails from the southern region Puglia. Though Burrata is an exciting variation of Mozzarella, it is not used on pizza.
Mozzarella di Bufala MUST be eaten the day it is made. If you have never been to Battipaglia and eaten a Mozzarella di Bufala within a few hours of it's birth from the very “caseificio” they make it at, then you never had real OR good Mozzarella di Bufala. The cheese is sold in its whey or water. It must have a crunchy, shiny exterior that, once broken, yields an orgasmic offering. One touch to the Mozzarella di Bufala should easily have the cheese oozing and dripping a few drops of its liquid content.
The whole idea of importing Mozzarella di Bufala is stupid. People get excited because it “came from Italy” and “it's hard to get” but it gets loaded with preservatives to prevent it from spoiling, giving it a suds-y and acidic mouth feel. Imported Mozzarella di Bufala can take quite a bit of time to get somewhere NO MATTER what they tell you at the store. “It arrived today” is not a good reason to eat it. The fact that it arrived means that it left the location where it was made and probably is no longer good. Sometimes I prefer eating pizza topped with a well made Fior di Latte Mozzarella fresh from a place near my home then risk an old Mozzarella di Bufala. (That is, if it were made by people who know HOW to make it).
The Yeast traditionally came from the air. Before commercial yeast became available, the dough was naturally leavened from airborne yeast. This sourdough was saved and used as a starter-dough for future pizzas.
Salt - Sea salt works best
Pizza Dough (Pasta per Pizza)
The yeast is diluted in warm water and then added with 00 Flour. Traditionally (and preferably) the yeast is natural and not commercial. This means the dough attracts yeast from the air and becomes sour. Days later, this dough is used as a “starter” to add to the other new batch of pizza dough. The mixture is covered, giving it time to rise.
Once risen, it is put into a well of flour and some salt, mixed and then kneaded continuously until elastic. You must NOT add any cooking fat (ex: olive oil). This kneaded dough is then shaped into balls and lightly dusted with flour on a wooden board or marble slab. The dough balls are then covered with a cloth and kept in a warm area with no air current and allowed to grow to twice its original size. Then the dough is kneaded again and shaped into pizzas with a diameter of about 10 - 12 inches.
All this is done by hand. No machines, rollers, or devices are used. The dough must be kneaded gently. In bad American pizzerias, you will find so called pizza makers slamming the dough and pounding it forcefully. This is done not only because the dough is of poor quality but also because it was probably refrigerated and possibly over mixed. The flipping in the air and stretching acts are usually nothing more than show.
For the classic Pizza Margherita, tomato sauce is added to the disk shaped dough in a circular fashion. Then the Mozzarella is cut usually into cubes and added on top of the sauce randomly, resembling various spots. The tomato sauce underneath must still be visible and should not be covered with cheese. Fresh Basil and Olive Oil are put on top of the pizza before being placed onto the floor of the wood fired oven.
The wood used to fire the brick ovens is usually olive branches. Sometimes oak, birch, cherry and other fruit-woods are used. The wood must be dried before used to fire the oven.
If you don't have the right oven, it can never be the same. People are easily fooled by the phrase “Brick Oven”. While it is important that the oven be made of bricks, the flavor comes from the wood (usually olive, oak, cherry, or other fruit woods) used for fire. The properly lined bricks store the intense heat, which is the reason a brick oven is necessary. The oven must be built with correct proportions so the fire can send the flames to the top of the dome and then can be evenly distributed throughout the oven and cook the pizza evenly on the top and bottom. The ancient Italians (Romans) were so smart at so many things, they figured this out millennia ago. A visit to the 2,000 - year old, time-frozen city of Pompeii shows these ovens, which are still being copied today.
Many ovens outside of Italy are advertised as “brick ovens” but still use gas. Gas ovens can never reach the 900 degrees that wood ovens can and is necessary to cook the pizza. Most gas ovens usually heat up to about a little more than half the necessary level, while a few can go up to almost 700. The wood used to fire the oven and cook the pizza must be in the same area of the oven and somewhat close to the cooking pizza. Coal, on the other hand, can heat the oven to 900 degrees and can make great pizza but it can never be authentic because coal was and is never used in Naples (or Salerno). Also, coal is kept in a separate compartment, away from the cooking pizza. Coal can take a little more time to cook, which is why pizzas made in coal ovens tend to be drier. The heat from coal also is quite ferocious and lacks the gentle embrace that fire from wood gives. I remember as a child, and still today, becoming hypnotized by the flames in my aunts' ovens. As scared as I was, I found it relaxing watching the flames elegantly dance.
I must say that while wood burning ovens are the best and only way to make true Pizza, coal is second best. There is less of a difference between coal oven pizzas and wood oven pizzas than there is between coal or wood oven pizzas and gas oven pizzas. Gas ovens also need more time to cook the pizzas, which is why they also tend to be drier than True Pizza. Pizzas cooked in wood burning ovens need less than 2 minutes to cook. The extreme heat in the ovens should reach about 900 degrees. The fire and pizza must be continuously monitored and the pizza should be turned while cooking in the oven to ensure an even cook.
In Naples, the pizza is brought to your table whole and uncut. You use a fork and knife to cut it, then if desired, is folded and eaten by hand. As a side note, Italians were using forks 300 years before other Europeans.