The pizza: a tradition since 1660 BC
Pizza is a food with very ancient origins. Historians speculate that as far back as Etruscan times, people were eating a form a pizza. Pizza was born as a poor man’s dish, since it was simple to prepare and required only the simplest of ingredients, available both now and in ancient times: flour, oil, salt, yeast and a wood fired oven. Although pizza has become a popular dish all around the world, it is generally regarded as having its origins in Italy, and specifically in Naples. In fact, when referring to the round form of pizza topped with tomato and mozzarella, the pizza Margherita, many people know it simply as a Neapolitan pizza. As would be expected, the real origins of pizza cannot be traced back through the twists of history.
In additional to Naples, other cities in Southern Italy also stake claim to having invented the pizza. Nevertheless, without adding to this polemic, we will simply say a few words about the more recent history of the pizza. The first real pizza was probably made around 1600 BC, the result of the boundless gastronomic creativity we still in Italy today. Originally, this ancient pizza was probably seasons with garlic, lard and salt, and perhaps cheese and other herbs. The first writing records of the word pizza date back to the vulgar Latin of Gaeta in 997 AD and Penne in 1200 AD, and subsequently to that of other Italian cities like Rome, L’Aquila, Pesaro. In the 16th century, the name “pizza” was given to a flattened bread, deriving from a local pronunciation of the word “pitta”.
In no uncertain terms however, it was the auspicious arrival of the tomato that gave birth to the modern pizza and its most famous variety, the pizza Margherita. Imported from Peru after the discovery of America, the tomato was first used in sauces, cooked with salt and basil, before it someone came up with the idea of putting it on pizza, unwittingly inventing pizza as we know it today. So begins the era of the modern pizza, from Naples to North America. With the large waves of immigration in the 19th century, it was Italians immigrating to America that brought their trusted culinary traditions with them. During this same period in Naples, the historic marriage of pizza with mozzarella occurred. A Neapolitan pizza chef, named Raffaele Esposito, prepared the famous pizza with tomato and mozzarella,in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I of Italy.
At the request of the Queen, the pizzaiolo prepared three pizzas: one with mustinicola, a marinara pizza and a pizza with tomato, mozzarella and basil, inspired by the Italian flag. The Queen liked this last pizza so much, that the pizzaiolo was inspired to name his creation after the Queen herself. It was from this fortuitous event that pizza Margherita conquered the world. Following the Second World War, pizza once again spread it wings and traveled in the hearts of Italians emigrating abroad to search for better fortunes. As a result of this new wave of emigration and rising Italian influence, the city with the highest consumption of pizza in the world became New York, followed by Sao Paulo in Brazil, where oven 30 million pizzas are consumed each month.
The Neapolitan pizza is a round pizza made from soft dough with a high edge crust. The rising of the crust at the edge of the pizza is due to the air that moves from within the dough towards the edge of the pizza during the flattening of the dough itself. Classic Neapolitan dough does not contain any type of fat – only water, flour, yeast (beer or natural) and salt. In the strictest tradition, only two types of pizza are made:
- Pizza marinara: with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and olive oil.
- Pizza Margherita: with tomato sauce, cut mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Some chefs also add a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
In order to prepare a proper Neapolitan pizza, the pizza oven should remain below 300 ° C / 572 ° F for a gradual and uniform cooking of the pizza.
Roman pizza is made with a very thin and crispy dough, made from type 00 or 0 wheat flour, water, yeast (or sourdough), olive oil and salt in proportions that ensure that the dough is both crispy and consistent. Roman pizza spread from the capital of Italy just after the Second World War. Roman cookbooks confirm the variety of Roman pizza served with anchovies to be the most traditional variant of the Roman pizza. This recipe also allows for a seasoning of basil, pecorino chees and pepper. Another feature of the Roman pizza is the use of fresh ingredients, such as zucchini, onions, potatoes and mushrooms in the dough of the pizza, before being placed in the oven. Roman pizza is cooked in oven exceeding 300 ° C to ensure that the pizza remains crispy and thin.
Pizza Around the World
With its simple ingredients, Pizza has had an overwhelming success throughout the world, as it has often been easily integrated, like the most welcomed of immigrants, and paired with the foods and cultures of each new home.
Almost all people on earth can say that they have tried pizza at least once.
In places like Canada and Australia, the consumption of pizza per capita rivals that of Italy, the birthplace of pizza, a testament to the global appeal of pizza.
With the advent of the concept of franchising, pizza brought the world of traditional Italian cuisine into the fast food market. Although pizza has seen its identity transform because of technology and tastes, it is irrefutable that pizza origins have remained grounded in Italy, and wherever in the world pizza is sold, it is linked with the Italian culinary tradition.
One must also recall that the success of pizza throughout the world has included some successes close to home.
In France, Spain, Greece and the other counties near Italy, pizza has become a constant element of the local cuisine.
In Latin American, the United States and Australia, after the post-war immigration, Italians exported their know how and helped to solidify the allure of pizza on these distant shores.
The Classic Pizza Recipe
To obtain high quality pizza dough, before starting, ensure that the following advice is followed:
- The water must be potable, and not too chalky. In the event there is excessive calcium in the water, boil it before using it in the dough.
- The yeast can be used fresh (and in this case should be crumbly) or dry (available in small packs which should dissolve in water at 38° C / 100 ° F).
- Use quality sea salt to obtain a longer rising time, up to 48 hours.
- Cooking times can vary greatly depending on the oven being used. For traditional wood-burning ovens, the optimal cooking time is 2 min at 300 ° C / 572 ° F.
- 1 liter of water
- 2 kg / 4.4 lbs. flour
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 20 g / .7 oz. fresh yeast (7 g / .25 oz. of dry yeast)
- 50 g / 1.75 oz. sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
A mixture of pizza dough made according to the above recipe will produce 3.070 kg / 6.7 lbs. of dough, and prepare enough for 15 medium-sized round pizzas (average weight pizza dough is 180-200 grams).