Pizza Defined

Close your eyes. Now, imagine a pizza. What comes to mind. You’re likely thinking of dough, sauce, tomatoes and maybe some other toppings. But what IS a pizza, and from where did it come? Italy, right? Not so fast…. the Greeks had something to do with this.

Flat dough with herbs and cheese appears to have originated in ancient Greece. According to the Greek Reporter “There is historical evidence that Greeks ate a flat bread called πλακούς (plakous) — “flat” — which was topped with olive oil, herbs, onion, cheese and garlic and then baked in a mud oven.”

It really doesn’t matter though – Italy or Greece – it’s all wonderful. I’ve had amazing pizza in both of these magical countries. I have to admit though, Neapolitan pizza IN Naples, with friends… well that’s just all sorts of awesomeness.

Fast forward to more modern times, the first pizzeria opened in the the US was Lombardi’s, opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi on Spring Street in New York. Guess what? It’s still open today, though in a different physical location. The pizza? Simply amazing. I know so many people, including some of my new NWI friends, who say the pizza at Lombardi’s in NYC is the best they’ve ever had.

OK, so back to my original question – what IS pizza? Well, here are a couple of pics:

This is a pizza. Round, flat and cut into slices.
This too, is pizza.

What is a perfect pizza? Here are the 4 golden rules.

  1. It should be round (ish) and cut into equally-sized, triangular “slices.”
  2. The dough should be cooked through and should be a little crispy. A few charred areas are fine. As we say in NJ, “Its not burnt – its charr.” And it should be thin.
  3. The sauce should be made from real tomatoes. Ingredients include tomato paste, water, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and petter. Oregano and dried basil are nice touches. By all means, it shouldn’t have added sugar. You hear me NWI? Your sauce is too sweet, because you’re likely using canned sauce. Cut it out. Be like Nonna and make your own sauce! Finally, don’t put too much sauce on the pizza. It makes it too oily.
  4. The cheese should be mozzarella! For some reason, NWI like to add a few different cheeses to the mix. The ONLY acceptable mix is the “East Coast Blend” which is half part-skim mozzarella and half whole-milk mozzarella. But its 100% MOZZARELLA! Capisce? And dear God, the cheese goes on top of the sauce. Not the other way around.

For the sake of clarity, let’s get to what pizza ISN’T:

Anything called “deep dish” is NOT pizza. Many years ago, on my first visit to Chicago, everyone kept talking about deep-dish. You HAVE to try the deep-dish pizza. Well, as a lover of pizza, I did just that; I ordered deep-dish. Some 39 days later, the “pizza” was delivered to the table. It weighed about ten pounds and looked something like this gooey, leaking mess:

(C) Wikipedia

First of all, the sauce is ON TOP of the cheese? Who does that? It’s about a foot and a half high (thick). It’s sauce, atop melted, oozy cheese, and another foot high layer of doughy dough. Dear God, this is NOT PIZZA. It’s an abomination. Or, if I’m being polite, it’s lasagna, or tomato and cheese casserole, or something. Whatever you call it, please, don’t call it pizza. I tried it, okay? That was my first Chicago pizza experience. My second experience was a doozy too.

When we first moved here, my wife kept talking about “Oven Grinder” and how the “pizza pot pie” was awesome and so special, and tasted amazing and she loves it… and, and, and. I was skeptical because while I love pizza and I love pot pie, putting them together seemed to be a sacrilege. It was a disaster. See my post on my “experience” here.

(C) ABC 7 Chicago – My favorite local news.

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