Una Pizza Rustica e Autentica for Sophia Loren

May  7, 2010
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves well, you know
Author Notes

Please cease with all the sissy pizza recipes! For the uninitiated the authentic article was created in Naples sometime between 1830 and 1860. It was not created in New York or New Haven in the 1950s, and Wolfgang Puck played no role. The authentic pizza Neapolitana was the perfect match, like the one between Sophia Loren and Clark Gable in “It Started in Naples”. The tomato arrived from the New World most likely via Spain (Naples was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies). There it met Sophia Loren with all the charms of its volcanic soil, water buffalo herds and abundant basilico. There was already a tradition of flat breads as well as a culture of poverty. An ideal match.
To cook pizza the correct way you will need very high oven temperatures or even better, a wood fire that you can stoke with real charcoal wood. The recipe I’m offering employs those things. Not so long ago I purchased a piastra from the cool collection of Mario Batali endorsed products. Essentially it’s a big slab of stone that fits perfectly over my outdoor wood grill. You can find them at Sur La Table. If you don’t have one of these, at least use a large pizza stone that fits in your oven or at worst a very heavy iron pizza pan. You are going to have to crank the heat as high as it will go. Wood burning ovens can exceed 800, yours can’t do that (especially in a New York apartment). That’s why the outdoor method is preferred. Yea, Bobby Flay you can throw the dough straight onto the grill grate but the end result is some misshapen thing that has nothing to do with pizza. Don’t do that while I’m watching.
Of course the tomato sauce, as well as the cheese, are critical too. I prefer to use canned San Marzano tomatoes (28 oz or 800grm) imported from Italy.* I also use real buffala mozzarella.** Italian tomato or marinara sauce tends to be “looser” than American. Keep that in mind. And by the way, allocate two days to do due diligence to a correct pizza. - pierino

Test Kitchen Notes

We can always count on pierino for strong conviction about the right and wrong ways of cooking a dish. When it comes to pizza he is no different, as you can read in his headnote. But we can't always rely on pierino for details in the instructions. For instance, he doesn't tell us how long to cook the tomatoes or what to look for -- we went for pulpy but still loose enough to drop from a spoon. But we still love pierino anyway. His passion translates into a crisp-crusted pie (complete with authentically charred bubbles), topped with smears of buffalo mozzarella, aromatic scraps of torn basil and a kicky, bright tomato sauce. A couple of notes: we weighed 3 cups of flour and ours came out to be 395 grams, so we went with that. The dough is very elastic so you need to be patient when rolling it out -- do your best to get it super thin. The payoff will be worth it! And our pizza took 8 minutes to bake at 500 degrees. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Godfather Part 1, the crust
  • 3 cups (450 grams) high gluten flour
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • ¾ cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • sea salt
  • Godfather Part 2, the sauce
  • 1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes (or substitute Muir Glen)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • A good handful of basil (holding some leaves back to finish).
  • 2 really good anchovy filets, salted or jar, just be sure they’re quality good
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Sea salt
  • 3-4 ounces buffala mozzarella, sliced
  1. Godfather Part 1: Make your pizza dough. In the bowl of your heavyweight stand mixer proof the yeast with that little bit of warm water. You know it’s going to work, right? Of major importance (I don’t make this stuff up), use a pastry scale to properly tare the flour weight---it does matter.
  2. Gradually add the cold water and then the flour and salt and mix and dribble in that olive oil. It should be a bit sticky at the end.
  3. Bench it. Make sure your hands have access to bench flour. Massage (knead) the dough to the protypical baby bottom feel. Bowl it. Cover it with cling wrap. Let it rest for 45 minutes. Yank it out and massage it further on a well floured board. THIS IS ALL DONE BY FEEL AND THE LOVE OF YOUR HANDS. Get it into a big old, tender ball. Divide with a knife or pastry cutter into two parts. Cuddle them and then wrap them in cling wrap. Stick em’ in the fridge overnight. The dough, I’ve discovered, only improves if you let it hang out in cold air.
  4. Godfather Part 2, Dawn of the Corleones: Make the sauce. Chop your cool-io anchovies into bits. Likewise with your garlic clove.
  5. Simmer the above (and onions) in 2 tablespoons hot but good olive oil, shimmering but not smoking. Carefully add the tomatoes. You can squish them by hand if you want to help the process move forward.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to your ownself taste.
  7. Keep it loose. Push it through the medium plate of a food mill and hold/refrigerate until ready to use.
  8. Godfather Part 3.01 (Beta): Wake up. Now the good part. Crank up your indoor/outdoor cooking platform to its maximum. Can you handle 600? I can. We mean smoking hot!
  9. Roll out your pizza dough into round discs (a pastry ring can help you here) that will actually fit on your peel. Give 'em a bit of hand toss to stretch the dough out. Make sure that your pizzas do in fact fit your peel and your cooking stone/lpan. Shape em. You don't have to fling them in the air but sending some centrifugal force toward the outer edges is not so bad. You will want a stretchy middle. I didn't say that this was simple. Brush the outer edges (the "cornice") with just a bit of olive oil.
  10. Now work fast, really fast; ladle sauce in a spiral pattern starting from the center outward in a circle over your soon to be pizza(s) and then apply thin slices of buffala. Slip that disc of dough upon the stone. Slam the oven door or grill shut. And then you shut up, because I don't want to hear your mouth right now.
  11. Tear up some basil leaves while you are watching and waiting. After about five minutes of intense heat your pizza is, or should be, finished. But it's okay to look in between.
  12. A flourish of basil (basilico) and you are done, and Sophia will invite you over for cocktails.
  13. Notes to cooks: the thing about real pizza and not sissy pizza is heat. I can't emphasize that enough. Get the dough right, get the heat right. Crank it!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Daniel Cusini
    Daniel Cusini
  • Babette
  • John Lever
    John Lever
  • Dima Haddad
    Dima Haddad
  • pierino
Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.

