Pepperoni has become salami non grata at Neapolitan pizzerias

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People talk a lot about ham and pineapple pizza, barbecue chicken pizza and crusts topped with sardines, artichokes, ricotta salata and arugula, but every national poll reiterates one immutable truth: Pepperoni remains the No. 1 pizza topping in the United States. We love that puddle of hot pepperoni juice.

Results of a 2016 Harris Poll on pizza topping preferences shows that pepperoni is at No. 1, followed by sausage, mushrooms and cheese/plain. Least favorite toppings include anchovies, mushrooms, pineapple and onions.

I grew up in Massachusetts where pepperoni was a birthright and almost all pizza was local, non-chain and considered “Italian” cuisine. As an adult, I discovered the harsh reality.

In his book How Italian Food Conquered the World, John Mariani writes that pepperoni is really an early 20th-century food invented by Italian-Americans to mimic pricier cured, peppery salami from southern Italy. If you say the word “peperoni” with one “p,” Italians think you are talking about “big bell peppers.” Blame the Canadians for the pineapple.

With the dawn of authentic Neapolitan pizzerias in the U.S. spinning traditional pies from wood-fired ovens, pepperoni has become salami non grata. Recent research from Packaged Facts shows that prosciutto as a pizza topping has increased 27 percent since 2010. Diners are offered hot soppressata, lardo or guanciale and other salumi variations but never pepperoni.

A few artisan salumi places now cure their own “authentic” pepperoni, but none of these is “the new pepperoni.” No topping will ever likely match the universality of that red pork and beef salami with the salty, fatty, smoky and hot appeal.

Hungry? I researched Colorado pizzeria history for AAA a few years ago and came up with a trail of cool spots starting with Carl’s Pizza in Denver, the state’s first real pizzeria. Other stops include Buenos Aires Pizzeria (Denver), Virgilio’s Pizzeria (Littleton), the original Pizzeria Locale (Boulder) and Dolce Sicilia Bakery (Wheat Ridge). Some of them are even openly pepperoni-friendly. Read more at: colorado.aaa.com/encompass/archives-2014/online-feature-on-crust-we-trust)

Owner Virgilio Urbano shows off a pie at Virgilio’s Pizzeria in Littleton.
Owner Virgilio Urbano shows off a pie at Virgilio’s Pizzeria in Littleton. Kim Long

Local food news
From now through June 5, Greenwood Village-based Red Robin restaurants will combine two college dorm favorites in a Ramen Burger: One all-beef teriyaki patty, Chiu Chow aioli, chili-infused shredded cabbage, carrot, onion and basil on a ramen noodle bun. Unrelated side note: The Ramen Burger Café opened recently in Jakarta, Indonesia. … Relieve tax day stress with Peggy Markel at her Moroccan cooking class April 15 at Boulder’s new culinary space, Food Lab, 1825 Pearl St. The class includes a seated dinner with wines; foodlabboulder.com. … Plan ahead: 23rd annual Colorado BBQ Challenge, June 16-19, Frisco, townoffrisco.com.

A Nibbles throwback to 1998
Here’s an excerpt from a Nibbles column in the Daily Camera, December 1998:

“This is my kitchen primeval. This is where I made my first lasagna, ate cereal every morning and sipped coffee before my father’s funeral. In this cramped shrine, my mother, Rose Lehndorff, cooked tens of thousands of meals — meatloaf, Portuguese pork chops, macaroni and cheese — for 45 years. We pack the kitchen last, trying to maintain the family hearth — even as the movers, packers, friends and real estate agents wait.”
What was the single best thing you learned about cooking from your mother in the kitchen? Dads and grandparents count the same. Pass along your memory, and I’ll share it in my upcoming Mother’s Day column. Keep it to 50 words or under, please. E-mail: nibbles@boulderweekly.com.

83.1 billion snack eatings
“Based on NPD’s snacking research, annual eatings of ready-to-eat snacks per [baby] boomer are about 1,200, or a total of 90.4 billion snack eatings, and there are about 1,000 snack eatings for each millennial or a total of 83.1 billion snack eatings.” — Yes, they really talk that way.

Cooking tip: frico
I wish there was a way to make this recipe more complicated than it is, but it is impossible. Here is how you make frico, or pan-toasted cheese crisps, and one of the most delicious things you didn’t know you knew how to make.

Step One: Heat a dry nonstick pan over medium heat.
Step Two: Sprinkle shaved Parmesan cheese in a small circle. Wait till it starts to lightly brown and flip or simply eat. Top a Caesar salad. Dip it in ham salad.
Step Three: There is no Step Three. Go back to step one and make more.
Variations: Try another dry, aged cheese.

As the great novelist Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: “Many’s the long night I dreamed of cheese — toasted mostly.”

Taste of the week
Peak Spirits Mell Vodka is a somewhat mysterious Colorado spirit. Sparse information about this product is available but the hard-to-read label says it is a mix of grape and grain spirits distilled in Hotchkiss by the award-winning Peak Spirits. It is a profoundly smooth vodka that is perfect for cocktails, making tinctures and fruit infusions and, frankly, far tastier than many more expensive vodkas.

Words to chew on
“If you are eating another’s food, engaging with their lives, engaging with their ways of conceiving the world, that is a welcome engagement. That is how newness enters the world.”
— Krishnendu Ray, New York University Food Studies professor

For more food, like John’s Facebook page at facebook.com/USpie. John hosts Radio Nibbles, 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, streaming at kgnu.org).  

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