Pizza Power: The Top 5 Trends in Italy’s Pizza Scene
Even though pizza has been around for many hundreds of years, somehow, we still manage to find new ways to eat and appreciate this beloved meal. The trick? Not trying to reinvent the wheel so to speak, rather, revamping what’s been done in the past, combined with inspiration from contemporary pizzaiolos. Here are five of the latest trends on the Italian pizza scene that you should know about and, perhaps more importantly, taste. A Roman-style pizza revival:
You may be thinking: how can Roman-style pizza possibly be a trend? In addition to Neapolitan, it’s the most popular pizza style in Italy, with its visually-pleasing round shape (known as “tonda romana”), thin crust, and wide variety of toppings, there seems to be little to change. However, Roman-style pizza is going through a sort of revival, similar to what Neapolitan pizza did a decade ago, emerging from the darkness of old-fashioned, obscure neighborhood pizzerias to the limelight of food magazines and restaurant guides.
Jacopo Mercuro, winner of best pizzaiolo of the year at the 50 Top Pizza and Best Pizza Chef of the year under 35 (sponsored by Ooni) in 2022, is taking part in leading this new wave (and the pizzaiolo who dubbed it a renaissance).s. His pizzeria, 180 grammi, also received “Tre spicchi” (three slices) by the prestigious guide, Gambero Rosso, (its highest award for quality), and is always fully booked, despite its distance from central Rome. Jacopo makes his flat, thin crust using a biga (a type of preferment), and also tries unexpected pairings, such as prosciutto with fior di latte and pineapple “pastrami.”
However, Jacopo’s not the only one shaking up the Roman-style pizza world –– as Luca Pezzetta’s Pizzeria Clementina is worth a trip to Fiumicino (a seaside village outside of Rome) for their combination of new recipes with non-conventional Roman-style toppings, not to mention their exceptionally fresh seafood.
And then there’s Sami El Sabawy, the pizzaiolo of A Rota in Rome. Sami was a student of Gabriele Bonci –– an innovator of Roman-style pizza, as well as a prolific baker, pizza cookbook author and star of his own pizza show –– and has since continued to rise in the pizza world. While pizzaioli like Jacopo and Luca stretch their pizza dough with their hands, Sami prefers the traditional Roman-style method, using a matterello (rolling pin) to flatten the dough all the way to the edge. He also took what he learned from Bonci about dough fermentation to make his pies more digestible, and the importance of high-quality flours and seasonal toppings. The result? A product that is connected to the past with a modern approach in mind.
With flat, thin, foldable crusts and more experimental pairings, we say long live the Roman renaissance.
Blast from the past: Neapolitan rota ‘e carretta:
While Rome is looking towards a bright future, Naples is re-discovering its past. Over the last decade, pizzaioli from the contemporary wave have adopted the canotto style, a less-traditional Neapolitan pizza that’s smaller in size and with a large, puffed-up cornicione (crust) full of leopard spots (canotto translates to inflatable raft, or dinghy). Some, like Salvatore Lioniello of Pizzeria da Lioniello and Marco Quintili even made canotto-style pizzas as part of their brand.
Now, these pizzaioli are introducing a more classic version of Neapolitan pizza to their menus: ‘a rota ‘e carretta (cartwheel, which) is a flat, large, thin-crust pizza that was popular in the poorest neighborhoods of Naples. While this style never completely disappeared, it was mostly found in just a few pizzerias in the old part of the city. This return to the Neapolitan’s origins is probably due to a demand caused by the recent price increases in ingredients –– because this pizza needs a larger dough ball and more toppings, the minimal price bump is worth the increase in food and satisfaction.
What’s also helped bring back this style is the popularity of a brand like L’antica Pizzeria da Michele, a Neapolitan pizzeria established in 1870 and opened in 2019 in Hollywood, California. They’ve been exporting their signature cartwheel pizza around the world with a series of openings under its franchise, using a centuries-old recipe and Italian imported ingredients to great success. In 2019 they opened a restaurant in Hollywood, California, and in 2023 another in Manhattan, New York.
Sometimes, what’s old is new –– and in the case of ‘a rota ‘e carretta, it’s also mouth-wateringly tasty.Three cheers for pizza chains:
L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is a perfect example of another trend that’s been on the rise in the Italian pizza industry over the last 10 years –– pizza chains. While they’re not inherently a new phenomenon, in Italy the word “chain” has always been synonymous with “low quality,” but now, this concept is being challenged.
Take for example, Alessandro Condurro, CEO of Michele in The World, who took large inspiration from another famous pizza chain, Rossopomodoro. They’ve managed to open restaurants all over Italy, as well as in cities such as Tokyo, Dubai, Barcelona and New York, and in doing so sparked a pizza-chain revolution, along with others like Sorbillo and Starita.
Other notable examples of chain success are more grassroots in their efforts, seemingly appearing out of nowhere to dominate the pizza scene. Some made clever use of social media to grow their popularity, like Vincenzo Capuano, one of the leading voices of contemporary pizza. His signature style is a high-quality pizza with a fluffy, well-risen cornicione, and with his clever use of social media, he’s been able to grow his brand, leading to the opening of his own pizzeria in Naples. Since then, many more have followed including two in Berlin and Hamburg in Germany.
Errico Porzio, another rising player, is the first pizzaiolo star on TikTok with more than 900,000 followers and has since created a small chain of Neapolitan pizzerias. But the most successful story belongs to Pizzium, which was founded in Milan in 2017 by Ilaria Puddu, Stefano Saturnino and Nanni Arbellini, and has grown to include 36 pizzerias (all managed directly, not as a franchise) and isn't planning on stopping anytime soon. In the next year alone, twenty Pizzium openings are already planned in Italy, proof that some chains aren’t meant to be broken.
One pizzeria, endless styles:
A few years ago, renovating the pizza experience mostly meant giving customers a choice of different grains for their dough. These days however, it’s more common than ever for pizzerias’ menus to feature various styles.
One style that has increased in popularity is the pizza al padellino (pan pizza) which takes its name from the small, round pan it’s cooked in, baked to crispy goodness in an electric oven (a staple in Turin, the capital of the Piedmont region). Variations of the pizza al padellino abound in Italy, though it goes by different names depending on the region you’re in, especially in the south –– pizza nel ruoto, rutiello, rutino and ruccolo are just a few such names. Variations also abound in cooking methods (wood-fired versus electric), texture (crispy versus spongy) and, of course, ingredients. Still, the concept remains the same: a delicious pizza cooked in a round pan.
Another style gaining renewed interest in Italy is the pizza alla pala, an oval-shaped pie made mainly by bakers in Lazio and in Campania and served by the slice. It’s not uncommon to see new pizzerias opening with a bakery concept, allowing customers to purchase a hot slice alongside freshly-baked bread. A good example of this is Foorn, a bakery and pizzeria in Mariglianella (a province of Naples). While pizza chef Salvatore Kosta (known as the dottore or doctor for his degree in Food Science) creates a beautifully crunchy pizza alla pala, as well as a classic Neapolitan with a lightly crispy crust, baker Carlo Di Cristo is immersed in the world of flour and yeast, creating an impressive line of sourdough bread.Cheesy and boozy: pizza pairings with cocktails:
In a country that has always paired pizza with beer, seeing cocktails on the table in Italy is a refreshing change. It’s also a more recent trend, especially when compared with other pizza restaurants in cities like New York, London, or Copenhagen. The precursor (in Italy, at least) was Dry Milano in Milan, which, for many years, was one of the few places in Italy where you could have a pizza-tasting menu paired with cocktails.
More often, modern pizzerias are becoming full-service restaurants, complete with lounges, bars and spirits; and now, even in a city devoted to traditionalism like Naples, you can find high-end pizzerias showcasing separate cocktail menus. It’s no coincidence then, that restaurants like Salotto Martucci or the latest Rossopomodoro in Galleria Navarra are located in the Chiaja district, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city.
So, what will the next pairing trend be? Probably pizza and coffee. After all, we are in Italy.