Don’t Call Neapolitan Pizza “Plain”
That first bite of a true neapolitan pizza can be transformative: the airy crust, rounds of cheese, bright chunks of San Marzano tomatoes. Decidedly different from the cheese-heavy, dense-crusted pies common in US restaurants, these pies are so delicious because of a carefully balanced ratio of sauce to cheese to crust that never feels too heavy. In Tucson, Italian restaurants that serve this style of pie follow a tradition that some say is centuries old.
Simple Construction, Premium Ingredients
The pie’s simple construction allows its carefully sourced ingredients to take center stage. Chefs begin with soft italian flour, which they use to make dough. They toss and flattened it into 10- to 12-inch-wide crusts for an individual serving—you’ll rarely find a neapolitan pizza in “football” size.
A classic neapolitan is the margherita pie, a close cousin to a plain cheese pizza but still worlds apart. For this one, the pizzaioli brushes onto the crust a thin layer of sauce, usually made from San Marzano tomatoes. Crusts are then topped with broad basil leaves and rounds of mozzarella, sparingly enough that the sauce peeks through, unlike an American pizza, which typically gets smothered in cheese and toppings. Chefs also get specific with the cheese, which must be buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of the water buffalo that graze in the Campania region of Italy.
The pizza is then fired in a super-heated wood-burning oven and emerges with its signature crust: puffed, slightly charred, with a crisp crunch.
Where It Came From
The first pizzeria was said to have opened in 1830 in what was then known as Neapolis, hence the moniker of this pizza style. Now known as Naples, the town is considered the birthplace of all pizza, though its signature pie diverges sharply from today's American pie. But in reality, the dish originated in Pompeii, where they ate savory flat cakes known as pitta until the city fell in 79 AD. It wasn’t until the dish reached nearby Neapolis that pitta became what we all know today as pizza.
Where to Crunch on Crust
Get a taste of history by sampling the pies at these pizza places in Tucson:
- Pizzeria Bianco: Waits run long at the Tucson outpost of the beloved Phoenix restaurant. James Beard Award winner Chris Bianco’s pizza has been called the best in America.
- Vero Amore: A wood-burning oven fires true Italian-style pies, served alongside blackened salmon sorrento and pork osso buco.
- Sauce Pizza & Wine: Dough stretched by hand forms the base of each fresh-made pizza at this fast-casual eatery.
- Mama’s Famous Pizza and Heroes: The family-owned neighborhood pizzeria also serves square-shaped sicilian deep-dish and strombolis and calzones.
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