"While I love all types of pizzas, from the corner slice to Chicago deep dish, my favorite is the Neapolitan pizza," says Ron Brown, the chef and owner of Barboncino, a popular pizzeria in Brooklyn that specializes in Neapolitan-style pies. "I consider it the Lamborghini of pizzas!"
Neapolitan pizza is elegant in its simplicity. Typically pies are thin, almost delicate, and encircled by a crispy, flaky crust. The center is topped by San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, and fresh basil. It's baked quickly in a wood-burning oven where temperatures can reach over 900°. The techniques behind Neapolitan pizza are considered sacrosanct and have developed over many, many generations — there's even an international organization whose mission it is to "promote and protect in Italy and worldwide the 'true Neapolitan pizza.'"
At Barboncino, Brown, who has run seven food-related businesses since 1982 and considers this restaurant "the culmination of everything I have learned, and grown to love, about the food and hospitality business," strives to work within the Neapolitan tradition. For instance, the organic, low-gluten flour they use for the dough is imported from Italy. “It’s the same flour used in the famous pizzerias of Naples," says Brown. And Barboncino's handsome wood-burning oven was imported from Italy, where, Brown says, it was made by a family that's been manufacturing ovens for over a century.
While Brown respects the traditions of Neapolitan pizza, he is also willing to compromise — just not on flavor. "Taste is much more important to me than imposing some rigid standard. In fact, it’s everything," he says. Since Italian mozzarella di bufala has to be shipped from overseas, Barboncino uses a local fior de latte that's fresher and still achieves that "perfect melt in the oven."
Those adjustments and allowances are an important lesson for the home cook who isn't prepared to install a wood-burning pizza oven in their apartment. But acquiring a pizza stone and peel is a good investment if you're striving to get close to the "Lamborghini of pizzas."
Below is a recipe for a home-style version for Barboncino's arugula pizza, one of the restaurant's bestsellers and one of the easiest to make.
Barboncino's Arugula Neapolitan Pizza
Note: Allow to proof for three days (according to Brown, a rushed dough can leave you with a bloated feeling). Yields two twelve-inch pies.
- 315 grams low-gluten flour
- 186 grams water
- 9 grams salt
- 0.6 grams yeast
- In a large bowl or pot, combine water and salt.
- Add in a small amount of flour.
- Add yeast, then the rest of the flour.
- Knead by hand.
- Cover with towel and leave out for 30 minutes.
- Form into 255 gram balls.
- Place in refrigerator, covered, for three days.
- Before cooking, let the dough sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Neapolitan pizza dough (see above)
- Fior de latte mozzarella
- Shaved parmesan
- Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- Several cloves of raw garlic, crushed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat your oven to 400°, or hotter if you can get it.
- Stretch a dough ball to 12 inches, then top it with enough fior di latte mozzarella to cover the pie, followed by sliced cherry tomatoes and a sprinkling of raw crushed garlic.
- Bake until the pizza crust is crispy. Cooking times will vary depending on the temperature of your oven — but check your pizza after a few minutes. In a traditional oven, you'll see "leoparding" of charred spots on the outer crust, but at home your pie may not reach the right temperature. Instead, wait for the crust to rise and the cheese to melt.
- Remove from the oven and top with fresh arugula, shaved parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.