Italian purists might scoff at heaping such praise on a foreign-born topping and everyone else might yell at me for not ranking it number one, but pepperoni is number two because it perfectly represents the gluttonous side of pizza.
Its history is nebulous, but the NY Times traces its first written record to 1919 and by all practical accounts it was designed specifically for the American slice. The mysterious composition of the meat subtly tricks the brain into a savory lull and the grease acts as a much-needed crutch for mediocre cheeses. It's spicy, savory, salty, sweet, and sour, all at once. It pains me to rank it second, but there's more to pizza than just a sloppy make-out session with a greasy slice...
1. Fresh basil
Gluttony is one of pizza's two faces, the other is Old World elegance. Let me paint you a picture of a wood-fired oven on a rolling Roman hillside. There is a sunset that belongs on the side of a bottle of EVOO, insects of unidentified origin chirp but don't bite, and a beautiful woman with an olive complexion pours another glass of red wine from a bottomless decanter engraved with your initials (how did she know?!). She then bites into a piece of pizza topped with... giant red polka dots of beef/pork?
Nope! It's basil on that pizza, a simple aromatic herb that brings out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, doesn't hog the spotlight from the dairy, and makes an otherwise unhealthy meal taste like something that will make you live forever. It's an aspirational topping that elevates and refreshes even frozen slices like no other topping.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. He loves pizza and hates freedom. Follow him to more controversial topping opinions at @Dannosphere.