33 Reviews

Daniel C. April 21, 2021
honestly this Godfather thing is bullshit, why glorify an organized crime lord who demand payments to small business, organize crime and injustice, and call kills around your city? What's funny about that and what is the connection with pizza?
Babette October 7, 2014
I LOVE ordering pizza from my favorite Italian joint, but homemade pizza takes the cake any day, especially this one. An easy way to get the dough spread out is to hold it by one end and let is slowly fall and spread out, rotate it when you feel it's become too thin. Also, don't be afraid to get fancy with other toppings on this pizza; bacon and an egg cracked on top is awesome!
John L. March 22, 2014
"Crank up your indoor/outdoor cooking platform to its maximum." My Big Green Egg will go to 1200. Too hot? ;)
GIOVANNI50 June 30, 2013
Yes, Pierino is correct once again. No dispensing with the details, authentic pizza napolitana is the real deal and must be done according to how Pierino says it must be done. Very few pizzaiolis in the US, and there is an organization that certifies whether your pizzeria is truly Neapolitan. True pizza should make you dream of Capri island and a beautiful Tirrean sunset... No less.
Dima H. June 26, 2013
This is divine!! I never use out of the jar sauce! but i will be adding the anchovies that has been sitting in my kitchen for a while.
pierino June 14, 2010
This is a re-submission. But as mozzarella is such a vital part...oh, well!
tigerlille June 14, 2010
Oh.My.God. This is what pizza is supposed to taste like! And how often are the comments as fascinating and educational as the original recipe (does that make sense?) Anyway, Bravo!
kaykay May 16, 2010
What anchovy brands do you recommend? Also, I do have Tipo 00...can I simply substitute it for the high-gluten flour?
pierino May 16, 2010
By all means substitute Tipo 00 as long as you weigh the flour and the ratio remains the same.

