Everybody knows pizza, in a form or another, and so does for sure every Italian.

In Italy, a ‘pizzeria’ (a restaurant specialized in serving pizzas) is the default for low-commitment dining, a place for every time Italians don’t feel like cooking (especially -for some reason- on Sunday nights). A traditional pizza is an affordable and reliable delicacy, and it’s something that can’t easily be made at home.

Most people when going out for pizza, just get one pizza (usually with a beer or a coke) and they’re done. There could be appetizers, especially if the wait is going to be long, and desserts at the end. Typical pizzeria appetizers are: bruschetta grilled scamorza, calamari fritti (deep-fried squid). Typical desserts are: profiterol, tiramisù , millefoglie . Espresso coffee is almost a must when ending the meal, often accompanied by a liquor, such as limoncello , grappa , amaro.

Delivery service exists, especially in the big cities, whereas in small towns pick-up is probably more frequent. Regardless, pick-up and delivery only represent a small percentage of the Italian pizza business (pizza degrades quickly when not eaten right away, especially in the cardboard box – when it comes to pizza most Italians prefer to eat out).

There is, however, one type of pizza that Italians may take home and reheat, or get to go and eat right away as street food: it’s Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). This type of pizza (“bakery-style”, thicker, cooked in rectangular trays and sold in squares) can be a real treat but doesn’t compare with traditional pizzeria pizza.

So, let’s talk some more about traditional pizza. Other than being thin crust, traditional pizza has to be cooked very quickly (in about 90 seconds), traditionally on the stone of a wood-fired brick oven (at 485 °C or 900 °F), and has to be made with high quality toppings such as fresh strained tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (also known as bocconcini) – the base of 95% of Italian pizzas. The other toppings depend on the style, and every pizzeria chooses what to put on the menu – some pizzerias may have more than a hundred types of pizza. Pretty much every pizzeria, however, also serves a number of traditional pizzas, which are always a big hit. The most important are:

  • Marinara (Sailor’s): tomato, garlic, oregano, oil.
  • Margherita (Margaret, named after Margherita of Savoy): tomato, mozzarella, basil, oil.
  • Capricciosa (Capricious): tomato, mozzarella, grated Parmigiano, basil, mushrooms, pickled artichokes, prosciutto cotto (not proscuitto! – Italian ham), olives, oil.
  • Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons): normally the same ingredients of ‘Capricciosa’, placed each one in one of the four quadrants.
  • Quattro Formaggi (not Quatro Fromaggio! – Four Cheeses): tomato (optional), mozzarella, other cheeses (such as gorgonzola , ricotta, fontina), basil.
  • Napoletana (Neapolitan): tomato, mozzarella, anchovies, oregano, capers (optional), oil.
  • Regina (Queen): tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, mushrooms.
  • Vegetariana (Vegetarian): tomato, mozzarella, grilled vegetables, oil.
  • Calzone : usually a Margherita, Regina or Capricciosa pizza folded in half, sealed and baked more slowly than a regular pizza.

Most Italians simply pick one of the many pizzas on the menu, or just make slight variations (e.g. double mozzarella, added fresh tomato slices, or added oregano). Some order a Margherita with an added topping or two, effectively making their own. This, however, is not very popular because Italians are very careful in combining ingredients – if two or three toppings go well together, chances are that their combination has a name and is already on the menu.

In any case, the number of toppings should always be moderate. Italians don’t feel cheated if the toppings layer isn’t much thicker than the crust itself – the crust is not a tray that has to be filled up as much as it can hold! And if there’s meat, it should never be more than one kind (there is no meat lovers pizza in Italy).

One last important thing to consider with toppings like cold cuts (e.g. prosciutto crudo), or greens (e.g. basil o arugula), is that they have to be added at the end as they shouldn’t be cooked.

Which leads to a Top Five list of the most common mistakes made in North America when imitating traditional-style pizza:

  • #5: Using too many toppings or too much of each.
  • #4: Having an oily crust – the crust should be dry, either fluffy or crunchy depending on the style.
  • #3: Using rich tomato sauces instead of simple uncooked strained tomatoes.
  • #2: Using some processed cheese other than mozzarella.
  • #1: Using non-traditional toppings, such as chicken, ground beef, or -worse- exotic preparations (e.g. curry, teriyaki, Thai).

