“There is no such thing as ‘Italian’ pizza,” says Federico Pisanelli owner of Etica, South Australia’s only certified la Vera Pizza Napoletana pizzeria. There are a plethora of different pizza styles, not just in Italy but around the world.
So why is pizza Napoletana becoming the latest staple for modern lovers of a cheesy slice? Pineapple, barbeque sauce, pasta and chips are some of the usual culprits of the local pizza scene. For many moons Australian pizza eaters seemed to favour a style with a dry, cracker- like base. Toppings were showered on and sauces tangy and sweet.
Enter pizza Napoletana – the Naples-style pizza emerging as a new Adelaide favourite
Though the days of shredded ham and garlic prawn are not exactly behind us, there is a new wave of pizza-making that is slowly changing the Adelaide pizza eating scene. Prized for its light airy edges and thin chewy base, the pizza Napoletana is not an easy feat. “Anyone can just make a pizza, really,” Pisanelli says. But to make a great pizza is all about the attention to detail. A la Vera Napoletana pizza requires many steps. Though the only officially registered Adelaide location is Etica, some other pizzerias follow similar guidelines. Flour must be imported from Naples and be a superior blend that is extra-finely ground and high in protein. Though it can be mixed, the added flour must not comprise more than 10 percent. The flour’s speciality wheat is slowly milled between stones, reducing heat which optimises water absorption as the dough is formed. The dough is then leavened for 72 hours to give it depth of flavour and bind the proteins, which provides fluffiness and elasticity. Once risen, the dough must be shaped by hand without the use of a rolling pin, pushing the edges outward to form a high crust. It must then be baked in an oven exceeding 450c and cooked for 60 to 90 seconds.
Leavened dough and top quality flour are crucial to the Napoletano style
Taking a local approach, Tony Mitolo, of Pizzateca in McLaren Vale, favours the use of South Australian produce for his toppings. “We don’t use San Marzano tomatoes, we use locally grown instead,” he explains, coining the term “Oztalian” for his pizza style that favours the Naples process but with Australian produce. “I still think there is a time and a place for Australian or American-style pizzas, but that place for me is in a cardboard box, on my coffee table or at a mate’s house with the footy on,” he says.
Wood-fired ovens are present at each and every Napoletano pizzeria
The same can’t be said for most Aussies who seldom venture far from hard-based pizzas. Daniel Marrone, of Napoli Pizzeria in Mile End, explains that the often-resisted softness in the centre of the pizza is the Neapolitan way. “It’s a bit soft with a little crunch at the edge, but not the full SAO biscuit,” he laughs. When asked why he chose to make this specific style, Marrone states: “We just make it as traditional as possible, we’re not trying to be trendy. We’ll always stick to what we do best.”
The same complaint of the soft middle is unanimous around town.
“Since opening we have had a polarising response at Etica, people can love us and dislike us for the same reasons,” says Pisanelli. “But in Adelaide there has been a movement for regard of artisanal products,” he says, which is changing the response for the better. “We have actually found that a large part of our business has been community education on principles of pizza Napoletana.”
Keep it simple: fewer ingredients and an emphasis on quality set these pizzas apart
Though each pizzeria has slightly different variations on the style, they all agree that the new wave of Adelaide’s traditional pizza-eating aficionados is influenced by a few key things. The biggest factors are accessibility to travel and a local desire for authentic experiences. “We were full the day we opened and it hasn’t stopped since,” says Peter DeMarco of Pizza e Mozzarella Bar. “If anything [all the new pizzerias] have made people a bit more conscious of Neapolitan pizza and we’re even busier now.”
A margherita pizza from Pizza e Mozzarella Bar
DeMarco adds another key factor in the pull towards Neapolitan: “It won’t make you fat,” he states. Though this is a large claim, there are benefits, as the aged-dough, thinner centre and light crust make it easier to digest. The colder, longer leavening process of the dough creates an abundance of lactic acid that gives it a signature depth of flavour and also aids in the breakdown of sugars, starches and lactose during digestion in the gut. A less is more approach to toppings is also key to the health-conscious eater.
A regular margherita (cheese included) is said to contain only around 600 calories, so no need to feel bad about scoffing the whole thing. A useful tip from Mitolo: leave the crusts and enjoy the thin flavoursome middle. “This way I can enjoy two or three different pizzas in one sitting,” he says.
Etica’s take on the traditional Margherita, along with trademark charred crust
The slightly charred, warm fluffy crust that is difficult to resist and so thoughtfully crafted is just one reason that Neapolitan pizza is so special. The time taken to think about how each aspect of the pizza will work together is paramount to a dish where less is more.
When sitting down to a perfectly cooked margherita – soft in the centre, blistered flavourful crust and rich homemade tomato sauce dotted with mozzarella – it’s clear to see why this is much more than just a trend. It’s about quality, perfection and care. There’s a reason this style has been going steady for some 150 years.
Keep your eyes peeled for Sunny’s, set to open later in the year, and a new more casual Neapolitan venture by the team at Pizza e Mozzarella bar. Exploring a new style, Etica will too open a second casual dining location on Halifax Street in the coming months.
Photos: Jonathan van der Knaap and Camellia Aebischer
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