Out of anyone, the Naples native should know. Cozzolino attended high school for the culinary arts and was one of the first to graduate from the Neapolitan pizza lab that opened in 1992. It was there that he worked under Gaetano Esposito, the great-grand-nephew of the man who invented the OG Pizza Margherita. “He is one of the four master pizza makers in Naples,” says Cozzolino.
“Compared to NY-style, a Neapolitan pie is very simple,” he says. All it requires is flour, water, yeast and salt—side-stepping additional ingredients like eggs, sugar, milk, and butter. “You almost want the taste of fresh bread. The secret of pizza is how the dough ferments and how long it matures for. You have to understand timing. Everything comes by touch and sight.”
Pizza baked in a restaurant takes anywhere from 60 to 90 seconds. At home it’s a slightly different story, since most ovens max out around 500 °F. If you bake your dough for 10 or 15 minutes, water will evaporate at a faster rate, which means you’ll want to compensate by adding more fat (olive oil). We’ll let Cozzolino take it from here.
Gifs by Amy Chen
How To Make Pizza, A Lá Ribalta
(Makes 4, 12” pizzas)
- 3.65 lb. all purpose flour
- 35 oz. cold water
- 2 ⅓ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 3.5 tbsp. salt
- 1.4 tbsp. dry yeast
- 3 Mozzarella balls (8 oz each) cut into 1 inch cubes
- 14oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- Imported Parmigiano cheese
- Crush San Marzano tomatoes
- Adjust to taste with salt; usually two generous pinches of salt for one can of tomatoes
Step 1: Make the Dough
Pour cold water into bowl. Press the yeast in your hand and rub together with your fingers to avoid clumping. Let the yeast sit for 5 minutes until it dissolves.
Add half the salt and flour. Begin mixing with your hand. It should have a slightly creamy consistency.
Add the remaining flour until you have a soft, elastic dough.
Step 2: Rolling and portioning
Roll the dough for aprx. 5 minutes to inject air inside. “Air is good for the yeast’s bacteria, which will help raise the dough.” If you feel it is too sticky at any point, drizzle a little flour on it. You can always perform this task with a Kitchen-Aid on Level 2 setting for 12 minutes (but c’mon, you got this).
Once you’ve formed into a ball, open it up by pressing down with your fingers and slightly stretching outwards.
“Then you apply the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The fat is the last thing you want to add.”
Knead the dough again, tucking in the sides from time to time. “You should begin to feel the gluten forming.”
While shaping the dough into a ball, use your fingers to tuck the bottom of the dough, and close the opening. Spread a thin layer of olive oil, approximately one teaspoon, over the inside of another large bowl. Place the pizza dough in the bowl and turn the dough to coat with oil. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place until it doubles in size, at least 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 500 °F.
Remove the plastic cover from the dough and punch the dough to allow it to slightly deflate. Cut the dough to form four round dough balls. Or, using the method above, fold the dough on both sides and tuck downwards to create a round ball.
You can simply squeeze and twist the dough ball. Place each dough ball in its own bowl, cover with plastic, and let it sit for 35 minutes.
Step 3: Forming the pizza shape
Working one ball of dough at a time, flatten it with your hands on a slightly floured work surface. Starting at the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough, leaving about a ½ inch of space towards the edge. This creates a boundary for your crust.
Flip the dough over and repeat, making sure to stop at the edge.
We will want to do the same for the remaining two sides of the pizza.
Flip and repeat.
Using both hands, lightly stretch the dough in a circular motion.
Step 4: Decorate the Pizza
Ladle tomato sauce in the center of the dough. You want to make a simultaneous circular, rocking motion with your spoon.
Apply this motion until you cover the dough area, being mindful of the crust.
Add Parmigaina, basil, and mozzarella—in that order. If you place the basil on last, it will burn in the oven. Finish off with some olive oil. Place the pizza on a large pizza stone, or use a tray with parchment paper. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown and cheese is bubbly.
Voila. You’ve made Pasquale proud.