newlogo.gif HISTORY OF PIZZA*
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Italian Flag Considered a peasant's meal in Italy for centuries, modern pizza is attributed to baker Raffaele Esposito of Napoli (Naples) in the Italian region of Campania. In 1889, Esposito of Pizzeria di Pietro baked pizza especially for the visit of Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita and for one of the pizzas embellished the classic Pizza Alla Marinara with mozzarella and basil. The pizza was very patriotic and resembled the Italian flag with its colors of green (basil), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes), and was favored by the Queen. This pizza was named Pizza Margherita in honor of the Queen and set the standard by which today's pizza evolved and spread to Northern Italy and beyond and firmly established Naples as the pizza capitol of the world. (Check Naples weather.)

Actually, the idea of using bread as a plate came from the Greeks, who ate plakuntos, flat round breads, baked with various simple toppings like oil, garlic, onion, and herbs. The Romans enhanced the dish with finer ingredients and called it placenta. The tomato came to Italy from Mexico and Peru through Spain in the 16th century as an ornamental plant first thought to be poisonous but finally used in Neopolitan cuisine in the eighteenth century. True mozzarella is made from the milk of the water buffalo imported from India in the 7th century and was not widely available as a cheese product in Southern Italy and Campania until the second half of the eighteenth century. By then, the word "pizza" had evolved from "picea", the southern corruption of the Latin adjective which described the black tar-like coating underneath the placenta as a result of burning ashes, and "piza". In 1780, the pizzeria Pietro...e basta cosė or Pizzeria Pietro opened (named after one of the first owners, Pietro Colicchio, known as Pietro il pizzaiuolo - Peter the Pizzamaker) and is thought to be the first pizzeria and is now Pizzeria Brandi. Earlier, pizza was sold from street vendors and open-air stands as originally did Antica Pizzeria Port' Alba, which first opened in 1738 in Naples as a stand and then in 1830 as a pizzeria-tavern and is still in business today at Via Port'Alba 18!

Pizza migrated to America with the Italians in the latter half of the 19th century. By the turn of the century, the Italian immigrants had begun to open their own bakeries and were selling groceries as well as pizza. Gennaro Lombardi opened the first true U.S. pizzeria in 1905 in New York City at 53 1/3 Spring Street (Lombardi's is reopened today at 32 Spring Street). Neapolitan Totonno Pero immigrated to New York from Naples and as a teenager worked for Lombardi. Pero opened Totonno's, a coal-oven pizzeria in Brooklyn, in 1924 originally on West 15th Street in Coney Island and now on West 16th Street. (Totonno's holds the record for the oldest continuous pizzeria in business in the U.S.)

It wasn't until after World War II when returning GI's created a nationwide demand for the pizza they had eaten and loved in Italy that pizza went public. My first recollection of pizza is 1950's vintage "homemade" Chef Boyardee pizza whose ingredients came packaged in a box with canned pizza sauce and packets of parmesan cheese and crust flour. In the late 1950's, Pizza Hut, Shakey's and various other mass production pizza parlors appeared and further popularized pizza to the present day fastfood pizza.

The world's best and unarguably the most authentic pizza is Pizza Napoletana (Neapolitan Pizza), which maintains its preeminence through the quality of the local products - herbs, garlic, and tomatoes grown in the volcanic ash of Vesuvius and fresh mozzarella - and the artistry of the pizzaioli, the pizza makers. (Read Burton Anderson's "Pizza Napoletana" in his Treasures of the Italian Table, pp.125-149.) The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana sets down the rules for ingredients, dough, and cooking by which its member pizzerias must abide. Simply stated, dough is made only with flour, natural yeast or brewers yeast, salt and water. Dough must be kneaded by hand or mixers which do not cause the dough to overheat, and the dough must be punched down and shaped by hand. The oven must be a wood burning oven and structured in a bell shape and of special brick with the floor of the pizza oven constructed of volcanic stone. The cooking of the pizza must take place on the surface of the oven and not in any pan or container with oven temperatures reaching at least 750-800° F.

Pizza is perfect for improvisation and in this day and age is not limited to the flat round Neapolitan type. It's also deep-dish pizza, stuffed pizza, stuffed crust pizza, pizza pockets, pizza turnovers, rolled pizza, pizza-on-a-stick, pizza strudel, pizza wrap, toaster pizza, grilled pizza, etc., all with combinations of sauce, cheese, and toppings limited only by one's inventiveness. However, the best pizza still comes from the individual pizzaiolo who prepares his yeast dough and ingredients daily and heats his oven for hours before baking the first pizza. So fire up your oven and discover the fun of making homemade gourmet pizza!

(History/Background Links)

* piz' za, n. (It.) - A baked pie of Italian origin consisting of a shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings, such as sausage or olives.

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