Acting on a hot tip from chef Nancy Silverton, writer Jonathan Gold travels to Italy to meet the modern-day oracle of pizza.
Naples, it is well known, is the spiritual home of pizza. The pizza around every corner may be the greatest of your life. You can spend your days there sampling sfogliatelle from the splendid old pastry shops, delicate fried sardines from the friggatorie or thick hot chocolate from the cafés, but the two hours you wait in line for the city's best pizza will reward you with pies as eventful as a long afternoon in Pompeii. Starita, where a young Sophia Loren made pizza in Vittorio De Sica's 1954 film L'oro di Napoli, still produces its famous montanara, flash-fried before it is baked. And Brandi, which claims to have created the Margherita pizza in 1889, in honor of the Savoy queen, still serves its signature pie.
In Naples, however, pizza has a kind of secondary meaning. It evokes green fields; Campania's wild, volcano-molded landscape; long Sunday drives. Pizza may be the essential taste of the city, but its savor depends on the thick-skinned tomatoes that grow on the slopes of nearby Mt. Vesuvius, mozzarella made from the milk of bufala around Caserta and Paestum, and fragrant olive oil from hillside groves.