Pizza has become the cornerstone of fast food worldwide. Every corner of the world will have at least one pizza joint slinging dough. That’s not hyperbole, but no one owns pizza quite like Italy. Their chefs are able to turn what is basically a simple flatbread with whatever-sh*t-happens-to-be-around-that-day into a culinary masterpiece. To be fair, the Italians are not the only people that put tasty bits on flatbread. But they are the ones who named it pizza. And what we consider modern pizza was born in Napoli.
If you’re an American traveling to Europe this summer, chances are pretty high you’ll be hitting up Italy. Here’s a handy guide to various regional pizza styles you’ll find around Europe’s stilettoed boot.
This is the simplest place to start with the simplest of pizzas you’ll find. To the untrained eye, Pizza Bianca is just bread. It’s the glutenous base that pizza is to be built upon. Pizza Bianca is devilishly simple and delicious. The perfectly roasted dough is splashed with luscious extra virgin olive oil and dashed with a generous pinch of sea salt. That’s it. Sometimes you’ll find a Bianca with a zucchini flower and an anchovy baked in and maybe a little bit of cheese. Otherwise, this is where all Italian pizza started — delicious flatbread.
Check out Forno Campo De’ Fiori in Roma for some seriously good Pizza Bianco.
PIZZA AL TAGLIO
Elsewhere in Rome, you’ll find the mother of all pizzas — pizza al taglio. There’s an old Cole Porter song that comes to mind when stumbling upon a Roman pizza joint — it’s called Anything Goes. First, pizzaiolos (pizza bakers) will form a massively oblong dough and pre-bake it. Next, they’ll pile it high with literally any topping you can dream of in your deepest pizza dreams. The sheer inventiveness of the toppings you’ll find on pizza al taglio make American pizza looks downright boring by comparison, #sorrynotsorry. Filet mignon, spinach, and blue cheese: hells yeah! Sea urchin, nori, and caviar: #OMFGYES! Saffron, prawns, and chorizo: just hook it to my veins! Oh, and it’s sold by the kilo. So get as big or as small a slice as you please.
There is a strong pizza tradition on the island of Sicily. You’ll be leaving behind the light and crisp world of Rome and Napoli for the doughy world of sfincione. Also gone are the wood-fired ovens. In their place are banks of electric ovens turning out extra thick dough covered in sauce and, maybe, cheese. Sfincione is a Sicilian treat that drops in your stomach like a gluten comet that spins out a glorious tomato-y and basil-infused tail. It’s big. It’s fresh. You’ll want to order a Negroni on the side.
Palermo is abuzz with pizza joints offering up sfincione. You can also hit any bakery (Panificio) and find a chunk of goodness. If you’re adventurous, try a piece from a street vendor rolling through the cobbled alleys or along the waterfront.
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PIZZA DI SFRIGOLE
This is the pizza that Italians will lose their sh*t over when you mention it. It’s an Abruzzi specialty and hard to find anywhere else in Italy. Even photos of it (there is literally one online) are hard to find. This pizza is so simple, yet so unbelievably decadent that you’ll be craving it decades later.
A standard pizza dough of flour, salt, and water is infused with shredded smoked lard and then filled with fatty and lean chunks of prosciutto. Then it’s baked. The lard and ham fat melts into the dough, giving it an almost pastry texture. What’s left are lean bits of prosciutto in a decidedly out-of-this-world pizza dough — a salty, fermented, spicy, crispy bliss.
When traveling Abruzzo, you’ll find Pizza di Sfrigole at most bakeries and on menus at B&Bs. But you have to look for it. It’s not always on a menu at the obvious pizza parlor or restaurant. Happy hunting!
For classic American pizza, this is where it all began. The pizza Margherita is the holy trinity of pizza — dough, tomato, and cheese — but have you ever considered how it’s made? First, the pizzaiolo must hand-stretch (no rolling pins!) type 00 wheat-flour dough. Next, they douse the paper-thin white disk with a sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Then, fresh cubes of mozzarella from the wild water buffalo that roam the marshlands of Campania fall into the red sauce. Into the fire it goes — for about 30 seconds. Once out, the pizza is garnished with local olive oil and fresh basil leaves while resting for three times as long as it took to fire. Finally, about three minutes after ordering, you’ll have the most basic and delectable pizza known to man before you. And, yes, you need a fork and knife to eat it.
L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is the iconic venue in Napoli to tuck into such a classic pizza. They literally only have two options: Margherita and marinara. Be warned, though, the line gets crazy long almost every night. If the line is too long at Da Michele, hit up Lombardi over by the Archaeological Museum. It’s equally stellar, and they have a more extensive menu.
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The Scacciata is the grandpappy of the Chicago deep dish. Two layers of pizza dough sandwich myriad toppings inside this heavy-duty pizza pie. As with most pizzas across Italy, the toppings vary as far as the baker’s culinary imagination can take them. Given how big this pizza already is, it may be better to err on the side of light ingredients.
Pizzeria Bella Napoli in Catania, Sicilia, is a nondescript hole-in-the-wall that bakes up a perfect pizza scacciata to nosh on while you walk the ancient streets and beaches.
Ben Wyatt would love the panzerotti. Why? Well, they’re basically just deep-fried calzones. The panzerotti is a mutant — part classic, part county fair — of ambrosial proportions. Take your classic pizza dough, top it as you see fit, fold it over, deep-fry, devour, regret every choice you’ve made in life, realize you’re in Italy, drink a bottle of red wine, repeat.
Panzerottis can be found almost ubiquitously across northern Italy. One of the best cities to temp your resolve for any semblance of a “healthy” diet is in Milan. Check out Panzerotti Luini in the old city center right next to the Duomo di Milano.