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Pizza, the one food that’s never hard to top!- Tuesday, May 15, 2012

PizzaLast 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!

Which pizza style gets the most media attention?

deep dish pizzaNY style Pizza

Chicago’s deep dish has an ongoing rivalry with New York’s much thinner pizza style, but which grabs the most media attention? For the most part, the Big Apple-style pie takes the pie!

  2008 through
2011 average
2012 so far
Chicago's deep dish 46.5% 15%
New York thin style 53.5% 85%

Source: Highbeam Research www.highbeam.com

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. 

Enjoy!

Chef Frank

If you are interested in learning more about the history of pizza, I found several good sources including the following web sites: 

http://www.lifeinitaly.com/food/pizza-history.asp

http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Pizza/PizzaHistory.htm

http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/pizza.htm

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Chef Frank- Monday, April 23, 2012

Chef FrankHello, I’m Executive Chef Frank Chiaramonte, the corporate chef at Angelo Caputo’s Markets. I am a native of Chicago and a first generation Italian-American. Coming to Angelo Caputo’s has been the answer to a dream I’ve had for years. When I heard that Angelo and his family were looking for someone with great culinary vision that would take their company to the next level in prepared food offerings while still keeping it grounded in the values that you know and love Caputo’s for, I jumped at the opportunity to move my family back to Chicago and join the Angelo Caputo’s team. It’s been an exciting venture so far, and we are just getting warmed up. We have so many exciting things in the planning stage that it's all I can do just to keep a lid on it and not let some of the secrets out of the bag!

One new idea that I thought would be fun and also allow our wonderful customers and myself to become better acquainted with each other, would be to write a weekly food blog. Although food is my passion, sharing what I know (and what I’m always learning) about food is something that I particularly enjoy. 

However, the hardest thing about writing a blog, as you might guess, is that once you start, your readers expect you to stick with it and produce something new on a regular basis. One thing I’ve learned since becoming the Executive Chef at Angelo Caputo’s is that things move very quickly here, and although I may have the best of intentions, there will be times when I simply won’t be able to write a blog entry and still keep things running smoothly in the kitchens. So in order to avoid big lapses in posts, I’ll be inviting other member of the Caputo's team, as well as some outside food experts and authors, to create guest blog entries on occasion.

My plan will be to use the blog to help explain cooking techniques, provide useful kitchen tips, and discuss aspects of food culture. We will also be exploring interesting new food trends when they crop up on the scene. Since this is a blog, I would encourage you to give us your feedback.  We would love to hear your thoughts and perhaps answer any questions you may have about food or food preparation.  Each week my staff and I will review your comments and, when feasible, respond or expand on the subject. 

We hope that you enjoy this new feature of the website and I look forward to sharing my love of food and cooking!

    

Chef Frank

 

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