Just returned from a comprehensive "pizza tour" of Italy (it was a commercial tour geared for pizzaholics like myself, all foodies, some well known cookbook authors etc.)...specifically Naples, Rome, and a few places on the Almalfi Coast...and thought I'd share my findings. I'm originally from Chicago, so my pizzasense is a little different than most! (Although Geno's East is pizza, it really crosses into something else entirely in my opinion. Fantastic in its own right.) I bake in a wood fired oven, (see pic of my blue Earthstone oven) and try to adhere to the traditional DOC standards when I make a Pizza Margherita.
After trying pizzas (15 pies in 15 days, all different places) I found the following to be true...
Pizza in Naples is very different from the U.S...their ingredients are super fresh., sometimes to the detriment of the pie as a whole...i.e. most of the pies I tried were rather soupy, due to the high moisture content of the super fresh bufula di mozzarella...(or it could have been simply ovens that are not quite hot enough due to my mid morning visits to avoid crowds)...or it could have been a lack of milling the San Marzanos properly to get as much extra moisture out as possible.
The crust is slightly chewy, with a pleasant burnt edge flavor, but never dry or brittle.
The use of oil on the pie before insertion into the oven, sometimes olive oil, or sometimes even lard (da Ciro), gave some pies an incredible flavor. I had trouble finding a "pepperoni" pizza in Naples, as "pepperoni" in italian is a green pepper. However, a Diavola pizza, contains a spicy salami very similar to our peperroni...
Most pies, adhering to the DOC standard were quite tasty, with most places offering a small selection of toppings. All made a "Margherita" and a Marinara. They used very little basil on top, with some, only a couple of leaves. The leaves were cooked on the pizza, not placed on afterwards.
The best pie I could find, was also the least expensive: Da Michele. A Margherita was 3.50 Euros, and was the best balance of texture and flavor.
I'm attaching a pic of Da Michele's pie, as well as one of mine attepted after my return...I still don't have it down, but will keep at it til I can replicate that pie!!
As far as Rome was concerned, different pie entirely. Crust was more brittle and dry, but pies were ever so thin and baked up crisp. Not bad, but nothing quite like the Naples pies. Also, they used mozzarella cheese from cow instead of water buffalo, so it wasn't as creamy (and slightly tart) like the Neopolitan pizzas.
I encourage anyone into pizza to make the trek out to the Naples, and see what this is all about. I've heard many stories, read many books, seen many pictures, but with food, you've gotta try it!!!
Ciao for now,
Dan from L.A. (by way of Chicago)