Italy invented it, America embraced and evolved it (for better or worse) and the debate has raged on ever since: What is the original Italy’s Pizza? Now most people, including myself, would point to the classic wood-fired, tomato, basil and mozzarella di forre version that hails from Naples as the original, authentic Italian pizza. Try arguing this fact with a local in Rome’s Trastevere, while they are ordering a by the slice, focaccia style pizza from their favourite hole in the wall and you might go back to your hotel wearing one! Wherever the first pizza originated, there are enough regional pizza styles to keep the debate going for another thousand years. In this article we’ll take a look at all of the different varieties of Italy’s finest food export.
Regional Italy’s Pizza styles
Pizza al taglio, or pizza by the slice, is how they do things in Italy’s capital. This style of Italy’s Pizza usually comes in rectangular slices with a thick, focaccia-like base. Unlike Naples style pizza, there are numerous different toppings on show like aubergine, prosciutto ham, rocket (arugula), olives and even beef brisket. If you want to try something unique to Rome then look no further than the Pizza Nera, a black dough pizza made from vegetable charcoal. Another wildly popular dish in Rome is the Pizza Bianca, which is a white pizza eaten plain with oil and salt or stuffed with mortadella ham and mozzarella. You can even try a slice of these during a WalkingPalates Walking Food Tour of Rome!
Italy was unified in 1871 and it was 18 years later that a local baker named Raffaele Esposito is said to have created what we recognize today as the Margherita pizza. As the legend goes, In 1889, Queen Margherita of Savoy was touring Italy and after getting bored of the French cuisine she had been eating for the majority of the trip, Esposito made her a pizza topped with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to mirror the Italian flag and the rest is history.
A true Neapolitan pizza must be made using local ‘0’ or ‘00’ flour, kneaded by hand, or gently with a mechanical mixer, with only fresh yeast used as the rising agent. The dough must be shaped by hand, topped with fresh basil, mozzarella (usually fresh cow’s not buffalo) and pureed San Marzano tomatoes. The Pizza is then cooked in a brick oven that reaches 450 degrees celcius for no more than 90 seconds. The unmistakably charred, puffed up crust, which should be chewy not crunchy, is how you can spot a real Neapolitan style pizza.
The sfincione is a traditional Sicilian pizza originating from the Palermo region. It was traditionally prepared at Christmas but you can now find it year round at any Palermitan market as it is the quintessential Siciylian street food dish. It comes thick, doughy and rectangular in shape, topped with anchovies, tomatoes and cheese. The cheese used is usually Caciocavallo, which is a strong tasting local sheep’s cheese or Ragusano, made with whole milk from Modicana breed of cows fed on fresh grass or hay.
Calzone Fritto is the pizza of choice for the residents of Italy’s fashion capital. This folded pizza is pinched and crimped like an old English pasty before cooking. Milan’s calzone is a small, pocket sized version called panzerotti. It’s usually stuffed with cheese and the finest Salami Milano before being deep fried to crispy perfection. There’s a joke among Italians that the reason Milan’s fashionistas eat their pizza this way is that there’s less chance of them spilling any of the toppings on their expensive designer clothes!
Pizza al tegamino translates to ‘fried pizza’ or ‘pizza in the pan’ and could well be the oldest ‘deep pan’ pizza in the world, dating back to the early 1920’s. The pizza dough is stretched in an olive oil soaked pan, topped with tomato and left to rise a second time before being topped with mozzarella and oregano before heading into a brick or electric oven for it’s half baked, half fried finish. The result is a fluffy yet clispy masterpiece that sits halfway between a focaccia and a Neapolitan pizza.
This crescent-shaped region in northwest Italy is best known internationally for being the birthplace of Pesto Alla Genovese, the basil and pine nut pasta sauce that’s loved the world over. Liguria does however also produce an excellent pizza dish called Sardenaira. Served without cheese, many outsiders view it as more of a focaccia than a pizza but the locals call it a pizza and it’s delicious so we will include it all the same!
In Sanremo, in western Liguria you will find it is topped with locally produced salted anchovies, garlic and olives. Sardenaira is also known as pizza all’Andrea after the famous Admiral Andrea Doria as the bread was said to be his favourite dish.
So whether you are heading North, South, East or West, come hungry, grab life by the crust and see where your own little slice of Italian paradise lies!