The Big Pizza Debate
Very few debates in Italy provoke more division than which pizza people prefer: Neapolitan or Roman. There are naturally other types of pizza in Italy, but these tend to be a variation of focaccia with toppings – but pizza, real Pizza, is round delicious and either comes from Rome or from Naples.
Let’s be clear, Roman pizza is very much the underdog in this competition. A Neapolitan probably doesn’t even consider Roman pizza anything but a wafer with some toppings on it. The case for Roman pizza isn’t helped by the fact that internal (and international) migration of people from the Campania region brought their delicacy all across Italy influencing perceptions of what pizza should be. As a matter of fact, competition for the best pizza restaurants regularly feature 7 out of 10 restaurants from Campania, with the rest from Rome and Neapolitan pizza joints in the north. So there shouldn’t be any competition… should there? In old Roman times they would say de gustibus non est disputandum (“In matters of taste, there can be no disputes”) and pizza (in Italy at least) does originate from Roman times.
Ancient Roman Pinsa (with an N & S, from the word for stretched) is the precursor of modern pizza and focaccia. The types of flour used (spelt and barley) reflect the times, and a sourdough starter would have been used. It had a high water content and lots of olive oil to make it digestible. Naturally the toppings would not have included tomatoes. The ancient grains are making a comeback – particularly as more people are seeking to counter the high gluten content of white flour.
Neapolitan pizza has to be made in a certain way and only in that way to be labeled Neapolitan (there even is a kind of pizza police to check this), and the rules are stringent: from water content (minimum 60%) to the proofing time (between 12 and 24 hours), to the temperature in which the wood oven is set (between 450 and 500 celcius, which means the pizza cooks in less than 2 minutes) and naturally only the best ingredients. The Pizza itself has a high and soft crust, soft centre, is luscious, delicious, light, has to be folded to eat and is quite a substantial meal in itself.
Roman pizza on the other hand is very thin, flat, has a crispy crust, and is slightly crunchy (scrocchiarella romans would call it). The dough has less water (55%) and more oil (EVOO naturally), it’s proofed in cool fridges and cooked for longer (about 3 minutes) in wood fired ovens that are not as hot (350C). The pizza itself is considered lighter than its cousin from the south, easier to digest (an important factor here in Italy), you can have more than one since they are not as filling.
So, which one is the best? De gustibus and tradition play an important part here: do you want to eat just pizza or do you want other things in your meal as well (or two pizzas!)? Do you prefer an indulgent fluffy high base or crisp light base? Find a way to try them both, and let us know which one you prefer… (We prefer the Roman variety, but don’t tell our friends from Naples!)