Italy is well known not only for its’ beautiful and romantic cities and landscapes but also for its’ cuisine, especially pizza. Together with spaghetti, Italian pizza becomes an international phenomenon. However, not many of us know the history behind the Italian pizza. Let’s check out where did pizza originally come from and some fun facts about this famous dish.
The precursor of pizza was probably the focaccia, a flat bread, to which toppings were then added. The word “pizza” is also thought to have come from the Latin word “pinsa”, meaning flatbread. This word was first documented in AD 997 in Gaeta and in different parts of Central and Southern Italy.
Foods similar to pizza have been made since the neolithic age. In Sardinia, bread was found baked over 7,000 years ago. The Ancient Greeks had a flatbread called plakous which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic.
By the Middle Ages, the early pizza started to be more like the modern look and taste. The peasantry of the time used few ingredients to produce pizza dough and topped it with olive oil and herbs. The introduction of the Indian water buffalo gave pizza another dimension with the production of mozzarella cheese.
The innovation that led flatbread to pizza was the use of tomato as a topping since tomatoes was introduced to Italian cuisine in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Long before that time, tomato was thought to be poisonous and grown only for decoration. Fortunately, by late 18th century, tomato was commonly used by the poor of the area around Naples to their flatbread, and soon the dish gained popularity, became a tourist attraction as visitors to Naples ventured into the poorer areas of the city to try the local specialty.
Until about 1830, pizza was sold from open-air stands and out of pizza bakeries (also known as pizzerias). This tradition is kept until today.
Italian Traditional Pizza
The famous pizzeria “Da Michele” in Via C. Sersale (founded in 1870) considers there are only two true pizzas, the marinara and the margherita.
The marinara is the older has a topping of tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. It’s named “marinara” because it was traditionally prepared by “la marinara” the fisherman’s wife, for her husband when he returned in the Bay of Naples.
The latter, margherita owned its name to Italian Queen Margherita who visited the Pizzeria Brandi (the successor to Da Pietro pizzeria) in Naples in 1889. The legend told that, Rafaele Esposito, the baker on duty that day, created three different pizzas for the Queen and King Umberto I. The Queen’s favorite was a pizza that contained the three colors of the new Italian flag with the red of tomato, the white of mozzarella, and the green of fresh basil. From then on, that particular topping combination was dubbed pizza margherita.
These two pure pizzas are the ones preferred by many Italians and those who want to taste the real Italian pizza until today. The True Neapolitan Pizza Association has also set the very specific rules that must be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. These include that the pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven, the base must be hand kneaded, and not be rolled with a pin or by any mechanical means.
New trends of pizza
Pizza al taglio (also known as pizza rustica) usually sold by weight and often filled with marinated mushrooms, onions or artichokes. This pizza is cooked on a sheet pan at street stalls everywhere in Italy.
Focaccia is characterized by a base usually thicker than pizza’s, topped with olive oil and rosemary. More toppings can be added such as olive, caramelized onions and cheese.
Sfincione is a thick Sicilian sheet pizza that uses tomato sauce, anchovies, breadcrumbs and caciocavallo cheese.
So, now you have some ideas of how traditional Italian pizza should be. And yes, it is totally different from pizzas which are widely served nowadays in restaurants since they are mostly the American or Canadian versions of this dish. However, many people say that there is no going back once you have tried a real Italian pizza, no delivery or frozen products will ever stimulate your taste buds the way a real pizza will.