A few summers ago, I spent days wandering around Naples, Italy, the world’s pizza capital, in search of the real deal. Pizza is everywhere in Naples and countless pizzerie claim to make the original Margherita, a classic combination of tomato, mozzarella, and basil named after the 19th century Italian queen. Pizza carts line touristy streets and hidden piazzas, tempting passersby at every turn. So, ignoring everything we had ever learned from parents, school nurses, and previous experience, for two days straight we ate pizza for lunch, afternoon snack and dinner.
Which seemed like a pretty good idea at the time because I absolutely adore pizza. It is one of my most beloved foodstuffs. I often make it at home, using dried figs, caramelized onions, goat cheese, and prosciutto, or maybe sausage, spinach, and garlic. I have a top-five list of pizza places in every city I’ve ever lived in (highlights: Lucio Pizzeria in Sydney, Bottega in Montreal, Santarpio’s in Boston, Da Remo in Rome, O Sole Mio in Bologna). But the authentic Neapolitan pizza I had in Italy – with its thick, chewy crust and rich, creamy mozzarella – opened my eyes to a whole new world of delicious. That being said, by day three my stomach was telling me, begging me, to stop. Experiencing the subtle agonies of severe vegetable deprivation and salt overload, on our last morning in Naples we decided to stop by the local market on our way to the station to buy something relatively fresh for the train ride home.
And then I saw it, amidst the midday chaos of fruit vendors and fishmongers shone the most decrepit, dirty, and crowded hole-in-the-wall displaying a case of fried foods of every imaginable strand. The woman in the front – elderly, hairy, and dressed in what could only be called a nightgown – yelled, “Pizze! Calzone!” two words which, despite her thick Neapolitan accent, I definitely understood. Intrigued at the thought of fried pizza (could two amazing concepts actually be improved when joined together?), and completely forgetting our previous resolve, we entered the store and ordered one fried pizza and one fried calzone for a total of four Euros.
What we then experienced next was nothing less than a revelation. While our prior pizzas in Naples had opened my eyes, this pizza opened my soul. I fell in love so hard that, despite the Southern Italian summer heat (and an already uncomfortable case of indigestion), we ordered two more fried pizzas and devoured them. But not before I could snap a photo of one of the beauties (which, as you Sydney friends will recall, sits framed on our fridge).
Inspired by what could be the most memorable meal of my life, one especially dismal winter day in Montreal I decided to recreate Naples’ fried pizza in my four by five foot kitchenette. Despite one failed attempt, the fried pizzas have been leaping off my stove and onto our plates ever since. If you use store-bought pizza dough, the whole process only takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. It is a remarkably easy recipe; it just requires a little deft movement and faith. I’m convinced my pizza fritta recipe, tried and true, will hold you over until you can scrape together the money to fly to Naples.
The only thing you need is a plate-sized frying pan that you can somehow cover (I used another frying pan); or you can avoid this altogether by using the oven. My standard toppings are just suggestions – you can leave off the sauce, add fried zucchini rounds, caramelized onions, olives, pepperoni, whatever – but the one essential topping is the fresh mozzarella. The dough puffs up and becomes so light inside and so crispy outside…Give it a try. Who knows, you might even end up with a picture of fried pizza framed on your desk, too.
HOMEMADE PIZZA FRITTA (Fried Pizza)
Sunflower or canola or olive oil*
Pizza dough (store bought or homemade), formed to fit your frying pan, 1/2 inch (2-3 cm) thick (one small store bought dough will make 2 pizze fritte)
Fresh mozzarella (the kind that comes in its own liquid if you can get it; about 1/2 big ball per pizza), chopped roughly and dried on paper towels
Tomato purée (or tomato sauce), about 2 tablespoons per pizza
Fresh basil (optional)
*If you’re making more than one pizza, reuse the oil for the second pizza. By the third, add a bit more. Also! I use canola oil because I think it fries better; olive oil will work, too; you can even use a mixture.
In a large skillet, heat ½ inch (about 2 cm) oil (Don’t be scared! Pour it in!) over medium-high heat. Put the formed dough into the pan, adjusting the heat so it browns but doesn’t burn. After 3-4 minutes, when the dough is browning on the bottom and slightly firm when you poke the top, use a spatula and fork to flip dough over. Be careful, the oil is hot!
**If you’re making more than 2 or 3 pizze, you may want to skip down and follow the oven-based directions below.**
Ok, if you’re still with me, here comes the only remotely tricky part: you have to move quickly. Immediately spoon 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce on the flipped dough, leaving a generous crust around the edges (if the sauce touches the oil, it will splatter like crazy. It’s not dangerous, just really loud. I also find that if the sauce is too watery or you add too much, you could end up with soggy dough).
On top of the sauce, evenly sprinkle the cut-up, dried mozzarella, and quickly cover the pan to seal. It will be noisy under there, but don’t worry, it’s doing its thing.
After 3-4 minutes, take the cover off and carefully remove your pizza from the pan. Top with basil and prosciutto, if desired, and eat immediately. Serves one.
If you’re making more than one, just keep cranking them out, adding more oil if it got soaked up.
OVEN/NOT TRICKY METHOD for making multiple pizze:
Preheat your oven to 375F/190C. Line a baking tray with tin foil. Follow the above directions until the **. Now, instead of topping the dough with tomato and mozzarella, let the second side brown, cover off, in the pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Once both sides are browned, remove the dough from the pan and place it on the foil-lined tray. Top with 2 tablespoons tomato purée and sprinkle with mozzarella. Put the tray in the oven to allow the cheese to melt while you make the rest. When you complete the browning of each dough (adding oil to the pan if necessary), just add them to tray to melt the cheese and keep warm. When you’re all done, top with prosciutto and basil, if desired, and serve immediately!
Update April 2012: lookie what the New York Times just wrote about!