Novelty Pizza Items Hit Italy; Words of Wisdom from Cesare Casella

Clockwise from top right: French fry and hot dog pizza; Wurster in Camicia (hot dog in a shirt); Pizza sandwich with mozzarella and mortadella; Crostone (big crust) [Photographs: Cesare Casella]

New York-based Italian chef Cesare Casella is the sort of person who is clearly happiest celebrating food for it's own sake, and for all that it represents. If you're a big-time Italian fan, or if you've been following Serious Eats closely enough (and long enough), you might be familiar with Cesare. Ed Levine's review of Salumeria Rosi sheds a little light on the man behind the restaurants, as does a more recent Meet & Eat.

Cesare is (rightfully) proud of Italian food and heritage, and continues to be so. Albeit with a slightly...adjusted view of the big picture. "Italians have a deep cultural attachment to nourishing, delicious food, and not very much interest in junk food. Or at least, that is what I always thought."

On a recent trip home to Lucca, in Tuscany, he encountered a few non-nostalgic surprises, which he chronicled on his blog. At local pizzeria Mangiafoco—well loved by Cesare and his family—he was astonished when his 9-year-old nephew ordered a pizza topped with French fries and hot dog slices. "All it needed was a spoon of Nutella in the middle and the destruction of authentic Italian cuisine would be complete."

En route from Lucca to the Mediterranean seaside town of Viareggio, the food at an Autogrill (a ubiquitous chain of Italian highway rest stops), engendered a similar reaction. Inauspiciously named sandwiches—Hot Dog in a Shirt, Big Crust, and a Pizza Sandwich, to name a few—cause Cesare to wonder: was this just for tourists—or did it represent a more profound shift in Italian views of food?

He wrapped up his journey by Zen-ly reminding himself, "It takes a lot of tastes to make up a menu." So what do you think? These sorts of madcap mash-ups may be more common in the US, but are we any less appalled by them than Cesare?