For anchovies the brand I most often use is Agostino Recco from Sicily. You can buy them in either of two ways: either in a small jar, or packed in salt in a 1000grm can. The latter is what restaurants prefer. You have to soak them in water to remove the salt, and they require some trimming, and the spine needs to be removed. After that cover the remaining contents of the tin with sea salt and refrigerate. They hold do hold nicely but if you only use small amounts of anchovies you are better off with the jar. FWIW both Keller, Judy Rogers and Mario refuse to use anything but the salt packed variety.

Avoid those flat little tins from Morocco where the contents seem to smell rancid from the moment you open it 'em.
Waverly May 15, 2010
This has been as entertaining as it has been educational. Thank you, Pierino! I never thought of my pizza as "sissy pizza", but I cannot wait to try yours.
pierino May 16, 2010
Thank you Waverly. It's amazing to see how so many historical currents have interwined to produce somthing as elemental as a really good pizza.
Doughpuncher May 15, 2010
Sorry to be the spoil-sport here, but there are several elements of this recipe and method that are in fact counter to an authentic Neapolitan pizza. I reference Maggie Glazer's wonderful (and stunning) Artisan Baking Across America, page 152, where she provides a translation of "The Pizzaiolo's Ten Commandments", rules set by the Association of Vera Pizza Napoletana.
First, there should not be any oil in the dough -- the dough must be made with only flour, natural yeast or baker's yeast, salt and water. All types of fat are absolutely forbidden from inclusion in the pizza dough.
Second, the dough needs to be punched down and shaped by hand - never use a rolling pin.
A couple of changes to the recipe will facilitate this. First, avoid using high gluten flour. King Arthur's all purpose flour is an excellent flour to use. Second, don't knead the dough as thoroughly as if it were a bread dough; stop when all the ingredients are well combined, but the dough is still shaggy, not well developed to the "baby bottom" stage. Third, a pizza dough should not be allowed a fermentation period, or first rise. It should be divided and shaped into tight balls directly after kneading, then allowed a thirty minute to one hour rise as balls of dough before refrigerating ( preferably overnight).
I had the good fortune to work for several years at a guest ranch in the Texas Hill Country where we built a wood fired, brick oven, and I made pizzas at least once a week for our guests. I used the method outlined in Maggie's book to produce my dough the night before, and I enjoyed nearly fool-proof success (unless I had trouble getting the oven hot enough due to rain or damp wood or some such) with it.
The emphasis on high heat is definitely right on, I'll give him that!
I recently started baking breads at a restaurant after a few years hiatus from baking, and there are pizzas on the menu, so I took over producing the dough for the cooks. I made a few simple changes to the method, including shaping the dough into balls right away instead of letting the dough rise twice in the bowl as was being done, and three of the cooks, independently and without solicitation, let me know how much easier the dough was to work with. Now if I could only convince them to turn the oven up higher!
Of course, even in Italy, or perhaps especially in Italy, there are countless ways to make pizza, and from the picture and the video, I think pierino's pie looks quite good. I love the idea of the anchovies in the sauce (by the way, a Neapolitan sauce is not cooked before putting it on the pizza and includes tomatoes, garlic and oregano). However, since the inference that this was an authentic Neapolitan pizza, I feel I needed to point out the inconsistencies with the true version.
pierino May 15, 2010
