Downgrade Your Trendy Foods: “Rustic” Pizza Napoletana
This edition of Downgrade Your Trendy Foods is dedicated to the Italian World Cup squad who pulled off an unlikely loss against Slovakia, of all places.
Finding good pizza in San Francisco seems like it would be an easy win, given our impressive lineup of Italian restaurants, but just like the Italians’ performance in South Africa the search for a normal fucking slice that doesn’t suck inevitably ends in disappointment. And the New Yorkers can gloat all they want about how you can’t go 3 blocks without finding a place to cuddle up with a nice, big, floppy slice, but in the Bay Area the food scene thinks they’ve come up with an appropriately snooty retort: Pizza Napoletana.
For awhile I actually thought Napoletana was a new flavor from one of our many overpriced boutique ice cream stores, but it turns out that it’s actually Italian for “from Naples”, which in San Francisco is synonymous with “it’s fancy, you asshole.” Basically, that gives the pizza cook chef free range to put all kinds of weird shit on your pizza and when it comes out with nothing but an egg and a bunch of leaves on it, you can’t really protest without sounding like a tourist. It also means you’re going to pay a premium to read a menu that is written in Italian even though you’re in a neighborhood full of Latinos.
So what exactly is this fancy pizza everyone is talking about? How can you cut yourself a little slice of this trend without paying $30 corkage fee on a $3 bottle of wine?
As it turns out, Naples-style pizza just means you make it the old school way and because Americans decided some 60 years ago that we’d just start making literally everything by assembly line, it’s actually a lot easier for one person in the kitchen to whip up a simple, rustic pizza than it is to put together something that looks like it came from Sbarro. The basics are still pretty much the same, but a lot less messy. Let’s investigate:
Pizza Brokazzia (Fancy name)
Dough - OK, of course you’re gonna need dough. And this part seems like it would be the biggest pain in the ass because it probably involves baking, but that’s where you’re wrong. All you really need to do is pick up a foccacia, which if you don’t know is basically flatbread with herbs and tomatoes baked in. I recommend these because they make you feel like you did a lot more work and are eating a much fancier pizza, but if the breadseller at your local farmer’s market doesn’t have any of these, you could always buy those pre-formed Boboli crusts from the grocery store.
Sauce - Because the pizza is so rustic, you don’t really want a whole lot of sauce. You can finally use up that last 1/4 jar of Ragu that’s been in your fridge for a couple weeks. Or you could even just use a can of tomato paste, which will run you about 89 cents and can sometimes be tastier than getting fresh tomatoes because they’re canned when they’re the most ripe. Instead of those things you bought at Trader Joes that are just getting limp in your fridge right now.
Cheese – Officially* pizza napoletana uses buffalo mozzarella, which during my research for this article I learned actually comes from water buffalo in a specific region of Italy, but since we’re broke we can’t always be importing fancy buffalo cheese. You could get a hunk of more locally-sourced mozzarella if you can find it on the cheap, but my favorite cheap trick is to use strips of string cheese that I bought in bulk at Costco. The key is that you want to chunky, not grated, for that rustic look.
Other crap – Again, officially this type of pizza is just dough, some tomatoes, and hunks of cheese. Some other things that make it look fancy are: entire sprigs of rosemary (which will also make your kitchen smell nice), big basil leaves (don’t bother slicing them up or anything, just oil ‘em up a bit), slices of salami or any other ham product you have on hand. You might also try mushrooms, olives, artichokes, broccoli, or whatever else is green in your fridge and looks like you need to eat it soon.
I’m not going to lecture you on what order the ingredients go in, except that you should probably put the crust on the bottom. Bake it on a cookie sheet, or don’t. How crusty your pizza turns out is your deal, but always, always, wait for the cheese to turn a crisp, golden brown. I learned that from a famous chef named Totino.
*As it turns out, there’s an official board in Europe that certifies certain food items as “authentic”. Kind of like how you can’t call it “Champagne” unless it’s from the champagne region of France. They have an entire ATF-type operation for this stuff. This recipe will most certainly not qualify as authentically Napoletana, but it is 100% certified Broke-Ass.