Jan 22, 2010

Pizza Part 3

Welcome back to part 3 of La Pizza series.

So far we've eaten our way through

An introduction to pizza and the history behind Italy's most famous food
Various kinds of Italian pizza and popular toppings

Today we will be closing this pizza series with a virtual tour of the birthplace of pizza, a brief stroll down the dimly lit alleyways of Napoli, for one last slice of authentic pizza and a nosedive in la vita napoletana.

The best pizza in the world is probably at Da Michele

There’s a pizzeria half-hidden away in Napoli’s dark alleys of the seedy central train station area, that serves perhaps the best pizza in the world. Da Michele is a small joint, and always a crowded one. Not even paper tablecloths on the small marble tabletops, and the glasses are all different, some are worn out around the rim from having been washed so many times. Two pizzas on the verbal menu only, marinara and margherita, three sizes each: small, regular and monster. Beverages available are mineral water, Italian beer, sodas. The prices are ridiculously low, and the line outside is unbelievable. The first time I went there, introduced by locals who acted like they were initiating me to a secret society meeting–complete with code handshake and solemn nods–it was a rainy autumn night. After a 20-minute wait outside standing under flimsy umbrellas, we were finally assigned a table by the oven, and while our order of pizzas was in the oven, I got to watch the pizzaiolo’s skills up close. When the food arrived, we clinked beer mugs to friendship and attacked our monsters.

As I moaned with pleasure, biting into my steaming slice of exquisite margherita, I saw what looked like disappointment on the faces of the napoletani sitting around me. They shook their heads and tsk tsk tsk-ed noisily. Our waiter hovered over our small table, apologetic. I didn’t know what the heck was going on, moderately devoid of all that was happening, I ate away, estatic at a pizza the likes I had never had before. What got my attention finally was that none of my friends were eating! Was I not in on something? 

Apparently the rainy night’s damp air had done something dreadful to the dough, tainting it, in their expert opinion. I found it divine, and no matter how much they insisted on the opposite, I ended up eating their leftovers and ordering one more. Next time you’re ever in Napoli, be sure to make a stop at Michele. Even if it rains.

Da Michele
Via Sersale 13
Tel. +39 081 5539204

Pizza a credito

Sophia Loren is singing. A wry smile on her face as she fries her pizzas on a makeshift steaming pan in the street. Customers stop by for a hot and fragrant pizzella fritta more to peer at her voluptuous cleavage rather than for the leavened dough she is frying. Her chubby husband is fanning the flames under the oil and mouth agape, stares transfixed not at Sophia’s ample décolletage, but her hand. “Where’s the ring?” Sophia’s expression betrays she knows. “It must have slipped in someone’s pizza,” is her prompt reply.

The adventures of retrieving the engagement stone narrated in Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece film "L’Oro di Napoli," in the Pizza a Credito episode starring Loren, narrates the impetuous chase in and around the narrow alleys and homes of Napoli’s Quartiere Sanità, only to end with Sophia’s lover returning the ring she had not mislaid in the pizza dough, but in his bed in the opening sequence.

The title of the episode owes its meaning to the old Napoli tradition of buying street food–and these fried delicacies in particular–on credit. The sign behind the characters says, "Eat today, pay in 8 days."

Another similar Napoli custom is that of the caffè sospeso. When a Napoletano is in the mood, instead of only paying for one espresso at the bar, that person pays for two: their own and one for the next client in need. So later, anyone not able to afford un caffè can simply walk up to the counter and ask the barista "any caffè sospesi?" The fortunate beneficiary of caffè sospeso will never know who to thank. A superb act of faith and compassion. Offering a 'hanging coffee' is like saying "it's on me" to the rest of the humanity. Caffè sospeso is an exclusive Neaplitan custom, and reflects in some ways the city's philosophy of life.

At the end of Part 1 I had promised to share another pizza recipe. Did you think I had forgotten? A promise is a promise. Here it is, your own Sophia-style pizzette!

A little pre-planning is necessary. First of all, prepare your steadfast basic pizza dough. If you double the quantities and freeze part of it you can thaw it later and make homemade pizza with different toppings listed in part 2. (That is of course bearing in mind that in this case, you should own a professional wood-fired brick oven. I know, I tend to repeat myself, but I can never stress the oven thing enough). For pizzelle fritte, fortunately, all you need is a frying pan.

For the sauce 

While you wait for the dough to rise, prepare a basic tomato sauce with:

5-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
500 g (1.1 lb) tomatoes, peeled, seeded and puréed in a blender; or a 14-oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 spicy peperoncino (optional)

Again, quantities are abundant, but it's good to have sauce handy for any recipe.

In a saucepan over medium heat, pour the olive oil and add the garlic. Before it begins coloring, add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, until the tomato sauce firms up, stirring frequently.

