Pizza, Pizza, Pizza! a slice of heaven! Be it thick or thin, one topping or a garbage pie, cheese or no cheese, white sauce or red sauce; there is something to please all ages and cultures in this little one slice.
Since my childhood I have relished a slice or should I say a whole pizza. However, I only got to appreciate pizza in its true sense with its endless possibilities only after my move to the States. (Earlier it was either Narula’s or eventually Pizza Hut). I shudder now at the mere recollection of me gorging an entire pizza hut pizza. Ouch! Not to mention the tradition of adding mustard to Narula’s pizza in Delhi. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around that concept, right?
The challenge that faces me today is where to start writing this article from? After all, pizza like sports, religion, and politics is a loaded word involving many a heated conversations with passionate pizza lovers. How about let’s start at the very beginning with the history of a pizza?
History: Did you know that pizza was actually invented in Greece and only in 1889 it surfaced in Naples, Italy? Even though pizza is synonymous and deeply rooted with Italian culture, pizza isn’t as fundamental in today’s times to Italy. It is actually labeled ‘fast food’ in Italy, where it plays a secondary role to pasta or any other dish involving real food meaning food eaten with a knife and fork.
Pizza made its way to America around 1900 when adverse economic conditions pushed southern Italians to leave their mother country for pursuit of prosperity in the new world. Over the years, it just might be fair to assume that Americans relish pizzas the most across International borders. Americans certainly eat more of it, at any meal of the day, heck even temperatures or location is not a deterrent for us (my husband will grab a slice cold from the fridge). Unlike Italians, Americans love left over pizza especially after a late night of partying. Pizza simply is one of the few foreign dishes Americans have embraced wholeheartedly. To further illustrate my point, according to Serious Eats article on pizza, there are 21 Regional styles just in America.
Let’s look into the essential components of a pizza, shall we?
Flour: Pizza puritans believe that ’00’ bread flour is the gold standard for pizza flours. Tipo “00” is the finest grade of flour milled in Italy; it is mostly available through online gourmet stores. What makes it special, honestly, it is a guarded secret. What I do know personally through various baking experiments that tipo ’00’ produces a lighter and airier crust. In case of emergency or if you are a newbie in the world of home-made pizzas, stick with King Arthur Mills. That is what I use as last minute resort not to mention that it is readily available in most local grocery stores.
Water: You have heard the saying ‘ it’s something about the water’. After researching various articles on the net, it’s my understanding that it has to do with mineral content. Meaning, lower mineral content will deliver a softer dough versus a chewier dough. Personally, I haven’t tried to analyze the difference in my test kitchen. I typically use any brand of bottled water, I have lying around.
Now that we have covered the formalities, let’s dig a bit deeper in the finer details which evoke the most passionate discussions in serious pizza lovers.
Crust: How do you like your crust? Thin and crispy like NY style or deep dish like Chicago or Sicilian? While you ponder over this question, let me tell you how my family likes it – ultra thin and crispy.
Cheese: Classic like fresh Mozzarella, shredded or sliced? Or you are open to the new generation varieties like Fontina, Goat, Blue, Ricotta, Cheddar etc…I have played around with a few cheeses and I lean towards using only freshly sliced Mozzarella for my red based pizzas and a combination of Mozzarella, Goat, and Parmesan for the white base.
Toppings: Another tough question, what’s your philosophy regarding toppings? Do you care how many toppings adorn your slice of heaven? Through my travels spanning the entire country, I noticed that the standard in Italy was one topping or occasionally two. More than that, they consider it ‘American Garbage Pie’ and co incidentally, the only place I found to create this aberration was Venezia (Venice). I typically order or cook with two toppings and use only one type of meat.
Hmm, on to the skilled portion of this debate…
Cooking Medium: How do you like your pizza cooked? Coal oven, wood fired, or traditional high heat ovens? Practically speaking most of us don’t have the luxury of owning and storing a wood fired oven in our kitchens. Though there are some compact neat ones available for your patio. I cook on the highest temperature of my oven (Viking thermal convection at 600 degrees on the lowest level). Because my crust is ultra thin, my pizzas cook in approximately 6-7 minutes in a pre-heated oven.
I have been fortunate enough to travel and experience many a master pieces in their own rights for pizza. Here is a listing of few of my favorite joints in the world. They are listed randomly as I do like all of them.
Buffetto – Located a stones throw from Piazza Navano in Roma (Rome), this was by far our favorite slice. Traditional Roman style crisp, thin pizza with light cheese and one topping mostly. Since it is a pizzeria, it is only open for dinner and judging by the queues each night, be prepared to share the wooden stacked picnic style tables if you want a taste.
Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery in NY. Maybe I like it cause of the Roman style pizzas he Jim creates. What I adore the most is his pizza bianca which I have tried to recreate at home too.
Bar in New Haven, CT – A micro brewery in New Haven which only serves pizza in their menu. Though they do have a full stocked bar, the emphasis of course is on their own beers. The two pizzas we invariably order are the mashed potatoes with bacon and sun-dried tomatoes and peppers pizza. The pizza comes in three bases with red, red/cheese, and white. The fun part naturally is creating your own version.
Sally’s Apizza: Sally’s and Pepe’s (right down the street) are constantly in the ranking for the best pizzas in the US. Sally’s pizza is a thin crust which is baked in coal-fired brick ovens. Thankfully, they have a take out window and I can tell you that even though I lived in CT for 5+ years, I never managed to sit inside the restaurant to eat; the lines are just that long.
Giardano’s in Chicago: Yes, even though I am New Yorker at heart, I can confess that I did enjoy my experience at this deep dish joint in Chicago. You can read my review here. Chicago has fantastic options for pizza, but since I was trying a deep dish for the first time, I wanted to stick with the classics.Speaking of deep dish, Zachary’s in Berkley, Bay Area is worth mentioning too.
The past few years, so many artisanal pizza joints have opened in the country and I hope to eventually experience at least a few more of them. Until then, I continue to perfect my own recipes; yes, I did use ‘perfect’ as a description for my pizzas. This is the way we eat at our home and till date I have gotten rave reviews on my pizzas. You can view my Pizza recipes on – Reminiscing Roma – Ultimate Comfort Food – Pizza!
In case you are wondering what is in my perfect style? Here are my humble creations:
Thin Crust, Marinara Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella Slices, Fresh Basil, Drizzle of Best Quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil:
- Caramelized onions and hot Italian sausages.
- Heirloom tomatoes and jalapeno slices.
Thin Crust, Herb Oil, Combination of Mozzarella, Goat, & Parmesan, Truffle Oil:
- Mashed potatoes and bacon.
- Arugula and prosciutto.
Do you have a favorite pizza joint you crave or any preference for topping? I would love, love to hear from you, don’t forget to write a comment once you are finished reading this post. Buon Appetito!!