Perhaps one of the most popular Italian foods today, outside of pasta, is pizza. There are few nations in the world that can claim that their food has become such an international phenomenon as Italy. In the United States, there are basically two main types of pizza. The thicker crust style covered in cheese is commonly known as Chicago style, while the thinner pizza with more traditional toppings is thought of as New York style pizza. In Italy, there is only one distinction – Italian pizza and the pizza made throughout the rest of the world. While the ingredients may remain the same, Italian pizza has a style of all its own.
The most basic form of pizza, seasoned flatbread, has a long history in the Mediterranean, tracing back as far as the Greeks and the Phoenicians. This pizza was cooked on a hot stone and seasoned with herbs. It was often used as an edible plate for other dishes, and would be similar to modern focaccia. During the Middle Ages the pizzas became more like the ones we are familiar with today. Dough would be topped with olive oil and herbs for food. When the Indian water buffalo was introduced, mozzarella became a primary ingredient on pizza, and paved the way for other cheeses.
However, no Italian pizza will ever contained the dry shredded cheese that is common on American pizzas. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the tomato became a part of Italian food, and the pizza that we know today was born. In the 1500s many believed tomatoes were poisonous, though once peasants began to use them regularly they became a staple in Italian food. Street vendors started to open actual shops, and the pizzeria was born.
The margherita pizza was one of the standard styles, popularized by Queen Margherita. However today’s Italian pizzas come in many flavors, often influenced by the region where they were born. The pizza marinara in Neapolitan is rich in oregano, anchovies, and garlic. However the pizza of Napoli contains tomato, mozzarella, and anchovies. Other countries used even more exotic ingredients. Capricciosa used artichoke hearts, olives, and hard boiled eggs, Verona used mushrooms, and Sicily used everything from seafood to peas. Different varieties of cheese also became popular.
Go into a pizzeria today and you would be amazed at the variety that is available. Whether it is cherry tomatoes, arugula, or different varieties of cheeses, you are sure to find something to please your taste buds. “Cousins” of the Italian pizza are also becoming popular, such as calzones filled with meat and vegetables or dessert pizzas featuring honey, yogurt, and other sweets. If you decide to try pizza while in Italy, keep in mind that Italian pizza is all personal size. Everyone at the table should order their own, and be prepared for some of the best pizza they have ever eaten. Once you have tried traditional Italian pizza, you will never want to go back to anything else.