We ate a lot of pizza in Italy. Just look! Whenever we found ourselves craving pizza, there was a pizzeria anxious to serve one up. Pizza often seemed like the best option when we were out and about, sight seeing and away from any kitchen. They’re a great choice because they’re cheap, easy to share, and can be taken to a park for a simple picnic lunch.
People might tell you that Italians don’t consider a pizza without cheese to be a pizza. Well, no one ever batted an eyelash when we asked for no cheese. Though, there were two times when this created some confusion and we opened our pizza boxes only to find no tomato sauce. Oops! We quickly learned it’s important to be extra clear, and note you’d like a pizza with vegetables AND tomato sauce, but “senza formaggio” (without cheese).
If you decide you want pizza and french fries, be clear on that one too. If you’re not careful, your order may be misinterpreted and the french fries might just end up on your pizza. Believe it or not, pizza with potatoes is a common order for some people.
When you ask for a vegetable pizza, you never really know what you’re going to get. The variety and the quantity of vegetables, ranging from almost nothing to a giant heap, may surprise you. I suppose we could have specified which vegetables we wanted, but we usually just asked for a mix of all the vegetables they had on hand. We often were served pizzas that had some combination of eggplant, red bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and onion. There was also the odd occasion when olives, asparagus, spinach and cabbage showed up. It’s a good thing we’re not picky when it comes to vegetables, we’ll eat them all!
For vegans, the pizza options are limited to the vegetable or vegetarian pizza, or a pizza marinara, which is just a pizza with tomato sauce, garlic and herbs. The traditional marinara combination may sound simple, but these ingreidents combine to make a truly mouth watering creation that’s bound to have you craving more within days minutes after your first bite.
In the north of Italy, the pizza crust is known for being thin. As you travel south, it gets thicker. When we first started out, I kept asking if the crust had any milk, egg or strutto (pork fat), but was always assured Italian pizza crust isn’t made that way. It’s just flour, water and maybe a little yeast. That’s good news for vegans! However, if you’re in the north of Italy, make sure you ask about strutto, they’re always trying to sneak it in everything. In general, you shouldn’t have any problems at traditional pizzerias, where everything is made from scratch. It tends to be the large, chain restaurants, which really aren’t very common thankfully, that use animal products. You should always double check with them.
You know how in North America you can order a small, medium or large pizza? Yea well that doesn’t exist in Italy. There was only ever one size available at the pizza places we visited. I’d say the size of an Italian pizza is about equal to a medium or large pizza you’d get in Canada or the US. As I mentioned in a previous post, Italian people don’t seem to be into sharing pizzas. People just order one each, and eat it all. We broke the rules on this one, a full pizza is just too much in my books. Because some pizzerias with a sit down dining area will charge customers a pizza splitting fee, we almost always ate our pizza outside.
As we made our way down to Sicily, we started to notice a new pizza trend. There were many shops selling small pizzas, called pizzettas. The translation is simple: small pizzas. We found pizzettas were usually premade, and couldn’t be ordered without cheese or extra vegetables. We were only able to try them on one occasion, when we arrived early to a shop that was just getting ready for the day and baking its first batch. We asked the chef to make some without cheese, just vegetables. The only vegetable he had was mushrooms, we rolled with it and were soon handed our first pizzettas. Fresh out of the oven and just the right size to fit in your hand, they make for a great on the go snack.
In my mind, bruschetta is similar to pizza, or at least in the same family of food, but I’m sure some of you and most Italians will disagree. You can order it with a variety of toppings, just like pizza, ranging from the simple to elaborate. We tried two version while on a day trip to Bassano del Grappa, a town in the north of Italy. We ordered one each, one marinara (sadly, the spices were left off) and one chili garlic. I really liked how the large, crunchy crust was cut up into bite size pieces and came served with a toothpick. Usually, when I try to eat bruschetta, it’s loaded up with toppings that just fall everywhere as I try to eat a too-big-for-one-bite portion. It’s kind of a disaster. This was better. It’s no surprise, Italians do it right.