My site is called “Umbrella Terms” for a reason. The whole idea is to be able to talk about broad topics specifically without having to contextualize myself every single time I want to write an article on a hiking trail, for instance. Instead of recounting my life story as regards hiking every time I want to tell you about a cool park I found with nice trails, I can just include a link to that backstory and keep the article’s pace breezy. So, this week, I’d like to take a moment to talk about pizza, and why it’s one of the best foods on the planet.
Let’s start with the basic pizza construction as I understand it from growing up in the U.S. Take a nice, relatively glutinous dough and spread it thin as you like before adding a nice layer of red sauce. Pizza sauce tends to have more garlic than your average marinara, but as taste is subjective, recipes vary. More on that later. On top of that lovely red stuff, sprinkle as much shredded mozzarella as you please, dust the pie with then throw the whole shebang in a hot oven and bake it until the dough is bread and the cheese is melted, but not crispy. Run a pizza cutter across it four times, and you’ve got eight steamy slices of greatness; eat as many as you require and save the rest, because it’s also amazing cold.
It’s so simple, but eternally elegant. Personally, I’m a sucker for nicely contained meals. It’s a product of my attention span partially. If I can pick something up hungry and not be hungry anymore when I’ve eaten all of it (or just pick up another one), I’m a happy camper. Fork and knife meals require more time and focus, as ridiculous as that sounds, so they appeal less to me as a general rule. Plus, every slice of pizza has a convenient handle attached that doubles as a breadstick while preventing sauce and cheese from getting onto your hands.
Well, maybe not every slice, but that brings up what may be the very best thing about pizza: its complete modularity. In reality, almost everything I’ve said about pizza has the potential to be incorrect when taken on a pizza-by-pizza basis. The sauce doesn’t have to be red, the dough doesn’t need gluten, and the cheese doesn’t need to be mozzarella. And obviously more toppings are encouraged than just cheese and oregano. That’s the beauty of pizza: it is whatever you want it to be. Everybody knows what their favorite pizza is, and in a group of ten, there will be at least four different styles of pizza requested because of it.
But why is it so good? Science can tell us. Going back to the classic, basic construction for a moment (bread, sauce, cheese), we see that there’s a balancing act going on. Anyone who’s put a slice of cheese onto a cracker and eaten it will recognize what I’m talking about when I say that bread and cheese are kind of resilient. A crumbly cracker in a dry mouth is like sand, and in some cases, it’ll be there for a long time. Cheese is no better even though it smushes, as it kind of stays cheese as you chew. Tomatoes solve both of those problems with the same solution: more, slightly acidic, liquid. Tomato-based sauce is why the traditional pizza melts in your mouth, so to speak, and even the addition of a meat (say, pepperoni) doesn’t slow it down. On top of that, bread and cheese both contain chemicals that tell your body it’s filling up, but especially the bread. so, if you don’t eat your crusts, you’ll be able to eat more slices of what I consider to be the good part: the toppings.
This science carries over into artisan pizzas as well, though they are by nature on a case-by-case basis. If the nontraditional pizza is designed properly, it will have all of these balancing attributes, but could go about it in an entirely different way yet still arrive at the same place, texturally speaking. My beloved Buffalo Chicken Pizza works because of the vinegar present in the hot sauce.
What’s your favorite pizza? When I’m trying a new place, a plain cheese tells me everything I want to know about their kitchen, and their next pizza I eat will contain something I haven’t seen before (or something they pride themselves on making). Do you see a difference between local shops and the big chains? I certainly do, but I’m not you. Let me know in the comments below!