Over 70,000 pizza restaurants operate in the United States today. Americans sure love their pizza, too. The USDA estimates 13% of us eat pizza every day.
We have so many variations, too. New York-style, Chicago deep dish, and Ohio Valley-style all have their champions, but they’re hardly similar to old-world style pizza.
Do you want to have an authentic Italian pizza experience? Read on to learn about authentic pizza in Italy and how to find it at home.
Pizza comes from Italy, more specifically Naples. As tomatoes found their way to Italy from Peru, bakers in old Napoli began to make a rudimentary flatbread pizza.
It was a form of street food in the poorer sections of Naples. In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples.
There, a baker named Raffaele Esposito baked the queen a special pie. The colors mirrored the Italian flag. Red sauce, white cheese, and green basil formed the now-famous Margherita pizza.
Pizza in America
The influx of Italian immigrants to America in the late 19th and early 20th century meant their culture followed. Luckily for us, this included delicious Italian food!
Starting in New York City, pizza soon spread across America as Italian immigrants and their families migrated. Pizza parlors sprung up in cities across America, and everyone fell in love with this simple dish.
Evolution of American Pizza
American climates, soil, and growing seasons are far different than Italy. So are the tastes of American diners. People had to improvise with available ingredients.
Though the foundation of cheese, tomato sauce, and dough remain intact, pizza in America evolved into regional cuisine.
New York Style
New York-style, found in the northeast in areas east of the Allegheny mountains, is a thin crust variety. It features large, foldable slices and minimal toppings.
Ohio Valley Style
The Pittsburgh area is a confluence of several different pizza styles. Pittsburghers prefer a thicker crust and lots of toppings. However, Ohio Valley style pizza is far more unique.
Ohio Valley is a square, airy crust pizza with tangy tomato sauce. What’s so unique about it? Ohio Valley pizza comes topped with cold mozzarella cheese.
Chicago Deep Dish
Deep dish is pizza for those frigid Chicago winters. It features a dense, buttery crust with chunky tomato sauce with the cheese between the dough and sauce.
It’s baked in a deep, cast iron pan allowing ample room for pork toppings like sausage and pepperoni.
All-American is the pizza produced by large chains. Large pizza companies have delivery outposts all across America, and smaller parlors emulate this style.
It’s a moderate-thick crust topped with seasoned tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, and many toppings.
Authentic Italian Pizza
American pizza traces its roots to Italy, but none of the above styles are authentic Italian. They’re American inventions and variations on the original Naples pizza.
Italians take their culture and food very seriously. An authentic Neopolitan pizzeria must receive certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN).
Authentic Italian pizza specifications are strict. A pizza restaurant without VPN certification can still serve you authentic Neopolitan pizza so long as they follow the following specifications.
Authentic Italian Pizza Dough
The pizza dough must use a specific type 0 or type 00 Italian flour. The only other dough ingredients are salt, water, and fresh brewer’s yeast.
The dough is hand-kneaded or combined with an electronic mixer. When forming the pizza, the dough must be hand-stretched without the aid of a rolling pin.
Authentic Italian Pizza Crust
The Italian pizza crust is thin, crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside. The hand-stretched dough bakes in a wood-fired oven at least 800°F. The maximum baking time of an authentic pizza is no more than 90 seconds.
Eat these pizzas fresh from the oven.
Authentic Italian Pizza Sauce
Authentic Italian sauce uses San Marzano tomatoes. These tomatoes come from the San Marzano region, and they’re sought after by chefs across the globe.
Though American’s grow San Marzano-style, they are not authentic unless designated by the Italian government.
Italian pizza sauce is basic and fresh. Blanched and peeled San Marzanos are peeled and pureed. The seasonings are salt, pepper, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
Unlike American sauce, the Italian variety receives no additional cooking after the blanching process.
Authentic Italian Pizza Toppings
Americans love their toppings piled high. The most popular topping in America that coincides with shredded mozzarella is pepperoni.
Authentic Italian pizza uses a specific cheese. In Naples, it’s Mozzarella di Bufala. Bufala is a fresh, soft mozzarella made from buffalo native to the Salerno and Caserta regions.
When it comes to toppings, Naples designates three official styles.
- Pizza Marinara is without the cheese
- Pizza Margherita is tomato sauce with cheese and basil
- Pizza Margherita Extra is a typical Margherita with Mozzarella di Bufala
Though these are official VPN styles, Italians use a wide variety of toppings. Prosciutto, eggplant, artichokes can all top Italian pizzas.
Pizza pinsa is the Roman form of pizza. It’s more of a flatbread featuring dough made from rice flour or other grains. The flatbread is topped with cheese and other toppings.
Traditional pinsa does not feature tomato sauce.
While it’s not technically pizza, it is an authentic pizza-style dish that has a long, ancient history.
The Authentic Italian Pizza Experience
Finding authentic Italian pizza in America is no easy chore. Sure, every corner pizza joint likes to say they’re authentic Italian. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
America does have many regional pizza variations, and they’re all worth eating. If you want to eat pizza like an Italian, you have to find a parlor that sticks to the old-world specifications.
Try it today and send your tastebuds on a trip to Italy!
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