The bustling city in the shadow of a volcano has a passion for food which explodes onto the street, and which has been exported around the world: Naples gave us pizza.
Cooked in about 90 seconds at an intense, 800-degree heat, pizza is the soul of Naples, says master pizza maker (or pizzaiolo) Antonio Starita. At 80 years old, he embraces tradition, and says he did not like making pizza, at first. “I liked it,” he admitted, “when I saw the money coming in!”
Pizza’s popularity means big business, clear to anyone who’s scrolled social media and seen the growing number of ads for at-home pizza ovens.
Chef Stefano Callegari, who has restaurants in New York and Rome, says, far from being a threat, those home ovens may actually boost business. “I shouldn’t say so, but it’s so easy to make,” he said.
So, how would they help his business? “Because it makes you closer with pizza,” Callegari replied. “And even people, they challenge: ‘Oh, it’s better pizza I bake than this famous pizzaiolo,’ you know?”
The beauty of pizza is its simplicity, he told correspondent Seth Doane. And there are few rules, though he claims, “You must know that pineapple on a pizza is something like devil for Italian pizzaolo!”
He uses an unusual ingredient: ice! It melts, and he tops the cooked crust with pecorino cheese and pepper – a twist on the dish Cacio E Pepe.
For home pizza makers, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which usually teaches pros, offers an online class with oven maker Ooni, whose sales soared during the pandemic. Joining from the U.S.: a student in Virginia, and Stefanie and David Javier, who set up a pizza oven on their back deck, bringing a bit of Naples to Queens, New York.
Doane asked them, “Isn’t it easier just to go down the street and order a pizza?”
“I guess it is convenient,” David replied, “but there’s a little bit of us also being able to eat what you made, satisfaction from that.”
It’s not just beginners using these ovens. Pizza chef Salvatore Santucci, who has huge wood-burning ovens at his pizzeria in a Naples suburb, showed Doane where he makes the dish when he’s at home … his garage.
“A Neapolitan pizza cooks via heat, not flame,” Santucci said. “Whether we have a gas, wood or electric oven, if all three are at the right temperature, the pizza cooks exactly the same.”
But, back at Starita Pizza, the traditionalist was not convinced. Antonio Starita has made pizza for a pope, and has an almost religious reverence for his oven. “As long as I’m alive,” he said, “I’ll never let them take away my wood-burning oven.”
For more info:
- Pizzamaker Antonio Starita’s Starita a Materdei, Naples
- Don Antonio, Manhattan
- Chef Stefano Callegari’s Trapizzino, New York City
- Online courses from Verace Pizza Napoletana Association
- Pizzeria Santucci, Pozzuoli, Italy
- Ooni Pizza Ovens
Story produced by Anna Matranga. Editor: Emanuele Secci.
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