Few things inspire, unite and comfort the way a good slice of pizza does—and few things elicit such spirited debate and discussion as to what constitutes “good pizza.” Purists may quibble, but there are myriad ways to make pizza and thankfully, a spate of cookbooks to guide you through the process. These six essentials run the gamut of complexity, from weeknight-friendly recipes to hardcore pizza chef geekery. There’s a pizza for every lover in here, whether thin crust, deep dish, sourdough or gluten free, and cheeses and toppings to follow suit.
American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press, 2003)
Reinhart’s the guy who extensively studies the intricacies of yeasted floury creations. Here, he includes many American pizza makers (and pizza-making techniques), but goes deeper, searching through Italy for early evidence of pizza (focaccia col formaggio, FYI) and of course, Naples, for its most popular exported prototype: Pizza Napoletana, whose colors of sauce, mozzarella and basil reflect the Italian flag. Expect more than 60 recipes, including master doughs for Roman, New York, Chicago, sourdough and grilled pizza.
The 411: Engaging storytelling and research
Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish (Ten Speed Press, 2012)
Okay, so it’s not exclusively about pizza, but please forgive us, as this book is both a James Beard Award and IACP Cookbook Award winner. Some call Flour Water Salt Yeast “graduate school” for bread baking. Forkish turned to pizza as an outgrowth of his artisan bakery in Portland, Oregon. Expect stellar recipes for doughs with different kinds of starters, with same day and overnight doughs. Forkish breaks it down further, by cooking vessel type (pizza stone or iron skillet), which then determines pizza style—Margherita, New Yorker, or meat pie. Oh, and there’s a whole section on focaccia, too.
The 411: Clear writing, detailed, descriptive instructions
My Pizza: No Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home by Jim Lahey (Clarkson Potter, 2012)
If you bake bread with any regularity, you know that the no-knead bread from Sullivan Street Bakery guru Jim Lahey has revolutionized the way people think about the process. Like Forkish, he also opened a pizza joint, called Co., in New York City. I bought this book for my niece after she watched me make pizza, ate the results and realized homemade pizzas were so much better. The sauce recipes are not terribly difficult and the flavor combos of some of these recipes are rather imaginative, proving that pizza is perhaps the ultimate culinary tabula rasa: how about a charcuterie pie with knockwurst, bratwurst, sauerkraut and mustard?
The 411: Hands-off process and knockout toppings
The Pizza Bible by Tony (of course) Gemignani (Ten Speed Press, 2014)
An American pizza chef with a series of award-winning pizza joints, and the owner of the International School of Pizza in San Francisco would have to have a serious pizza book, right? Gemignani’s is the go-to resource for serious pizza geeks. Don’t believe me? Check out its exhaustive subtitle: The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neopolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Foccacia to New York, New Haven, Detroit and more. All of this comes from an 11-time world pizza champion who calls what he does “a craft,” uses starters and encourages readers to mail order ingredients if necessary for the most professional result possible. Bonus: there’s a blog for the book.
The 411: All-in pizza baking; not for the faint of heart.
Truly Madly Pizza by Suzanne Lenzer (Rodale, 2015)
This cookbook was born out of the author spending Sunday mornings making pizza dough for the week. With that in mind, Lenzer’s approach is geared toward the modern, busy home cook who wants tackle pizza during the week without sacrificing on quality. She offers one master dough recipe but dozens of iterations. Authentic in its approach, you won’t find overloaded pies here, many with 3-4 ingredients, such as summer squash with lemon zest and ricotta, broccoli rabe, soppressata and egg.
The 411: Efficient, creative approach for weeknight eats
The United States of Pizza: America’s Favorite Pizzas, from Deep Dish to Thin Crust, Sourdough to Gluten-Free by Craig Priebe and Dianne Jacob (Rizzoli, 2015)
The title says it all. The latest collaboration between chef Craig Priebe and Dianne Jacob is their second to tackle pizza. No pizza stone goes unturned here—rather than a painstaking paean to the classic style, it celebrates the freewheeling Americanness of pizza, reflecting the personalities of their makers and origins. Recipe include “meatball mania” with a Cincinatti sweet red sauce, Trenton Tomato Pie with Baby Clams (New Jersey), and a White Bean Puree Pie with Asparagus (Seattle). And of course, there’s Rosa Pizza (red onion, rosemary, pistachio) from Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, among the eminent spots in the country.
The 411: Tour de force of American pizza permutations
Carrie Havranek is a recovering music critic and part-time baker who writes about food, farmers’ markets, chefs and restaurants—and sometimes travel—from her home in Easton, Pennsylvania. You may have seen her work elsewhere in Edible Philly, the Kitchn, or Frommer’s.
Main image from The United States of Pizzacourtesy of Rizzoli,