I was so excited about eating “real” pizza in Naples, first stop on a whirlwind southern Italian food trip, I didn’t give a thought to what the city itself might look like.
Map in hand on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I walked a few minutes from the hotel and ran smack into a wall of Napolitani of all ages strolling along Via Toledo, the main pedestrian shopping street.
Though most stores were open, the crowds didn’t seem to be shopping for clothes. Instead they sat in outdoor café or lined up outside the many small pastry shops to buy different kinds of sfoliatele, folded in layer upon layer of thin phyllo-like pastry, cream-filled doughnuts, baba cakes soaked in rum and giant zeppolone sliced lengthwise, filled with cream and sprinkled with wild strawberries.
Out on the street, vendors contributed to the carnival atmosphere with cotton candy, roasted chestnuts and bouquets of giant balloons.
I kept walking south and came to the block-long Palazzo Reale, shrouded for re-construction, and a monumental round-roofed pile in the wide empty piazza del Plebiscito, where you can look up to one of several giant castles on the hill from the days when this area was a kingdom. Across the bay, past the busy port and the cruise ships at rest, stood the twin peaks of Mount Vesuvius, which last erupted in the 1940s.
While it seemed the entire city was downtown, pal Cinda and I
found thousands more squeezed into the dark narrow streets of the old city, especially around Via San Gregorio Armeno near the Duomo, where you can buy figures for your Christmas crèche year-round, from teeny
figures nestled in a ring box to full-size figures for your front yard.
Having earned our dinner, we returned to the hotel to catch the bus to Antonio (sr) & Antonio (jr) overlooking the Bay of Naples for our first taste of Vera Pizza Napolitana, the gold standard for pizza around the world these days.
In the open kitchen, we watched the head pizzaiolo with thick tattooed arms pick up a mound of soft dough and quickly yet gently form it into the thinnest crust imaginable. In another instant he’d painted it with circles of homemade tomato sauce, showered it with Grana Padano and mozzarella, added a few basil leaves and drizzled it with olive oil.
As an assistant held the long wooden handle, he then effortlessly transferred the dressed pie onto the wide paddle, tweaking the shape a bit to be sure it was perfectly round. Into the wood-fired oven it went for less than two minutes at 450 Celsius, with a quick turn at half time.
The result –a scrumptious work of art. The thin, tender crust is meant to be folded to catch every bite of rich tomato sauce and molten mozzarella. There’s nothing crisp about it — the Napolitani and those who follow their association’s strict rules, including Toronto’s Pizza Libretto, love their pizza wet!
round hills across the bay