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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's Official: Supreme Court Says Deep-Dish “Shouldn't Be Called Pizza”

Yes! Finally, official vindication of my long-held belief. The Supreme Court has ruled that Chicago-style “Deep-Dish Pizza” is not really pizza at all. Well.....sort of.

In a undeniably brave move, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Chicago, declared that, although tasty, the home-grown casserole-like concoction that the locals like to call “pizza” is not a pizza.

Justice Scalia was born in New Jersey to a Sicilian immigrant father and a mother who was herself a child of Italian immigrants. So the guy knows something about pizza, okay? I mean, if Sotomayor or Kennedy or Ginsburg spoke out on pizza, I'd maybe question their credentials. But not Scalia. The man obviously knows pizza. Justice Alito hasn't ruled yet, but I'm sure he'd be in agreement with Scalia.

The learned justice knows that when God orders pizza, it's gonna be vera pizza napoletana; the real thing. Pizza with a thin crust that's just the perfect balance between crispy and chewy, topped with rich tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese and maybe some fresh basil. That may not be in the Bible anywhere, but when the Almighty came up with the idea for pizza, where did he have it made? Naples. So, close enough.

Chicagoans don't make their alleged “pizza” on a flat pan; they use a large, deep pan with sides about three inches tall. You know what the proper name for a large, deep, tall-sided baking dish is? Casserole! Look it up. And the word “casserole” applies to both the cooking vessel and the dish that's cooked in it. So when you fill up a casserole dish with ingredients and bake it for thirty to forty-five minutes, what have you got? A casserole! Not a pizza. A pizza is “topped.” A casserole is filled. Doesn't matter that it's filled with traditional pizza ingredients. It's still not a pizza. If a cat has kittens in the oven, you don't call them “biscuits.” And a real pizza can be made in less than ten minutes. You shouldn't have to wait for three-quarters of an hour.

The full text of Scalia's ruling, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, reads, "I do indeed like so-called 'deep dish pizza.' It's very tasty. But it should not be called 'pizza.' It should be called 'a tomato pie.' Real pizza is Neapolitan. It is thin. It is chewy and crispy, OK?"

And he's absolutely right. When you make an apple or cherry pie, you lay a crust in a deep baking dish and fill it with apples or cherries. When you lay a crust in a deep baking dish and fill it with tomatoes, you get a tomato pie. Not a pizza.

A dissenting opinion was offered by Chris Bentley, writing in Chicagoist: “We dissent. Sure, pizza took its modern form in 19th century Naples: thin crust, mozzarella and tomatoes. But the Neopolitans’ original intent when they drafted their recipe was to please the masses, in order to create a more perfect union of tomatoes, cheese and baked dough. They could not have envisioned modern technology, New World inventiveness or the American appetite for excess. We must respect this new context.”

First off, Chris, check your spelling of “Neapolitan.” And your opinion doesn't hold water. Pandering to “the American appetite for excess” has ruined a lot of traditional cuisines. “New World inventiveness,” also known as American ethnocentric hubris, does not trump “Old World” tradition. In small, easy to understand words, “don't screw around with my pizza.”

By the way, lest I be labeled a “New York snob,” I was born in the Midwest and grew up near Chicago. But even as a kid, I turned up my nose at the messy, doughy dreck Uno's, Lou Malnati's and other so-called pizzerias tried to shove down my throat under the guise of “Chicago-style” pizza. Even Pizza Hut pizza was better, and that ain't saying much. At least it was a form of pizza, not a tomato casserole with cheese. And believe me when I say there's a lot of New York/New Jersey pretenders out there, too. Not all pizza made in New York and environs qualifies as “authentic.” But even the worst greasy, sloppy slice that you have to fold up to keep intact is better than what Jon Stewart once called “tomato soup in a bread bowl.”

The Senior Associate Justice of the highest court in the land has spoken. There's no appeal. I hope to see the word “pizza” stricken from any and all versions of tomato casserole and tomato pie very soon. Don't cry, Windy Citizens. You've still got your own hot dogs.

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