Pizza in Italy
It’s a simple, 5-letter word. It evokes positive feelings for almost anyone that has ever lived. It’s not spelled the way it would be pronounced in English. And yet everyone in the English speaking world (and beyond) knows exactly how to pronounce it. It’s pizza.
This is not the first time we have written about pizza – my business partner Brandy wrote a mouth-watering account of her favorite Italian food a couple of years ago. But it’s been a while and we’re due for a check in on this essential topic.
Some say there’s no such thing as bad pizza. However, an unfortunate consequence of traveling to Italy is that you return home much more picky. I used to relish the vastly different styles of pizza we enjoy here in the States, from paper-thin New York style to deep dish Chicago style. I have fond memories of my college days in Berkeley and far too many visits to Zachary’s Pizza, with their delicious deep-dish pastry crust and huge, perfectly seasoned tomato chunks. But now, sadly, I rarely think about that pizza any longer. Instead I long for a waiter to set in front of me my own impossibly thin yet crispy, un-sliced and ominous-looking, way-too-large pizza margherita.
To the untrained eater of authentic Italian pizzas, this moment of first arrival of your meal can be quite a shock. You may think to yourself, “There’s no way I could possibly eat this entire thing, and why the heck is it uncut, what do I do with this? And where’s my glass of Chianti, I’m going to need some liquid courage.” But then you get through it, unscathed other than the fact that you are ruined for most pizzas back home.
People in Italy order pizzas individually. You scan the menu and decide which one you’d like, and you order it for yourself. If you are dining with 3 friends at a small table, that’s 4 huge pizzas completely obscuring your table (food math – the only kind I like to do).
Then each of you proceeds to dive into your pizza, utilizing a combination of knife and fork and your hands, keeping your napkin close by. You may not feel that you are at your most sophisticated at this moment, with sauce everywhere, trying to manage the perfectly stringy mozzarella. This is where that glass of Chianti comes in handy. Because, who cares? You’re eating pizza. You’re having a moment for which no one should judge you.
As I mentioned, I love a simple pizza margherita, which is nothing more than olive oil, tomatoes, discs of fresh, melted mozzarella and leaves of fresh basil. These simple ingredients gracing the top of a thin, crispy, freshly-baked crust creates a beautiful and delicious meal. And despite the fact that the pizza initially seems too large, you blink and it’s gone.
I’ve rarely seen what we in the US consider to be “gourmet” pizza topping combinations in Italy. They don’t put pineapple on their pizza, or chicken with teriyaki sauce or other such things. And they don’t tend to offer a meat-lovers medley. They usually focus on one, two or three ingredients for each pizza. When you read the menu, you need to decide if you are in the mood for mushrooms or Italian sausage, as you may not be able to find a pizza with both. But not to worry. You can go back the next day and order the other one. I think the simplicity of the pizza is part of what makes it great. This is one of Italy’s best culinary tricks in general. Italian chefs keep things simple and use only a handful of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
As I try to remember the best pizzas I’ve had in Italy, I struggle to narrow it down to specific locales. I have ordered pizzas at so many different establishments, from tiny hole-in-the-wall family owned pizzerias to touristy cafes on crowded piazzas. I can’t think of a pizza I have not enjoyed in Italy.
I do remember liking Ciro & Sons in Florence’s San Lorenzo neighborhood, a family-run restaurant with a beautiful ambiance and many lovely pizza options, including gluten-free. Brandy, on the other hand, really likes Munaciello, just across the Ponte Vecchio in the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Florence, for their true Napolitano style of pizza.
The Florentine recently ran a story about pizza in Florence in which the writer argues that, while Tuscany has not historically been known for its pizza, there have been enough transplants from Naples (Italy’s pizza capital) to put Florence squarely on the pizza map. Their suggested pizzerias are listed in the article, and I intend to make it to each and every one.