Calabrese pizza, or pizza alla calabrese, stands out for its fiery personality amongst the many tasty regional pizza varieties found across Italy. Hailing from Italy’s toe, the Calabria region, this pizza gains its distinctive kick from the spicy Calabrian chiles and sausage it is topped with. Beyond the spice, the method for making its crust and toppings also makes Calabrese pizza uniquely delicious.
A Crust That’s Thin Yet Soft
The foundation of any good pizza is the crust, and Calabrese pizza begins with a base that is:
- Thin and crispy – Stretching the dough out thin is key to achieving the signature texture Calabrese pizza is known for. This gives you the crispy exterior while allowing for soft, chewy bubbles within.
- Well-risen – Letting the dough proof sufficiently gives it airiness and makes it easier to shape without tearing. Properly fermented dough also enhances the flavor.
- Tender yet sturdy – While thin, a well-made Calabrese crust should still have some structure so that it can support the array of spicy toppings without getting soggy.
- Olive oil– Drizzling some good Calabrian olive oil over the shaped crust gives it a hint of richness as well as allows the toppings to adhere well so they don’t slip and slide with every bite.
Fiery And Flavorful Toppings
Of course when you think Calabrese pizza, the blazing toppings are what really stands out. Traditional Calabrian pizza dough gets topped with:
- Spicy Calabrian sausage – No holds barred here on the heat level, which comes from healthy doses of Calabria’s signature red chili pepper flakes. They infuse the meat with tingling spice.
- Calabrian chiles – You will often see pickled peperoncini scattered over a Calabrese pizza or cooked into the sauce. Again, these little guys pack some serious punch.
- Onions – Slow-cooked onions caramelized to sweetness balance out all the heat.
- Herby, garlicky tomato sauce – Simple uncooked tomato sauce made pungent with garlic and herbs helps cool things down slightly between bites of sausage and peppers.
Some other toppings that may make an appearance include:
- Thinly-sliced potatoes
- Sharp and salty pecorino cheese
- Cured black olives
FAQ About Calabrian Pizza Toppings
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the unique toppings that set Calabrese pizza apart:
1. Why are there no anchovies on a traditional Calabrese pizza?
You often find anchovies on pizzas from southern Italy. But the intense flavor of the chili-laced sausage and peppers takes center stage here. Delicate anchovy flavor would get lost.
2. Is fresh mozzarella used?
Traditionally, no. The low-moisture aged pecorino cheese has more bite, which holds up better to the strong spices and flavors preferred in Calabrian cooking. Fresh mozzarella gets overpowered.
3. What about vegetables like mushrooms or bell peppers?
You won’t find too many extra vegetables or ingredients crowding a traditional Calabrese pizza. Simplicity allows the excitement of the spicy sausage, peppers and garlic to shine.
4. Can I order this at my local pizzeria?
Probably not authentic Calabrese pizza unless you have a pizzeria specializing in southern Italian regional dishes. But you can ask them to add spicy sausage and pickled peppers to get close!
The Skills of Calabrian Pizzaiolos
To bring out the essence of Calabrese pizza requires specialized skills passed down through generations, mainly:
- Working very hot ovens – only 900+ degree F wood-fired ovens provide the rapid heat needed to char the crust perfectly while keeping the inside tender.
- Shaping thin, even crusts – getting an evenly bubbled, paper-thin yet crispy crust takes precision hands.
- Balancing sweet and spicy – the pizzaiolo must have a well-developed palate to properly balance quantities of fiery chiles and mellowing caramelized onions.
- Speed – a blazing oven means the pizzas cook in 2-3 minutes max. The pizzaiolo must work fast to shape, top and rotate pies at a rapid pace.
Calabrese Pizza By Region
Like many Italian foods, you will find differences across Calabria in the pizza toppings used that reflect localized specialties.
Reggio Calabria Style
In Calabria’s “toe tip” you always find:
- Potatoes – thin slices coat the pie for crunch
- Provola cheese – stretched provola tops potatoes
- Anchovies – salty contrast to the spicy sausage
Vibo Valentia Style
On pizzas from Vibo Valentia along the coast, traditional toppings include:
- Caciocavallo cheese – aged caciocavallo used instead of pecorino
- Pancetta – salty Italian bacon adds rich meaty flavor
- Arugula – spicy peppery arugula cools things down
Cosenza is known for brighter-tasting pies featuring:
- Mozzarella di bufala – buffalo milk mozzarella for white pies
- Datterini tomatoes – sweet datterini tomatoes contrast the heat
- Basil – fresh basil perfumes each bite
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