Last week I wrote about focaccia so I decided that this week I would follow along the same line and move on to focaccia’s cousin, the pizza. Now, as any red blooded Italian will swear, pizza is and always has been 100% Italian. Unfortunately, historians don’t feel we Italians can lay claim to the pizza.
In its most basic form, what we would call a pizza (a seasoned flat bread with various toppings) has a long history in the Mediterranean. The Greeks and Phoenicians ate a flat bread made from flour and water. The dough would be cooked by placing it on a hot stone and then seasoning it with herbs. Known as plankuntos, the Greeks used it as an edible plate when eating stews or thick broth. Okay, so maybe they invented the crust, but it could hardly be called a pizza.
Recently, archeologists discovered a preserved Bronze Age (2,000 to 500 BCE) pizza in the Veneto region of Italy. Sorry Naples, you may not be the birthplace of pizza after all! It wasn’t until the Middle Ages, though, that pizzas started to take on a more modern look and taste. The Italian peasants of the time used what few ingredients they could get their hands on to produce pizza dough, and topped it with olive oil and herbs.
The tomato, a key ingredient for the modern pizza, first reached Italy in the 1530's. However, it was widely believed at that time that tomatoes were poisonous, and for generations they were grown only for decoration. However, thanks to the brave and innovative people of Naples, the supposedly deadly fruit began to find its way into many of their foods -- including their early pizzas. First sold exclusively by street vendors, pizza became very popular in Naples; in 1830, the Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba of Naples became the first true pizzeria, and this venerable institution is still producing masterpieces today!
Another interesting part of pizza’s colorful history can also be traced directly back to Naples. In 1889, Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited the Pizzeria Brandi in Naples. The Pizzaioli (pizza maker) on duty that day, Rafaele Esposito, wanted to create a dish for the Queen that would show his admiration for the new flag of Italy. He made her a pizza that contained the red of tomato, white of mozzarella, and the green of fresh basil -- the combination of which was a big hit with the Queen.
As Italians emigrated to the United States they bought with them all the foods of their homeland, including pizza; but it wasn’t until after World War II that the the dish began to gain popularity among non-Italian Americans. You see, many of the GIs who had spent lots of time in Italy helping rebuild the country acquired a taste for the local cuisine, and when they returned home they brought with them a new love: pizza.
Today, it's almost impossible to find a child or adult who doesn’t know of and enjoy pizza, and I’m certainly no exception to that rule. I was born and raised on delicious Italian pizza. I can still remember when I was a little boy watching my grandmother and my mom baking pizzas at our family pizzeria. To keep me busy they would give me my own ball of dough to press and roll out, and once it was ready I got to spread on the tomato sauce and cover it with mozzarella di buffalo...
...Now that I think of it, I’m certain that those days spent making pizza with my mother and grandmother are when I acquired my love of cooking!
Now, many years later, I’ve acquired loads of experience at making delicious and authentic Neapolitan pizzas, as well as other varieties, and I’ve brought that skill set with me to Angelo Caputo’s. I hope that you have already enjoyed one of our ready to take home and bake pizzas; we make them fresh every day in our La Bella Romano Cucinas. If you haven't tried one yet, then I invite you to do so! For those of you have experienced our pizzas, feel free to leave a comment and let others know which variety is your favorite.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of pizza, I found several good sources including the following web sites: