Calabria is a region in Southern Italy; it is the toe of the Italian boot. The region is known for its spicy chilies and abundance of seafood. It is surrounded on three sides by water, so it is no surprise that seafood plays an important role in the local cuisine from stuffed anchovies to salty sardines to spicy shrimp pasta.
Calabria even has its own signature style of pizza. While pizza a la Calabrese isn’t on many menus in the United States, it is a popular pizza in Italy. And one you can easily add to your homemade pizza repertoire in no time. Yes, you can use a knife and fork to eat it!
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What is Pizza a la Calabrese?
There are a few things that make Calabrese pizza different from other pizzas, most notably the crust. Calabrese pizza is flatter than the Neapolitan pizza popular in southern Italy, because the dough is rolled out with a rolling pin rather than hand-tossed. At least it’s still round unlike Roman pizza.
Using a rolling pin makes a flatter crust without air pockets, so a Calabrese pizza is a flat pizza with a crunchy crust. It isn’t a cracker-like crust like the St. Louis-style pizza, but it is thin.
Another unique trait of a pizza a la Calabrese is that it has minimal cheese, and the cheese is added after the pizza has been baked in the oven. Usually, a Calabrese pizza gets a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano or a slice of buffalo mozzarella right after it comes out of the oven giving the cheese a chance to melt into the toppings.
And the toppings, of course, are the key to a good Calabrese. There are two types of Calabrese pizza; one has spicy Calabrese salami spread called nduja which is a spreadable salami made from pork fat, Calabrian chilies, and herbs. A truly unique meat for homemade pizza, you should definitely try it at least once.
And the second type of pizza, considered Calabrese has salty anchovies, tangy olives, pickled capers, and a spicy Calabrian chili paste. Both types of pizza a la Calabrese are spicy and include local delicacies from the region.
How to Make Pizza a la Calabrese with Nduja
Before we look at the two different types of Calabrian pizza, let’s talk about nduja. This sausage is a very soft sausage that is often called a spreadable sausage. You probably won’t find it in your local supermarket but should be able to find it in an Italian or international market.
Sometimes nduja is sold in the form of a sausage or salami, but when you open it, you see it is soft and can easily spread on bread or pizza. We have also seen it sold as a thick sauce with bits of pork sausage within the sauce.
To make a Calabrese pizza with nduja in salami form, you will need to pull apart several pieces to top your pizza. Nduja is so soft it is difficult to cut and easier to tear off pieces.
Start with your favorite homemade pizza dough or base and lightly spread a tomato sauce base. Then, add dollops of nduja all over the pizza. Bake the pizza at 450ºF for around ten minutes. Depending on the thickness of your crust, you may want to check it before ten minutes.
As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven, sprinkle it with freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano and let it melt into the pizza. And right before serving, sprinkle some fresh basil leaves for a nice aromatic finish.
Because it is simple but has a lot of spice, a cold white wine like a Pinot Grigio is the perfect complement. But if you prefer red wines, you can check out our pizza and wine pairing ideas.
How to Make Pizza a la Calabrese with Calabrian Chilis
Another way to make an amazing pizza a la Calabrese is to use Calabrian chilis. Calabrian chilies are usually sold in an oily paste and can range anywhere from medium hot to super hot.
These famous red chilis are so prized in Calabria that they even have their own festival in the city of Diamante, Calabria, where they celebrate everything “pepperoncino,” or little chili pepper in Italian. There are many different types of pepperoncino in Calabria, and everyone seems to have a flower pot growing some.
This style of pizza a la Calabrese starts with the sauce. Your tomato sauce needs to heat on low on the stove, and that is where the magic begins. Add green olives, anchovies, and capers to the sauce.
You aren’t really cooking everything, more just blending the flavors together on low. Next, turn off the burner and add as much or as little Calabrian chili paste. We suggest a tablespoon stirred into the sauce.
Next, get your dough ready. When your sauce has cooled a bit, spread it on your pizza base. Bake at 450F for around ten minutes, and then sprinkle it with Parmesano Reggiano or your favorite cheese when it comes out of the oven. Serve with more Calabrian chili paste on the side.
We love this pizza it’s spicy and salty and, in our humble opinion, is perfect with an ice-cold beer.
Other Ways to Use Nduja and Calabrian Chili Paste
If you like it hot, then you may want to explore other yummy ways to get more of these Calabrina delicacies into your meals. We have a few suggestions.
- Add them to eggs for a spicy breakfast pizza.
- Lightly coat crackers or bread for a simple appetizer.
- Use it as a sandwich spread.
- Add chili paste to stir fry.
- Add to chicken broth to clear sinuses.
- Use chili paste as a marinade for chicken, fish, or tofu.
- Spread nduja in a quesadilla
- Use gloves when touching nduja or Calabrian chili paste; they are surprisingly hot. Trust us, use gloves, especially if you wear contact lenses.
- Drain your olives well so they don’t add extra moisture to the pizza, making it soggy.
- A little anchovies go a long way; these salty little sea creatures are tasty but be sure to drink a lot of water when eating them.
- If you feel the burn from the chili or nduja, reach for milk rather than water to neutralize the heat.
Have you tried pizza a la Calabrese? Which version do you prefer?