My first experience with Italian pizza was at a touristy joint in Pisa. As my mother, grandmother and I rested our feet after a visit to the Field of Miracles (that’s actually what it’s called) we all three openly gaped at a young girl, maybe 13, as she polished off an entire pizza. AN ENTIRE PIZZA.
We were shocked.
Fast forward six years later when I was sitting with friends on the bank of the Brivio River explaining to my American cousin that no, it’s really ok to eat the entire pizza. It’s not like American pizza. Fresh ingredients, lighter, thinner, fresh air and all that.
She didn’t seem to believe me so I polished off half of hers as well.
Italian pizza really is made with fresh ingredients. It really is lighter and easier to digest. It’s large and beautiful and abundant. You can find it anywhere, afford it always and choose nearly any topping you’d like (except pineapple…).
That said, there’s more to know about Italian pizza than just it’s abundance and affordability.
As you know, Italian food is hyper-regional, and while pizza is more or less universal throughout the boot, there are still two main camps of pizza that you have to know about to truly understand Italian pizza: Roman-style and Neapolitan-style. The difference is in the crust.
Roman-style pizza is a huge pizza with crust as thin as a sheet of paper. Its toppings cover nearly ever inch of the pizza, leaving only the smallest amount of crust to hold on to. The crust is made with flour, water, yeast, salt, and olive oil, the latter of which is essential to give the crust more weight and allow it to be hand-stretched as thin as it is. Far less policed than Neapolitan pizza, you can find a wide variety of Roman-style pizzas, but from what I’ve seen, the true, center-of-Rome Roman pizza is with a paper-thin crust that tends to crisp up in a pizza oven. Delicious and extremely digestible, this is my go-to pizza when in Italy.
It’s said that pizza was invented in Naples to honor Queen Margherita, the queen of Italy, when she was passing through. Even today, the most classic form of pizza is the pizza margherita, which is what Americans would simply call a cheese pizza (though it is so much more than that). Neapolitan-style pizza’s crust is made with just flour, water, yeast and salt (no oil), giving it its characteristic fluffy, thick consistency. The toppings are concentrated in the middle and the pizza itself is much smaller than Roman pizza, because it’s much more filling.
The rivalry is huge between the two pizza camps, with Italians and tourists alike adamantly loyal to their preferred pizza style. I have to say, though I prefer Roman pizza because it’s easier to eat and finish and I don’t feel uncomfortably stuffed afterward, Neapolitan style pizza is absolutely delicious as well.
Those rooting for Naples now have a step-up though: in December 2017, the “art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ (pizza maker)” received UNESCO Intangible Heritage Status! UNESCO said that the practice of pizza making, “plays a key role in fostering social gatherings and intergenerational exchange.” The art has been handed down for generations and the prestigious list hopes to protect that.
Whatever your preference, search for a wood-burning brick oven, a happy pizzaiuolo and don’t think twice about polishing off the whole thing. After all, “when in Rome”…