There are, in some regions, rules about what belongs on a pizza. Italian purists refuse to stray from thin tomato sauce and a scant dusting of cheese. Neapolitan pizza bakers must follow strict regulations about everything from the dough ingredients to the way the crust is formed, from the toppings to the baking temperature and the kind of wood burned in the stone oven.
Americans are known for their love of garbage pizza, an unappetizing word for pizza with every topping imaginable. If pizza alone isn’t satisfying enough, we reach for side dishes. Chain delivery services offer a variety of side junk: chicken wings, bread sticks, and macaroni. It has been my experience that the more sides are offered, the less appealing the pizza. We love pizza so much that we’ve invented regional styles: Detroit-style, Chicago deep dish, New York, California.
Other countries have their own pizza traditions. When Shakey’s Pizza was alive and well in Minnesota, we flocked there for the pepperoni, unique in that it was layered on top of the pies where it browned on the edges and curled into little bowls of piquant grease. Shakey’s Pizza in Japan has plenty of familiar toppings, such as pepperoni, yet they can’t keep the corn and eel slices coming out of the oven fast enough to satisfy the all-you-can-eat lunch crowds. Swedes are served “Pizza Salad” with their pies, which from what I can tell is simply cabbage coleslaw (although I’ve yet to meet a Swede who claims to enjoy Pizza Salad), while Pizza Hut’s recent attempts at bringing odd toppings to lucky connoisseurs across Asia and the Middle East made me wonder if all the hoopla was an Internet hoax.
Which brings us to my kitchen. The only pizza rule in my house is that it must be delicious. Experimentation is encouraged. The weirder, the better. My epitaph will read “When in doubt, throw it on a pizza.” See today’s Called to the Table and view illustrations below for lessons in updating a classic salad. I present, for your tasting pleasure, Pizza Nicoise.