Pizza consists, at its core, of three things: dough, sauce, and toppings. It's hard to believe that this simple dish could spawn hundreds of variations and result in a $30 billion worldwide industry, not to mention the huge number of chefs and pizza-makers who specialize in perfecting this single dish.
We may debate which country invented pizza, but there's no denying that it's one of the most popular foods found throughout the world. The word pizza, which comes from the word pita, means 'pie.' So be careful: calling it a pizza pie is sort of like saying "I'll have the soup de jour of the day." The below list is by no means exhaustive. It's just meant to drop a little knowledge on you about some of the more popular permutations found in different regions of the world.
1. Neapolitan Pizza
Neapolitan is the original pizza. This delicious pie dates all the way back to 18th century in Naples, Italy. During this time, the poorer citizens of this seaside city frequently purchased food that was cheap and could be eaten quickly. Luckily for them, Neapolitan pizza – a flatbread with tomatoes, cheese, oil, and garlic – was affordable and readily available through numerous street vendors.
Today there are three official variants of Neapolitan pizza:
Pizza Marinara: Features tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil.
Pizza Margherita: Features tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
Pizza Margherita extra: Features tomatoes, mozzarella from Campania, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
Traditional toppings: Since Neapolitan pizza is thinner, it isn't designed to handle the weight of too many toppings. In fact, Neapolitan pizza is so thin that it's typically eaten with a fork and knife. Not to mention, straying away from the original could be considered a pizza sin. The typical Neapolitan pizza toppings are fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil leaves, oregano, and olive oil.
Baking suggestions: Many people will tell you that in order to make "real" Neapolitan pizza, it must be baked in a wood burning oven that's heated anywhere from 800 - 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to how they made it many years ago. Baking the pie at this high of a temperature only takes around 70-90 seconds to fully cook.
2. Chicago Pizza
Chicago pizza, also commonly referred to as deep-dish pizza, gets its name from the city it was invented in. During the early 1900’s, Italian immigrants in the windy city were searching for something similar to the Neapolitan pizza that they knew and loved. Instead of imitating the notoriously thin pie, Ike Sewell had something else in mind. He created a pizza with a thick crust that had raised edges, similar to a pie, and ingredients in reverse, with slices of mozzarella lining the dough followed by meat, vegetables, and then topped with a can of crushed tomatoes. This original creation led Sewell to create the now famous chain restaurant, Pizzeria Uno.
Traditional toppings: Unlike other styles of pizza, the toppings on a Chicago-style pie aren't found directly on top, but instead underneath a layer of tomato sauce. Generally, the toppings for Chicago pizza are ground beef, sausage, pepperoni, onion, mushrooms, and green peppers. Some locations will even finish off their pizzas with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese across the tomato sauce.
Baking suggestions: In order to easily get a Chicago pizza out of the pan, it's important to wipe the pan down with oil. Adding oil to the pan also helps to make the base of the dough a bit crispier. Since there are more toppings and dough, baking a deep dish pizza can be a lengthier process, with a baking time of 30 - 35 minutes.
3. New York Style Pizza
While New York-style pizza isn’t exactly the original, it’s become the most popular and widespread choice in the United States. Even though Neapolitan and New York pizzas share similarities, there are distinct differences. Some people will tell you that it’s the minerals in the Big Apple’s water used to make the dough that makes this pizza stand out. However, in order to make a proper New York-style pie, the crust still needs to be thin, like a Neapolitan, but thick enough to fold a slice in half lengthwise. This simplifies eating the pizza without utensils, which is a necessity in New York City's fast-paced setting.
Traditional toppings: Unlike its thin crust counterpart, the Neapolitan, New York-style pizzas can handle a wide range of toppings, from pepperoni and sausage to mushroom and anchovies. While this style of pizza can have virtually any topping added to it, it's more common to find condiments added to a slice, like oregano, red pepper flakes, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder.
Baking suggestions: Just like the Neapolitan pizza, many will tell you that in order for a New York-style pizza to be authentic, it has to be cooked in a wood or coal burning oven. Today, many people use gas deck ovens to bake them, which create the same delicious, gooey, and crispy result.
