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Pizza Perfection

What's the difference between Chicago and New York pizza? What are the best pizza spices? Find the answers — and get some tips for making your perfect pizza.

Is pizza your favorite food? You're not alone. Americans eat 100 acres of pizza daily! (The favorite topping is pepperoni, and the least favorite is anchovies.)

This love affair with tomatoes, cheese, toppings and seasonings atop a baked dough isn't new, of course.

Pizza came to America via Italian immigrants in the 19th century but didn’t become popular until after World War ll. The craze first hit port cities such as New York and San Francisco, then moved to the Midwest. Today there are over 61,000 pizzerias from across the country. In fact, pizza is more popular now in America than in Italy, where it’s served mostly as an appetizer. Americans have truly embraced this dish and made it their own.

Grilled vegetables and an array of spices nicely individualize this Very Veggie Pizza.

Pizza even has regional variations. Chicago-style pizza is a deep-dish style-- but also can refer to another Chicago style, "stuffed" pizza. Authentic Chicago-style pizza features a buttery crust, generous amounts of cheese and a chunky tomato sauce. A never-ending debate persists over who created the deep-dish Chicago pizza—but its place of origin is undisputed.

Chicago-style was created in 1943 at Pizzeria Uno, at the corner of Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue in Chicago, either by Ike Sewell (the former football player and founder of Uno) or Rudy Malnati (Ike’s chef). Americans had eaten pizza primarily as a snack. By enhancing some of Italy's authentic recipes with larger amounts of quality meats, a variety of fresh cheeses, vegetables and flavor-enhancing spices, a new American dish was born.

Starting with a dough made from cornmeal and olive oil, Chicago-style pizza is arranged in a thick layer in a deep round pan, turned up on the sides, and par-baked (before adding toppings). The pan is usually oiled before baking the crust, so a bit of a fried effect is created on the outside. Deep-dish pizza pans become “seasoned” with each use. The crust is covered with cheese (generally sliced fresh mozzarella—up to a pound can be used) then layered just about to the top with meats (a staple is Italian sausage) and vegetables such as onions, mushrooms and bell peppers. An uncooked sauce of crushed or puréed tomatoes is next, followed by a grated cheese blend. Basil and oregano are requisites, but a variety of herbs and spices will personalize this dish and yield unique results when you want to veer from the simple classic original recipe. You'll need a knife and fork to enjoy this dense delight.

The popularity of deep-dish pizza prompted the opening of a bevy of pizzerias in Chicago. Favorites include Uno's nearby sister-restaurant Due, which Ike Sewell opened in 1955. In 1954, Rush Street housed the Original Gino's Pizza, followed in 1966 by Gino's East. Others favored by locals and tourists alike include Edwardo's, Connie's, Giordano's, Carmen's, Bacino's, Pizano's, (owned by Rudy Malnati's son, Rudy Jr.), and Lou Malnati's (another of Rudy Malnati's sons). Chicago deep-dish pizza has become famous worldwide and is shipped to its fans around the globe.

In the mid-1970s, two Chicago chains—Nancy's Pizza, founded by Rocco Palese, and Giordano's Pizza—began experimenting with the deep-dish pizza formula and created the stuffed pizza. Rocco based his creation on his mother's recipe for scarciedda, an Italian Easter pie from his hometown of Potenza. The Giordano brothers, who cooked for Rocco, opened their own restaurant in the early 70's.

New York-style pizza hails from the Big Apple, of course—and is the American style pizza most like that found in Naples. New York style’s trademark is its wide, thin, and foldable slices. The traditional toppings are tomato sauce—a light amount—followed by mozzarella cheese. Additional toppings are arranged with the cheese. The slices are often eaten folded in half to make them easier to handle, since they tend to be flimsy and large.

The thin and crispy hand-tossed crust, made from high-gluten bread flour, is what sets New York-style pizza apart from other types. Believe it or not, proud New Yorkers sometimes claim the flavor of the crust originates from the minerals present in the New York City tap water used to make the dough. (Some out-of-state pizza-maker purists even transport the water cross-country for the sake of authenticity.) New York-style pizza is usually sold both by the slice and as whole pies.

Spices are a definitive feature in the serving of New York-style pizza. Typically the pie is served with condiments of oregano, dried red chili pepper, garlic powder, and grated Parmesan cheese-- available for the customer to place on the pizza once served.

Outside the Northeast region of America, New York-style authenticity varies; the term is often misapplied to a bland form of American pizza. These versions lose the true New York-style classification when the crust is too thick (or too crisp and thin) --or if they contain mixed-cheese blends, not strictly mozzarella.

New Haven-style pizza »

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Quick Links

» American-style pizza
» Classic pizza seasonings
» Tips for great pizza
» Pizza recipes to try

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