9 thoughts on “Pizza”

  1. The authentic Neapolitan pizza… There is a lot of debate around it, even in Naples.

    A few problems arise when you try to define what is an authentic pizza, first of all, what does authentic mean? The very first recipe, made for the queen, or what was sold in the first restaurants that commercialized it?

    This is a good starting point:

    The thickness of the dough usually gets most of the attention. Pizza used to be served in little shops on the streets folded in four (but nowadays is not anymore), so the "authentic" dough has to be not too thick but soft, not crunchy.

    For the mozzarella cheese, there are two main kinds one made from buffalo, and the other from cow's milk. Note that the best quality mozzarella is very milky, thus is not usually great for cooking pizza as the milk would pour into the dough. Variants with less milk are used as topping, occasionally an whole mozzarella can be placed, after cooking on the center of the pizza (bocconcini).

    Toppings are also subject to a lot of variation, in Naples, other than the ones listed you can commonly find a few others, like the cold cut ham and arugola with parmesan cheese and tomatoes (sauce and cut grapevine ones) and most notably sausage and friarilli made with smoked provola cheese (you can see a nice one here, from one of the traditional restaurants in Naples:

  2. Oh, last but not least. The "pizza al taglio" remark is true, but in Naples those are also commonly called "pizzette" or "focacce". There can be some confusion because some pizza restaurants in Naples also offer pizza by the meter (al metro) that is still a regular pizza, but made in a more rectangular shape and measured by its lenght, with one meter usually being good for two people. It's usually possible to choose the toppings for each meter or half meter. Some other restaurants can offer a single or double or quadruple pizza, those are still round, still made in the same way as the single one, but bigger, served on huge plates and pre-cut in slices, then placed in the middle of the table for everyone to pick or using a side-table. Even in this case, multiple toppings can be arranged on the same pizza.

  3. What about ricotta cheese in a calzone? I say it doesn't belong! Just about every American pizzeria says it does. Who is right?

  4. Aaah che buona la pizza 🙂

    Very nice article. I agree 100% that prosciutto should be added at the end since when cooked it gets hard and dry. But I don`t agree on doing the same for all cold cuts. In my opinion salami and pancetta are better added before cooking. The fat in the cut melts and favour the pizza and they gain some nice crispiness which I like. A good example is a “pancetta e cipolle” pizza with crispy pancetta on top. Troppo buona 🙂

  5. A few more remarks from a pure blood Neapolitan on this topic that engulfs, divides and ignites us Neapolitans no end.

    First of all, the thin vs. thick crust is only an American (idle) debate.
    Real pizza has no actual "crust", ie. no crispy bits except for the "cornicione" (the "frame" part all around) and those bubbles of char that appear from the wood oven heat.
    The dough should always be soft yet springy and neither too thin nor too thick. The test of a good pizza dough is when it gets a little colder from sitting on your plate as you eat it and it's still delicious. Most pizza served in the world (and even some in Naples) cannot pass this test.
    At least, that's true of Neapolitan pizza. In Rome, they like their pizza thinner and crispier, which is also delicious but different.

    As for the (apparently much relished) American habit of eating cold pizza, or even worse leftover pizza straight out of the fridge, this would not even qualify as fit for pig feed in Italy.

    "New York-style pizza" would also simply not qualify as pizza for most Italians and certainly not for Neapolitan—especially since most of these are baked in an electric oven.

    One last word on pizza toppings: it is true that they have grown in variety over the years but overall Italians are still very conservative with them.
    The wonderful pizzeria Acunzo in the quartiere Vomero of Naples has been offering for decades some extravagant pizza toppings that are altogether delicious (and nothing like the disgusting Mac'n' Cheese Canadian stuff you photographed). I am not sure about this, but they may well have been the first to introduce pizza con la parmigiana di melenzane (which has then become popular all over town), and pizza salsicce e friarielli (ditto). They also serve pizza con pasta e fagioli (much more delicious than it sounds), and a calzone with a filling of baked pasta.
    Yummete! Wish I could fly to Naples now!

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