I’ve had a little debate with my editor (hi Bryan!) about pizza in Italy versus pizza here in the states. I like pizza as much as the next guy, but the difference is enormous. While I understand that there are different types of pizza, there are some basic differences between the two. I thought I’d explain how I see it so that Bryan will understand why he’s wrong and a food pagan.
You must start with the crust, and the crust in Italy is nothing like the crust in America. Italian pizza crusts are generally thin, in some cases almost like a cracker. It is made from special flour that is difficult to find in America. The gold standard in Italy is Italian Caputo 00. It is very finely ground and has a lower gluten content that most of our flours. This gives the dough a more crunchy texture, as opposed to the bread-like texture of American pizzas. Italian dough has less elasticity. I personally like a bread-like dough, but the different texture of real Italian pizza creates a flavor profile perfect for what they’re doing. American dough will hold up better over time, which is why we use it so much. In America, pizza is often delivered or brought home, but the Italian dough will just go soggy too quickly; it is best enjoyed right out of the oven.
American pizza is drowning in tomato sauce. The sauce is cooked separately and then spread on the dough before going in the oven. In Italy, you are far more likely to find pureed fresh tomatoes that haven’t been cooked. Add a little garlic and oregano and you have a fresh, herby taste that you can’t get by cooking your tomatoes. Without a covering of tomato sauce and not being so thick with cheese, the Italian pizza showcases the super fresh ingredients on top of the pizza.
I love making pizza sauce, and my preferred pizza has more sauce than cheese. Having said this, I’m going to start making pizza with chopped fresh tomatoes and less cheese.
In America, shredded mozzarella is the cheese standard for pizza. It is in Italy too, except that it isn’t shredded bits of processed mozzarella that are sprinkled all over the pie. What they do is take very fresh mozzarella, cut it into bit size pieces and drop them all around the pie. Your pizza has pools of delicious mozzarella all over it.
Americans love to load up their pizza with all kinds of ingredients. In Italy, it seems to max out with about four, including cheese. You will also see a lot of pizza in Italy with fresh basil or arugula, which gives it a nice, peppery taste. Since most of the pizza in America is a high-volume business, the ingredients aren’t generally as fresh as you’ll find in Italy. And if you think the meats used in America are the same as what they use in Italy, you’re just plain wrong. Pepperoni in Italy isn’t the same as pepperoni in America. Find a good Italian market and give their meats a try and you’ll see what I mean.
I love American pizza. Load up the sauce and cheese, add some pepperoni, onions, black olives, anchovies, sausage, and green peppers and I’m in pizza heaven. But if I could only have one more pizza in my life, give me an Italian pizza with some freshly chopped tomato, a couple of chunks of mozzarella, pepperoni, mushrooms, and onions and then add some fresh basil. Drizzle some fresh olive oil on top and that . . . is . . . a . . . pizza!