Thank fyou for that thoughtful critique. There is indeed a "pizza police" in Naples which to my knowledge has officiallyapproved only two pizzerias in the USA. There's also a pasta police in Bologna. But even in Napoli there are deviations from the strictest of rules. I've done a lot of research on this in developing my recipe. One of my sources was PIZZA by Rosaria Buonassi, first published in Italy in 1997 by Mondadori. Basically I've tried to stay true to authentic Neapolitan model but adjusting it to American conditions. For example, American flours are not quite the same as Italian 00. I use high gluten to get a sturdier but still supple dough. So does Peter Reinhart. The olive oil adds a little softness to the crust. I've also tried a little white wine in it, which works as long the ratio remains the same. I've also looked at conversion tables for dry weights and a cup of flour almost always converts to 140g to 150g. A cup of water always weighs the same. European oven tempertures are considerably more inexact; as in what's the equivalent of "gas mark 4"? The reason my recipe calls for San Marzano tomatoes because it's where they are grown; under the shadow of Vesuvio. Technically speaking marinara should be a mariner's sauce, hence the anchovies. The wonderful thing about pizza dough is that it freezes really well. It's nice to find a ball of it my freezer on short notice. Anyway, I sincerely appreciate that input. It's just how cooks' minds work. I'd still like to serve this to Sophia Loren.
pierino May 15, 2010
P.S. If there were an edit feature I would have corrected the typos and missing verbage in my reply. But I am indeed grateful.
drbabs May 15, 2010
Hi pierino--I made your pizza last night and it was wonderful. (The happy I have sauce leftover.) I was able to crank my non-Viking oven up to 550--so it cooked in no time. We all loved the little bites of basil in between the bites of wonderful cheese and sauce. The crust was great--crisp, crunchy, light and tasty. Very delicious.
pierino May 15, 2010
Thanks Drbabs. I'm glad it worked for you. Doughpuncher (above) and I definitely agree on the importance of the highest heat you can maintain without setting your house on fire. BTW a week ago I was able to slip into Keith McNally's hugely popular Pulino's Pizzeria in SOHO. I'm a big fan his restaurants, but I thought his Margherita was disappointing. Crisp to the point of being almost burnt. Even the basil leaves were crisp.
SallyCan May 15, 2010
In our house pizza is foremost about the crust, then about the sauce, and finally about the toppings. Your dough recipe is right on target, using high gluten flour, and then letting it rest refrigerated overnight and cooking it at a super high heat. Nice recipe.
pierino May 15, 2010
Thanks, and I thought that A&M along with "Slice" boy did a nice job on the video. Of course they could splurge on a pizza peel. And I'm thinking that that Viking oven ought to be able to exceed 500 degrees. In Napoli it is about the crust, and if the outer crust is not right they just cut it away. It should be burnt and soft at the same time. The latter part is really tricky.
imwalkin May 14, 2010
Bravo pierino. Only improvement I can suggest is to use Tipo 00 flour from Italy
pierino May 14, 2010
I'm with you on that my friend. But 00 is sort of hard to find here. But King Arthur mills some really fine flours, some of which Italian bakers would envy. Thank you!
mrslarkin May 13, 2010
congrats pierino. FYI my 3 cups of flour measures 408 grams.
pierino May 13, 2010
Thank you. In the end it's really about the ratio of flour to water (and oil). I use high gluten flour for pizza. But you still have that bit of neuroscience going on. The best pizza I've tasted in the USA was Nancy Silverton's at Mozza. She is the undisputed queen of dough. But I also worship Peter Reinhart's THE ARTISAN BREAD MAKER'S APPRENTICE for it's direct and clear instruction

As far as the sauce, I clearly brain cramped on cooking time. But really no longer than 45 minutes is necessary. You don't want to cook the sauce to death. After that to make your pie it's really high heat, as high as you can get it, and if you are lucky enough to be able to cook over a wood charcoal fire you are in for a super treat. It adds a subtle whiff of smokiness.

Variants include the piadina of Romagna (which includes lard in the dough) and the Umbrian testa (ditto on the lard).
monkeymom May 13, 2010
Congrats pierino!
Brenna May 13, 2010
YES. The end.
dymnyno May 13, 2010
Backyard pizza season has definitely begun!!!
drbabs May 13, 2010
Congratulations, pierino! It's clear that you know your pizza, and I'm looking forward to trying your recipe.
Jaynerly May 8, 2010
Love the authenticity of this one!
lapadia May 8, 2010
We prefer cooking pizza outdoors, however for indoors I use a stone and crank the oven to the max. I haven’t seen the piastra, thanks for sharing that info…going to go check out Mario’s collection now!