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How deep is your crust: a guide to Italy’s different pizza styles

How deep is your crust: a guide to Italy’s different pizza styles

by Luciana Squadrilli 11 May 2017

From the classic Neapolitan to the thin, large Romana and more modern fried styles, pizza is going through a revolution in Italy. Luciana Squadrilli guides us through seven of the varieties on offer today – and where to eat them.

What’s the first image that comes to mind when you hear the world ‘pizza’ associated to Italy? Likely, it’s the round, soft, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza – the iconic margherita bearing the colours of the Italian flag – hot from the oven and with its appealing crusty edge.

Naples is the city where pizza history was made, properly acknowledged as its birth place and an essential destination for anyone who loves pizza and wants to master the art of its making. Yet, there’s more to pizza than the Neapolitan variety; travelling through Italy one becomes aware of the huge diversity of the country’s food. In the wake of the recent pizza renaissance which exploded in Italy and abroad, attracting the attention of food critics and a growing number of enthusiasts all over the world, the pizza universe has become wider and more varied, sometimes even moving away from its street food roots to a more gourmet one and becoming an experimental field for the most adventurous pizzaioli.

Regional styles and schools developed along personal creations, joining the different local traditions of what is essentially seasoned flatbread – from the thin cheese focaccia in Liguria to the thicker bases served with tomatoes and olives in Puglia. Even within Naples’ borders it’s easy to find different varieties, including the pizza fritta, a stuffed, folded and fried dough to be eaten on the go, an incredible example of Italy’s amazing street food.

But finding your way through the midst of this constantly growing diversity is not easy. One point of reference to help distinguish between different types of pizza is the crusty edge. From the thin, almost indiscernible one found on Roman pizza to the fluffy and exaggerated charred edges marking the latest trend in Neapolitan pizza, the dimensions of the crust surrounding the centre (making the task of eating a single slice by hand without letting any sauce or cheese spill over much easier) is a good indicator of what kind of pizza you are eating and, possibly, even of where you are eating it.

So, let’s try to sort out the different kinds of pizza available in Italy today based on their crust, shape and toppings.

Pizza Napoletana

A true reference point for pizza the world over, Neapolitan pizza is an everyday life staple and part of local life philosophy. The authentic pizza Napoletana is soft and thin – easy to fold and eat on the go if necessary – except for its edge, which is usually thicker in order to enclose toppings and to make holding a slice easy. The fast cooking in a wood-fired oven at very high temperature increases the creation of air bubbles in the dough. Actually, according to the specific area of the city or to the pizzaiolo’s inclination toward tradition or innovation, many variants exist: from the huge (often larger than the plate) and almost flat pizza a rota di carro (cart’s wheel pizza) found in the oldest part of the city – for example at Da Michele or Sorbillo – to the newest ‘hovercraft’ pizza with such a puffed up crust it looks like an inflatable dinghy, made by chefs like Francesco Martucci at I Masanielli or Franco Pepe at Pepe in Grani, both in Caserta.

The more common version, though, is a clever mix between the two, with a light and tasty crust that’s just as tasty as the inner part of the pizza, such as Enzo Coccia’s one at La Notizia. Marinara and Margherita are the most popular versions, although you can generally find many other options on the menu.

Pizza Romana

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Very thin, large and crunchy –­ this is how Romans like their pizza, even though in recent years new trends have seduced many. Traditional Roman pizza barely has a visible edge, since the dough is rolled out and flattened with a rolling pin which takes all the air out, and the long baking in electric ovens gives it a rusk-like texture. In the best pizzerias, however, the well-risen dough is rolled by hand and the result is a lovely thin and crispy crust. Head to Emma or the recently launched Gulietta – both in Rome – to give a try.

‘Gourmet’ or ‘tasting’ pizza

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It was only a matter of time until pizza made the jump into fine dining, and this relatively new style of pizza was the result. Created in Veneto thanks to Simone Padoan, whose venue – I Tigli in San Bonifacio, near Verona – looks more like a restaurant than a pizzeria, it soon spread all over Italy, mostly in the north. It’s now known as gourmet or tasting pizza since it is usually served already cut into slices, each carefully dressed and decorated like a single, perfect bite. Using sourdough, very long rising times and stone-ground flours (and an electric or wood-fired oven depending on the specific kind of pizza) the result is a thick and soft disk with an almost level crust that’s very light despite its solid appearance. The end result is more like a focaccia than a pizza, and the toppings are both raw and cooked separately in the oven.

Pizza all'Italiana

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A sort of mix between the former three styles, pizza all’Italiana definitely looks and tastes like a pizza (usually more on the Neapolitan side) but is more open-minded for chefs wanting to experiment with regional traditions and personal interpretation. This means there’s scope to use lots of creative toppings comprised of rare, locally sourced ingredients. Usually the dough is quite similar to Neapolitan pizza but sometimes also sees olive oil used as well as flour, yeast, water and salt – and the electric oven can replace traditional brick. The depth of the crust can vary depending on the rise, the percentage of water in the dough and baking, but it is usually quite deep. The best examples of this kind of pizza are spread throughout Italy, from the different venues of Berberé Pizza across the country to ‘O Fiore Mio in Faenza (near Bologna) and the Roman pizzerias La Gatta Mangiona and Sforno.

Pizza al taglio

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In Italy, the world of pizza has grown to include many other delicious things all sharing the common ground of dough, which can then take on different shapes and tastes. One of Rome’s typical street foods for example – yet easy to find in other locations, mostly in Northern Italy but also in Sicily – is the pizza al taglio: a sort of ‘pizza by the slice’ more similar to a focaccia, baked in rectangular trays, sold in cut pieces and priced based on weight. Toppings include rossa (red, with tomato sauce), Margherita or pizza con le patate (potato and cheese) to more elaborate ones such as the incredible recipes created by Gabriele Bonci at his Pizzarium in Rome.

Pizza fritta

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In Naples, the humble yet scrumptious pizza fritta – a round or moon-shaped piece of dough folded to enclose a rich filling of ricotta, salami and other ingredients and then deep fried at high temperature – has seen a strong revival recently, and brand new venues such as ‘O Sfizio d’a Notizia by Enzo Coccia have joined long-established Neapolitan landmarks such as La Masardona.

Trapizzino

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A smart, innovative reshaping of pizza was launched in Rome a few years ago by Stefano Callegari to instant acclaim. His Trapizzino (a triangular piece of focaccia cut to reveal a pocket filled with the typical, tasty Roman recipes such as meatballs or vaccinara oxtail stew) has conquered even New York and Tokyo, where Stefano has opened up permanent outposts.

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