One could be forgiven for confusing a New York-style pizza and Neapolitan pizza from a distance. They’re round, they rely on the same core ingredients, and they’re both undeniably delicious.
But, in reality, they’re as far apart as New York and Naples.
What’s the difference between New York and Neapolitan-style pizza? And how did Italy’s invention turn into something so different in the United States? We’re glad you asked.
Pizza: A meal fit for a queen.
In the late 1800s, Savoy’s Queen Margherita became obsessed with pizza, which was eaten and served in local peasant markets. Much to the dismay of those around her, she regularly sent her guards out to fetch those delightful flatbreads.
The notion of a queen eating “peasant food” was inconceivable, especially one with tomatoes, which were long believed to be poisonous. Undeterred, the queen continued to send her minions to the markets so that she could enjoy her favorite meal.
One day, to honor the Queen, Chef Raffaele Esposito made her a pizza with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, representing the red, white, and green colors of the Italian flag. With that, the Margherita pizza was born. To this day, this pie is the most popular variation of Neapolitan pizza.
This would prove to be Queen Margherita’s lasting legacy – she was the world’s first high-profile pizza fanatic and, in a way, the inventor of pizza delivery.
Pizza comes to America.
In Italy, pizzas were served as single-serving dishes and intended to be eaten with a fork and knife. Pizza became popular with New Yorkers around the turn of the 20th century, but the city’s working class didn’t always have the time, or money, to enjoy an entire pie.
Born out of the legacy of America’s first pizzerias, Patsy’s accommodated the common man by serving individual slices that could be enjoyed on the go. This marked the first major distinction between the two styles, but they would drift even further apart with time:
Early New York pizzerias relied on coal-fired ovens to replicate the high-temperature wood-fired ovens of Italy. But, over time, shops transitioned to gas-powered ovens, which required a change in methodology.
Fresh mozzarella was not suitable for the longer cooking times, so chefs replaced it with shredded low-moisture mozzarella. Shredded mozzarella wasn’t in line with Italian tradition, but it had a clear advantage: low-moisture cheese could be used liberally, whereas fresh mozz had to be used lightly to avoid making a pie too soggy.
For that reason, Neapolitan pizzas are dotted with gobs of fresh mozzarella, whereas the cheese layer of New York-style pizzas covers the entire pie up to the cornicione.
Neapolitan pizza is largely defined by its pillowy, chewy crust. Baked at 700 to 1000° F for 60 to 90 seconds, its crust is lined by a series of dark charred spots and carries a remarkable flavor owing to its highly refined wheat flour base.
New York-style pizza, meanwhile, has a much thinner crust with decidedly less chew. It’s a less complex base, but one that’s much better suited to support hefty layers of cheese and toppings.
In Naples, the traditional pizza recipe is upheld by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the “Association for true Neapolitan pizza.” Among the many requirements laid out by the VPN’s 11-page manifesto is a mandate to only use tomatoes that are grown and packaged in Italy.
The sauce, they say, can only be comprised of tomatoes and salt, allowing the natural acidity of the tomatoes to shine through. But, to achieve balance and add additional flavor, a New York-style pizza sauce includes a dash of sugar, chopped garlic, and herbs such as oregano and red pepper flakes.
In true American fashion, the New York-style pizza eclipses its Neapolitan predecessor. Made as a single-serving dish, the Neapolitan pizza measures roughly 12-inches in diameter. Meanwhile, New York-style pies hover around the 18-inch mark.
At that size, the New York-style pizza is designed to be shared, but any pizza can be a personal pizza if you try hard enough.