4. California Pizza
California pizza, or gourmet pizza, is known for its unusual ingredients. This pizza got its start back in the late 1970’s when Chef Ed LaDou began experimenting with pizza recipes in the classic Italian restaurant, Prego. By chance, he served one of his newest creations, mustard, ricotta, pate, and red pepper, to Wolfgang Puck. Impressed with LaDou’s innovative pie, Puck invited him to be a head pizza chef at his restaurant. It was here that LaDou came up with over 250 unique pizza recipes that eventually formed the menu of chain restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen.
Traditional toppings: When it comes to California pizza, there's no such thing as traditional toppings. This lack of specificity allows you to get inventive. You can even swap out tomato sauce for barbecue or Alfredo sauce.
Baking suggestions: Your choice to use either thin or thick crust will determine how you will bake your pizza.
5. Greek Pizza
Despite its name, Greek pizza has nothing to do with Greek toppings, nor was it invented in Greece. In fact, pizza isn’t even a common dish in the Mediterranean country, despite its close location to pizza’s birth place, Italy. Greek pizza was created by Greek immigrants who came to America and were introduced to Italian pizza. Instead of following the strict guidelines of New York or Chicago-style, Greek pizza has its own rules. While this style has a crust that is puffier and chewier than thin crust pizzas, it’s not quite as thick as a deep-dish or Sicilian crust. Greek pizza also typically uses a tangy tomato paste that has a strong oregano flavor and is topped with a blend of mozzarella and cheddar cheese.
Traditional toppings: Since there are no traditional toppings on Greek pizza, outside of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, you or your guests are free to add what you'd like. Not to mention, the thicker design of this pie can handle the weight of multiple toppings. If you really want to pay homage to the country this pizza gets its name from, try adding feta cheese, black olives, and red onion.
Baking suggestions: To get a puffy, chewy crust, Greek pizza is typically baked in a round pan that has been heavily coated in olive oil. Lining the pan with oil also allows the bottom of the dough to fry while it bakes.
6. Sicilian Pizza
Sicilian pizza, also known as sfincione, may seem like a distant cousin of a Chicago-style pie, but the two have their differences. It's not even the same pizza that you'd get in Sicily. So what’s the deal with this complicated pizza? Well, no matter what country you get this square cut, thick crust pizza from, it should always have a spongier consistency than other pizzas. However, sfincione is typically topped with a tomato sauce, onions, herbs, anchovies, and then covered with bread crumbs. This version is typically served on holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Sicily. But in America, Sicilian pizza features a simple combination of tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese and is eaten all year round.
Traditional toppings: As mentioned above, the original Sicilian pizza isn't overloaded with toppings. However, the strength of the thick crust is perfect for adding on your guests' favorite toppings.
Baking suggestions: To bring out the flavor of your Sicilian pizza dough, try lining your pan with an olive oil blend. Also, the temperature of your oven will determine how long you should bake your pie. For example, if your oven is heated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, it should take about 15 - 20 minutes to bake your Sicilian pizza.
7. Tomato Pie
Derived from Sicilian pizza, Italian tomato pie is a thick crust, square cut pizza that features focaccia-like dough and plenty of sweet and tangy tomato sauce. If you travel to Philadelphia to try a square of this delicious treat, it’ll most likely feature “gravy” - another name for tomato sauce - poured over a crispy and doughy crust. However, in other areas, tomato pie can feature cheese and other toppings with the sauce poured over top. But what makes tomato pie really stand out amongst other pizza options is the fact that it is commonly served and eaten at room temperature.
Traditional toppings: Tomato pie traditionally features a simple blend of sauce and bread, with the occasional sprinkle of Parmesan cheese across the sauce. However, you can also find versions of this pizza that feature ground beef, sausage, and slices of mozzarella.
Baking suggestions: First, the crust of the pie is cooked in the oven. To avoid your crust from drying out, you'll want to coat it with a little bit of water and tomato sauce. After the dough is done baking, you can add the sauce and place it back in the oven for about 15 minutes at 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Alternative Pizza Types
The different toppings and styles of pizza are endless. While traditional pizza toppings, like pepperoni and veggies, may initially draw customers into your business, unique pizzas, like cheeseburger and bacon cheese fry, will draw in even more curious and hungry customers. You can even explore different crust options like pretzel or stuffed.