Whoever decided the world has four corners is wrong. Earth is flawlessly round, just like a piping hot pizza straight from the oven. I like to think of Earth’s regions as slices, and each slice of the globe has taken traditional pizza recipes and methods and adapted them to their specific tastes. In the U.S., there are four distinct pizza styles that are regularly enjoyed.
Pizza Margherita is a type of Neapolitan pizza. In fact, it is considered the gold standard against which all other pizzas are judged. It was first made by Raffaele Esposito in 1889 to honor Queen Margherita of Savoy. Here are the basic characteristics of the pizza fit for a queen:
Authentic Margherita pizza crust is hand-kneaded or mixed in a low-speed mixer and uses Tipo flour (finely ground flour). The center of the crust will be very thin (0.1 inches) while the outer rim is about half an inch thick.
To make true pizza Margherita, you have to use San Marzano tomatoes, which are plum tomatoes imported from Italy. Only fresh, non-processed ingredients are acceptable.
Aside from the sauce, pizza Margherita should be topped with chunks of buffalo mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. This makes the final product resemble the Italian flag.
Pizza Margherita must be cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven at approximately 800 °F. The final product should be 14” in diameter with a soft, elastic crust.
Pizza Margherita is considered a piece of Italian heritage. In an effort to preserve Esposito’s original recipe, the Vera Pizza Napolitana Association (VPN), based in Naples, offers training and certification for pizzerias that make Pizza Margherita using traditional methods.
New York Style Pizza
Lombardi’s, the first pizzeria to operate in the U.S., opened in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. They dubbed their signature pies New York style pizza, thus beginning a hot and steamy love affair with the American people. The basic characteristics of this pizza style are large pies, usually 18” or more, with slices so large that people have to fold them in half, lengthwise, to eat them.
The basic crust can be made using all-purpose flour, bread flour or any flour that has a high concentration of wheat gluten. Purists of New York style pizza argue that you can only use water from the New York public utilities to achieve the proper texture and flavor for the crust.
Simplicity is the key to New York style pizza. The sauce is just a basic tomato-based pizza sauce spread thinly over the crust.
Other than the sauce, New York style pizzas should not have more than one or two toppings. In fact, oftentimes, cheese is the only topping that is placed on an authentic New York pizza.
New York style pizzas can be prepared in any type of pizza oven, but since the crust is thinner, they will bake well in a brick pizza oven, which will give the pizza crust a nice char.
Chicago Style Deep-Dish Pizza
Chicago style deep-dish pizza was invented by Ike Sewell at Pizzeria Uno in the 1940s. This pizza style has buttery crust with lots of toppings and has to be eaten with a knife and fork. In some ways, it resembles lasagna more than pizza.
Chicago style deep-dish pizza has a chewy, buttery crust. The amount of oil or butter in the crust will also give it a nice golden brown outer layer once baked.
The traditional sauce for a Chicago style deep-dish pizza has a slightly sweet taste. Most recipes call for diced tomatoes and instruct you to mix the sauce either by hand or in a low-speed mixer, to keep the sauce chunky.
The crust is lined with cheese, then Italian sausage (usually from some old family recipe), then more cheese, then a sweet tomato sauce on top. Some pizzerias may even top the pizza with another layer of crust.
Unlike other pizzas, which can be simply placed in the oven sans a pan, Chicago deep-dish pizza has to be made in a deep-dish pizza pan. Also, before the toppings are added, it is suggested that you par-bake (partially bake) the crust, otherwise it will not cook fully.
Gourmet pizza is also referred to as California or West Coast style pizza. Unlike other pizzas that are largely identified with their crust, the gourmet pizza style is defined by the toppings, which are non-traditional, seasonal and often expensive. Breakfast pizzas and dessert pizzas will also fall under the gourmet pizza category as they break the traditional pizza mold.
Basic gourmet pizza uses a New York style pizza crust recipe, so the pizza will be thinner than a deep dish or thick crust pizza. Flour with a higher protein concentration is often used, too.
Many gourmet pizzas do not use the traditional tomato-based marinara sauce. They use olive oil, alfredo sauce or no sauce at all, to name a few examples. Basically, any sauce that goes against the tradition is fair game for a gourmet pizza.
Some toppings that one can find on a gourmet pizza include: oysters, crayfish, dandelion greens, caviar, artichoke hearts, shrimp and eggplant.
The only main preparation tip to keep in mind for gourmet pizza is that you may have to pre-cook some of the toppings. For example, eggplant releases a lot of water when it is cooked. If you put raw eggplant on a pizza and cook it all at once, you will get a soggy pizza, so sear the eggplant ahead of time to extract some of the moisture.