Monday, April 1, 2013

For Love of Pizza (Neapolitan, that is)

Monica Piscitelli taking a bite out of her new book on the best pizzerie of Napoli and Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Head to Italy, especially Southern Italy, and you've got to enjoy the local pizza. Where else in the world is pizza taken so seriously - and done so magnificently? 

To help you on your quest to find the best pizza during your next visit to Campania, local journalist Monica Piscitelli has written a book titled Giuda alle Migliori Pizzerie Napoli e Campania. It's in Italian, but even if you don't know the language, this is an easy to navigate book that's nicely organized with beautiful graphics and easily understood ratings.

Piscitelli begins her book with an engaging discussion of pizza in Napoli and how to recognize greatness in this product. She admits that personal opinion - objectivity - plays an important part in this decision. This is like enjoying wine, in that it depends on whom you're sharing your pizza with (or if you're sharing it), if you're enjoying it at a renowned pizzeria with a hungry crowd or simply eating it while working on your computer. Beauty in pizza - like most things - is in the eye of the beholder. Is it crunchy? Is it too runny? Was the best flour used? The Neapolitans do take their pizza seriously to say the least. 

For the author, there are some things that she needs to see and taste in a Neapolitan pizza. She writes about looking at the pizza after it has been cooked (or "fired" in the oven, if you will); this "reveals many things, not only lightness, softness (fluffiness) and uniformity, but also ... the perfect tradition of a beautifully risen pizza from the wood oven."

As for the main section of the book in which she rates the various pizzerie, the author organizes these eateries into location in Napoli (such as Centro Storico e Mercato and Toledo e Quartieri Spagnoli), just outside the city as well as other areas of Campania. She tells the history of each pizzeria, writing about the individuals that operate them and offers tidbits, as in the section on Pizzeria del Figlio di Presidente, when they served pizza to President Bill Clinton during his visit amidst a G7 conference.

But trivia aside, readers will want to know which pizzerie are the ones that Piscitelli rates the best. There are several categories including atmosphere, price and parking, but of course, everyone wants to know who serves the best pizza. Among the highest rated by the author, the list includes Starita (Via Materdei, Napoli), Umberto (Via Alabardieri, Napoli), Di Matteo (one of Napoli's most historic pizzerie and another place President Clinton stopped in) and La Notizia (Via Caravaggio, Napoli), the creation of Enzo Coccia, who has been recognized by local and international press for the quality and variety of his ingredients. There are a few others in Napoli that receive the highest rating as well as one - Pizzeria Pepe - that is situated outside of Napoli, in this case in the town of Caizzo in the northern Campanian province of Caserta.

Piscitelli also has a separate rating for the best examples of Pizza Margherita, the pizza that is the truest representation of the Neapolitan style (and one that many pizza devotees judge a Campanian pizzeria on); the list includes Pizzeria Vuolo and Di Napoli in the city of Napoli as well as the previously mentioned La Notizia and Pizzeria Pepe.

Finally for students of how this style of pizza is made there is a glossary of the pezzajuolo (the pizza maker) at the back of the book; terms such as crisceto (the mother yeast), impastamento (kneading) and stufa (stove) are defined. This is a nice source of information, one that helps lift this book above others written on the subject.

In all, this is an engaging, informative, highly detailed look at the best pizzerie of Napoli and the surrounding area and it clearly was a labor of love for the author. Brava, Monica!

Guida alle Migliori Pizzerie Napoli e Campania - Edizioni dell'Ippogrifo - 10.00 Euro

Available as an app for iPhone here.