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A little slice of history

David Rosengarten, publisher of the Rosengarten report, gives “Today” a lesson in the different variations of pizza.
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Food history is fascinating because it tells us a lot about one’s culture. Pizza, commonly served in the U.S. as fast food, has an interesting and diversified history way back to the Etruscans. David Rosengarten, publisher of the Rosengarten report, gives “Today” a lesson in the different variations of this little slice of life.


THIS IS THE grand-daddy of American Za. Not only is Naples the most famous pizza zone in Italy — but many of the immigrants who came to the U.S. around 1900 came from the Naples area. In Naples, a pie is small, with a light, soft, puffy rim, and sees very little time in the oven (like 2 minutes); the last fact insures that the pie will be extremely fresh-tasting, kind of “raw” by American standards. Toppings, traditionally, were tomatoes, basil, oil and garlic; only in the 1880s did they start to add cheese. There are not many examples of it in the U.S. The sample on the “Today” show is from La Pizza Fresca Ristorante in New York City.


When the immigrants arrived in New York, they converted the Naples pie — making it larger, with a lower but crunchier rim, much more cheese and sauce, and, most important, cooking it much longer (8-9 minutes altogether) so that the pizza has a “cooked-in” quality. Toppings were simple at first; then, pepperoni, sausage, peppers and mushrooms grew in popularity; today, anything goes. The sample on the Today show is from my local slice shop.


Nothing exactly like this exists in Sicily — though there is a kind of deep-dish, rectangular pie there that may be the ancestor of our “Sicilian” pie. Ours is a large rectangle, very thick, with basic, cooked-in toppings exactly like the New York pie: cheese and tomato sauce. The sample on the Today show is from Candido’s.


North of Naples in Italy, pizza is likely to have a thin crust. This idea began picking up steam in the U.S. in the 1970s and, today, a thin-crust pizza is usually considered to be the “gourmet” choice. It usually has tomato sauce and cheese; toppings can vary wildly. Degree of thinness can vary from just a little thinner than a New York pie, down to a virtual cracker. The sample on the “Today” show is from Osteria del Circo in New York City.


This thick, round pie, cooked in a high-sided skillet which hides the outer rim of the pie, was invented at Pizzeria Uno in Chicago in 1934. Pizzeria Uno has spread across the country, and the deep-dish pie has become enormously popular everywhere. The sample on the “Today” show is from Uno’s Chicago Bar and Grill in New York City.


This category began with the fancy pies made in the 1970s and 1980s at places like Spago in Los Angeles — where caviar, smoked salmon, duck confit and other upscale ingredients got placed on pizza. The category, in fact, is more defined by its toppings than by its dough; “California Pizza” is usually a fairly thin crust, but it can be thicker. The sample on the Today show is from California Pizza Kitchen in New York City.


The hottest pizza in New York. Few places there are making real Neapolitan pizza — but some of the best places are making pies somewhere between New York and Naples in character. The sauce is usually fresher; the cheese is usually better; the pie is less “cooked-in” than in your standard New York pie; the dough is usually softer and puffier than in the New York standard, though not as puffy as in Naples. Totonno’s in Coney Island is a Newyorkapolitan classic, as is Candido’s in Manhattan. The sample on the “Today” show is from Candido’s.

David Rosengarten is the editor of the fact-filled food and wine newsletter, The Rosengarten Report. You can get a mouth-watering pizza recipe that you can make at home, by visiting his Web site at: