The Northern Tip of America’s Pizza Belt

Living in New England places me squarely at the northern tip of America’s pizza belt, a region defined by New York food critic and Iron Chef windbag Jeffrey Steingarten as stretching from Philadelphia in the south to Boston in the north, roughly spread out along the Interstate 95 corridor. Major stops along the Pizza Belt include Phildaelphia, Trenton, New York, New Haven, Providence, and Boston, with each exacting their own regional influence on what is arguably America’s favorite ethnic fast food.

Steingarten describes the predominant style of pizza along the pizza belt as Neopolitan-American, and credits the existence of the pizza belt to the influx of southern Italian immigrants into this region during the early part of the twentieth century. In Ed Levine‘s book, Pizza, A Slice of Heaven, he chronicles the development of the early Italian-American Pizzerias of the region that, in many cases, exist along the pizza belt to this day.

The pizza belt up here in New England definitely has its share family pizzerias owned and operated by the descendants of Italian immigrants, and this is the style of pizza that I love. In fairness, however, I would have to say that in much of New England, once you step outside the Italian-American enclaves of Providence and Boston, for example, Greek style pizza dominates the landscape. Baked in a pan instead of directly on the pizza oven’s bricks, Greek pizza has a thicker crust. The crust typically has a much higher olive oil content than conventional pizza, and additional oil is used to grease the pans and help crisp the crust. It’s not unusual to find toppings such as feta cheese and kalamata olives available at Greek pizzerias. While slightly closer to traditional Italian-style pizza than Chicago deep dish pizza, Greek pizza, in the end, is a completely different animal nevertheless. When in a pinch I’ve been known to call in an order for a greek pizza from time to time, and while it can make a tasty meal, it doesn’t really qualify as real pizza.

That said, I’ve been making my own pizzas for almost twenty years, experimenting with and altering pizza dough recipes in an effort to achieve my own version of the perfect Italian-American pizza right here in southern New Hampshire. Having lived in Italy for three years, and being lucky enough to be married to a woman who grew up in Italy, I am intimately familiar with the flavor, texture, and style of crust I have been working to recreate. My current best effort is a dough recipe originally adapted from one created by Steve Sullivan, and published in Baking with Julia. The primary differences in my recipe is that I am using a larger proportion of olive oil and I have moved away from all-purpose flour, choosing instead to work with a higher-gluten white flour, King Arthur’s Sir Lancelot flour.

If you’re interested in making your own traditional Italian pizza, you can find my pizza dough recipe here.

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