What is pizza?
The Italian pizza (pronounced “PEET-sah”) is one of the most famous and iconic dishes in the world. It is a round flatbread, covered with tomato sauce, then topped with mozzarella and a variety of other toppings, baked briefly in a very hot oven.
The modern pizza, as consumed all over the world today, is about a century old and from the Italian city of Naples, but Italians have been eating pizza for much, much longer. The dish is part of the worldwide tradition of flatbreads. Around the year 1000, the word pizza was already in use in the port city of Gaeta and in the twelfth century, people ate pitta in Calabria, pizzetta in Apulia and sfincione in Sicily.
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of flatbreads – similar to modern pizzas – in Pompeii, as well as the shops from which these pizzas were sold.
The oldest cookbook in the world, written in the first century AD by the Roman merchant Marcus Gavius Apicius, contains recipes for pizza-like dishes. In one recipe, Apicius places chicken, garlic and cheese on a flatbread. Only the tomato sauce is missing in this antique version of a pizza pollo (tomatoes were only added at the end of the eighteenth century).
Bread has always been an important source of nutrition throughout the centuries. Historically, in the Mediterranean area, people have therefore been eating varieties of flatbread with a topping. Dishes such as French pissaladière, Greek pita and Turkish pide all resemble pizza in the method of cooking as well as in name. The Italians enhanced the reputation of the dish and Italian emigrants took the dish to the United States. There, it developed into a global favourite, with countless pizza restaurants as a result.
Typical pizza varieties are:
The pizza Margherita, also called pizza Napoletana, is known as the queen of the pizzas. The dish was developed over a hundred years ago for the Italian queen, Margherita of Savoy, when she visited Naples. A Margherita is topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and olive oil; the three colours of the Italian flag. A true Margherita goes into the oven for no more than ninety seconds and is relatively moist in the middle, so the tip of a slice tends to drip when you lift it to your mouth.
One of the simplest pizzas on the menu. The pizza owes its name to the fact that the basic ingredients – oil, tomatoes, garlic and oregano – are easy to preserve for sea voyages. Something for which many marinai (sailors) were grateful so that they could make tasty pizzas on board their ships.
The combination of salty ham, creamy cheese and sweet pineapple is an immensely popular pizza topping which, surprisingly, has little to do with Italy. According to the modern tradition, it was Sam Panopoulos, a Greek restorer in Canada, who in the 1960s was the first to place a piece of pineapple on a pizza. What was meant as a joke – “We were a young company and experimented a lot “- resulted in a much-loved dish that still knows how to charm.
This pizza is also called pizza ripieno (filled pizza) and is distinguished from other pizzas because the pizza crust is folded double over the filling.
This pizza, topped with an American version of salami sausage, does not exist in Italy. At least not under the same name. Peperoni (with a single p) is a pizza with bell pepper. If you want slices of sausage on your pizza in Italy, then choose salamino, pizza calabrese or pizza diavola.
How to make pizza
Thanks to commercials for frozen pizza from the 1980s, an entire generation learned that the most important thing about pizza is the base. The secret is the extreme heat from a good wood-fired brick pizza oven that gets up to 450°C. This heat causes the bubbles or blisters in the dough, the delicious roasted taste, and the combination of crunchiness (the bottom) and softness (the edge) that makes freshly made, authentic pizza bases so loved. The dough of the base contains only a few ingredients: flour with high gluten content, yeast, salt and water. From this, an elastic dough is kneaded and allowed to rise. In true Italian style, balls of the dough are then manually – without a rolling pin – formed into pizza crusts. For a vera pizza Napoletana (VPN; a real Neapolitan pizza) the pizza crust is covered with pureed fresh San Marzano tomatoes and topped with mozzarella, dried oregano, fresh basil and Italian hard cheese. Olive oil is also drizzled over the top. The pizza is then baked for a maximum of ninety seconds in a piping hot pizza oven. The result is a pizza with brown blisters, a thin, slightly soft centre and a thicker, soft edge. Restaurants where they make real Neapolitan pizzas, according to the official rules, have received a special pennant since 1984, in the form of a sticker on their door. The precise ingredients, kitchen utensils and method of preparation are laid down in detail by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN).
How to eat
To prevent the toppings from falling off the tips of the pizza, you can cut your pizza into quarters (or have them cut) and double fold every quarter once or twice.
According to top cookery writers, it is recommended to drink something sparkling with a pizza to promote digestion. So a beer,or a glass of prosecco. If you prefer not to drink alcohol, a glass of cola or soda also goes well.