Leave the pan uncovered to allow the sauce to thicken. To prevent it from spattering, cover the pan with a mesh top or place a wooden spoon across the edge, so that the lid is partially open and the steam can escape.

You will eventually have to heat oil for frying in a large skillet, so take that timing into consideration as well.

When the dough is double its original size, punch it down to eliminate air bubbles.

Divide it into small orbs, each about 5 cm (2”) wide. Flatten each piece to make round disks about 12 cm (4-5”) in diameter.

Bring your oil to frying temperature, and fry your pizzelle 3 or 4 at a time until they are fluffy and light golden. They will balloon irregularly, don't worry, that's what's supposed to happen.

Place them on paper towels on a large plate and let the oil drain briefly. The pizzelle should not be crisp, rather soft and chewy, with a full crumb and large air pockets.

Slather each with an abundant spoonful of tomato sauce, top with a fresh basil leaf and 1 heaped tablespoon of grated Parmigiano. This particular type of pizza must absolutely be eaten piping hot. Tongue-burning hot.

This concludes our journey in the vast world of Pizza as I know and love it.
I hope you took as much pleasure in reading this series as I did in writing it.
Arrivederci from the warm and sunny rolling hills of Italy...

...I'm off to the frozen expanses of northern Sweden* until February on a very cold and interesting assignment.

*latitude 63.1°N longitude 14.3°E


  1. Okay, the pizza in that picture looked delish! I wish I knew how to make more italian dishes- I am glad I found your blog! It is great!

  2. This was such a wonderful post! The pizza looks amazing! I will definately try making this Sophia-style pizza!

  3. lovely post...l have made my own thin pizzas with my own sauce for years...nowadays unfortunately my kids have a taste for the cardboard like ones you buy from pizza stores and supermarkets...heathens!
    verifcation is nona!

  4. Yes, maam. Best pizza in the world in those alleys in Napoli. Thanks for bringing it all back.

  5. Oh my dear Lola you tease me and tease me with all this wonderful food. I so hope to get there one day and taste it for myself. Rain or shine I will tell them Lola sent me.

  6. Oh how yummy! I want some! :)

  7. great, not that is done i might be able to lose some weight. lol.

  8. Eleonora, please stop by and pick up The Sunshine blog award. Love you/

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  10. I like Sofia's Pizza, Now we only need an Ice cold Beer! Great Job, Lola!

  11. You put so much into each post it's amazing. I really want to visit Da Michele now and I'd be like you. People around me could be tut tutting about the dough not being perfect that particular day - I would be the one guzzling it down.

    As for that custom about buying an extra cup of coffee for a person in need, that is simply lovely and I think it should be done in all civilised cafes and bars. But then I guess it would be abused by stingy people unwilling - yet able - to buy their own

    Ciao x

  12. Those pizzelle are a classic for any Italian kid's birthday party. You have my mouth watering and its only 10:45am !

  13. Woke up at 2am with a pizza box on my lap.
    I am putting the blame on your previous post!

  14. You have written three beautiful pizza posts, very inspiring. Thank you

  15. Very inspiring! Your pizzelle fritte looks so delicious, I love nothing more than to be enjoying one right now! And, Sophia is one of my favs.

  16. Sweden? Sweden??! Do they even eat pizza in Sweden? Hope you'll be blogging from there. This series on pizza is fantastic. Napolitano pizza - first it gets its official designation, then it's tainted by the mozzarella scandal - what a great Italian story! Buon viaggio e scriva bene.

  17. Thank you for including pizza fritta-I grew up eating these in my grandmother's kitchen and at the festivals at the Italian churches every summer. I may have to just go and make some dough today and fry a few up!

  18. I agree. DaMichele is the best pizza!

    I didn't know they had a small size. Good to know for my next visit.

  19. Greetings from San Francisco. About a week ago I took a friend from Salerno to Tony's Neopolitan Pizza here - reputed to be the best in San Francisco. He took a few bites and his only comments was "Not even close to Da Michele".

  20. I had never heard of "caffé sospeso" before: it's such a great thing...only Naples could produce that!

  21. I think I've been in that pizzeria in Napoli!It was heavenly, I remember. I too am an Italian/American, much less traveled than you, but equally passionate about cooking and eating, I think. I love your blog which I just found and love your pictures which are a thousand times more professional looking than my own. You younger people are so much better acquainted with technology.

  22. With a passion for pizza Naples Pizza Bar was created! We saw a need for an authentic Italian Pizzeria, family recipes were borrowed, cousins who run their own Pizzerias in Naples Italy were consulted and grilled! From there an award winning and very unique crust (dough) that really has set Naples Pizza Bar apart was invented.
    Naples Pizza Bar Springfield Lakes