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Devils, Seasons and Queens: What’s in an Italian Pizza Name? (Corrected!) Posted by on Jul 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

There’s pizza, and then there’s la pizza. From the simple margherita to the robust quattro stagioni, there’s more than meets the eye – or taste buds – in the names of Italy’s favorite children.

Itchy Feet: Toppings

Update: I’ve been schooled! Our resident Italian bloggers, Geoff and Serena, read this post and have a few choice corrections to make. I’ve updated this post with their comments, in italics. Thanks guys!

Italians take their pizza very seriously. This we know. They make the finest pizza in the world (although one of my all-time favorite pizzas was in Croatia…shhhhh!), and if you’ve ever been to a pizzeria in Italy, you know there are several “standard” pizzas with special names. Although there are slight regional variations to each type, standards are standards. You’re not likely to find Hawaiian maple syrup chicken blue cheese alfredo lime peanut butter pizza among them.

And this, if I may be honest with you for a moment, is my only gripe with Italian pizza. In America, land of the free and home of the brave, we list the possible toppings, so that you, an individual agent with free will, may decide how to decorate your pie. Not in Italy. In Italy, if you want toppings other than what’s standard, or want to change a standard pizza to fit your own personal (i.e., inferior) standards, you get at best an eye-roll and an internal sigh from the waiter (“tourists…”), and at worst outright refusal. Can’t I decide what’s best for my meal?!

This is inaccurate. It may have been vaguely true 20 years ago, but is absolutely not the case today. By law, the ingredients of each pizza must be listed on the menu, especially if it contains possible allergens. We have never been to a pizzeria where it wasn’t possible to adjust a pizza to your requirements, in fact, our local pizzeria will even do a half and half pizza for two people with different tastes to share. Obviously, no pizzaiolo (pizza maker) is going to completely reinvent the pizza for every customer, but that would be the same of any traditional dish in any country.

Anyway, I’ll just get down off my soap box – that’s what the comic above was for, after all. I’ve since learned to trust Italian tradition and agree to their rules of pizza engagement. Less is more. It’s better for everyone involved. So let’s get back to the point: the three most famous pizzas, what their names mean, some interesting stories behind them, and some delicious Italian food vocab along the way. Buon appetito! 

Pizza Margherita (mozzarella and basil)
If ever there was a poster child for both pizza itself and Italy as a country, this simple dish would be it. No, the name has nothing to do with margarita cocktails, which is a Mexican concoction. Rumor has it that after Italy’s reunification, Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples, where she was baked a pizza with the colors of the new Italian flag: green (basil, basilico), white (mozzarella), and red (tomato sauce, salsa pomodoro). Since then this has become the classic.

Grammatically, salsa pomodoro is incorrect. It should be salsa di pomodoro. However, salsa di pomodoro, which is a cooked tomato sauce, is not used in pizza Margherita. The correct ingredient is passata di pomodoro, uncooked minced tomatoes.

Pizza Diavola (spicy salami)
My personal favorite. The full name, pizza alla diavola, literally translates to “pizza in the devil’s style.” The devil and I both like things spicy, apparently. A diavola is technically the Italian pizza closest to the classic American pepperoni pizza – however, do not go to Italy and order a “pepperoni” pizza! In Italian, peperoni (notice just one p) is the word for bell peppers, so the pizza you receive will disappoint you greatly. If you want salami slices on pizza, you’d better order the diavola.

Quattro Stagioni (artichokes, olives, prosciutto, mushrooms)
Literally, the “four seasons” pizza. Presumably the ingredients correspond to seasons of the year, though it’s not clear which are which – artichokes (carciofi) could be spring, mushrooms (funghi) winter, olives (olive) fall and summer, I suppose, would be prosciutto (pronounced “pro-shoot-toh,” please. An American friend once called it “pro-skweeto” and it took me forever to figure out what on earth she was saying). Unlike in the USA, Italians put the quattro stagioni toppings in four distinct quadrants on the pizza. If you want the quattro stagioni with the toppings all strewn about and mixed together, you’re going to have to order the capricciosa (“capricious” or “chef’s whim”) – literally the exact same pizza, but not so neat and tidy. Did they really need another name for that?

Incorrect. The most important pizza has been omitted from the list: la pizza Napolitana. In fact, la pizza Napolitana is the only DOC pizza in Italy, rendering it the true classic.

Well, those are the Big Three. Now, as the Italians say, ho tanto fame – I’m really hungry!

Grammatically incorrect: fame is a feminine noun, therefore it should be “ho tanta fame!”

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


  1. Mary mc:

    How about the pizza in Rome with an egg cooked on top? That was a shock.. Is that a Rome thing?

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