Pizza is surely one of the first things that come to mind when thinking about Italy. Of course it is, since we are talking about a delicious dish loved by Italians and appreciated all over the World.
That’s why I decided to celebrate it (yes, I really do love pizza!) and write this long and comprehensive post only about it.
I realised there’s a lot to say if I want to give you a real taste of Italian culture, and I’ll also give you info that is useful if you actually visit Italy, like where and what to eat!
So, let’s start immediately with…
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PIZZA
The ancestor of pizza dates back to the neolithic age, in the form of simple flat-bread.
Different ingredients had been added throughout history by various cultures; among them, the ancient Egyptians were probably the first to use the yeast (apparently, they’re also considered the inventors of beer… I can imagine cool parties happening around the pyramids :)).
The word pizza is also pretty old, being documented for the first time in 997 AD in Gaeta (Italy). It was originally flavoured with fat or oil, sometimes herbs, and whatever available.
In the 16th century pizza was very popular in Naples. It was a cheap dish, sold in the streets mostly to poor people, and topped with fat, herbs and cheese or later fish.
It was only in the second half of the 18th Century that tomatoes started to appear on pizzas. Even if the fruit was imported from America before that, it was previously believed to be poisonous.
Little by little, pizza started to be loved not only by the poor, but also by nobles;
A famous anecdote states that, on the 11th of June 1889, Raffaele Esposito (pizza-maker from Naples) prepared three different kind of pizza to honour Queen Margherita of Savoy; the one she preferred was a simple yet very tasty pizza, topped only with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil: that day signed the birth of our beloved “Pizza Margherita”, obviously named after the Queen.
If you’re intrigued and would like to know more about the history of pizza, click here to check out the Wikipedia entry.
PIZZA IN ITALY today
Neapolitans never stopped to make pizza, and this tradition spread all over the Country, influencing regional cuisines.
Still today many varieties of pizza survive: in any region you can taste a pizza that is slightly (or, sometimes, very) different from what you could have elsewhere in Italy.
Basically, there are two extremes:
- Pizza from Naples features a relatively small base, it is thin in the centre but has tall and soft borders. This kind of pizza is never crunchy, and it literally melts in your mouth. A well-made Neapolitan pizza is never stodgy, and, unless you order an overfilled one, you will always have space for a nice starter and/or dessert!
- Pizza from Rome, on the contrary, is evenly thin and mostly friable, or at least the borders are. They are also larger than Neapolitan ones, exceeding often the size the plate they’re on! Also this kind of pizza is a pretty light meal, so you may want to pair it with something else.
Between them stands a multitude of variations; in my city, Cosenza, pizza is usually quite big, a bit thicker than the ones mentioned, and with a medium size border.
Another fundamental distinction that has to be made is the one between the round individual pizza served in Pizzeria (pizza restaurant), and the pizza slices or pieces to be eaten as street food (called pizza al taglio, literally “to the cut”).
The last one is usually thick and available in a variety of mouth-watering toppings: an ideal treat for any moment of the day. This kind of pizza is usually not cooked in wood ovens (used, on the contrary, by almost every Pizzeria).
White pizza is often served as a sandwich with a cured meat and/or cheese filling, but it tastes good with virtually anything!
WHAT DO ITALIANS PUT ON THEIR PIZZA?
If you open the menu of any Pizzeria in Italy, you will find a huge amount of different scrumptious tastes to choose from.
In some of them, you will have more than fifty options.
The thing is, there are already several traditional recipes that every pizza restaurant features, but in addition to those you can find not only regional varieties (e.g. pizza with courgette/zucchini flowers in Rome, with pesto in Liguria, with seafood in the South of Italy), but also the personal creations of many pizza chefs.
Here are a few of the standard pizzas you’d find in any Pizzeria in Italy, with ingredients. If not differently stated, with tomato I mean tomato purée.
- Marinara: tomato, garlic, oregano, olive oil
- Margherita: tomato, mozzarella, basil leaves, olive oil
- Capricciosa: tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, artichokes, Italian ham, black olives
- Quattro Stagioni: the name means “four seasons“, it is made with the same ingredients of Capricciosa, but divided and disposed into four quarters
- Boscaiola: meaning “of the woods“, features mozzarella, mushrooms and sausage. It is a “white” pizza, since there’s no tomato sauce
- Ortolana or Vegetariana: tomato, mozzarella, grilled aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini) and sweet peppers
- Mare e Monti (Sea and Mountains): tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, shrimps, variable seafood, garlic, flat parsley. This one, honestly, can’t be find really everywhere, but it’s still fairly common (plus I wanted to mention it because I think many will find it interesting!)
- Primavera (Spring): Cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, rocket, Italian ham, shavings of Grana Padano cheese. The ingredients are added raw after cooking, though rarely tomato sauce is added as a base, cooked as usual on the pizza.
Usually extra virgin olive oil is added to all pizzas raw, after they’re done.
Now let’s see instead
WHAT you Won’T find on a traditional pizza
- Sauces such as ketchup, mayo and so on
- Any meat that is not cured
Apart from that, you can find almost any other food on pizza.
When you go to an Italian pizzeria in any Country, if you can’t find on the menu most of the traditional pizzas I listed above, and the ingredients resemble more the items of the second list…
Well, I’m not saying that the pizza will be surely bad, but certainly it won’t be Italian-style.
The best way to enjoy real, delightful Italian pizza is…
Going to Italy! We both know you want to!
If you’re lucky enough to be in Italy on a vacation, or if you’re planning to do so (and, if not, you should :D), I recommend you to treat yourself with the real pizza experience.
To do so, the first thing is to avoid tourist traps.
I will give you more advice on that in a future post, for now I just tell you to beware of the restaurants proposing Lasagne + Pizza + Cappuccino kind of deals. Believe me, those three things don’t belong together.
Don’t take me wrong, I love all of them. But I’d never have them in the same meal.
As a general rule, Italians never eat pizza and pasta together.
And when they’re done eating, they order an Espresso or some slight variation of it; Cappuccino is mostly made of milk, and we prefer having it at breakfast time, with something sweet.
So… what is that you should have with pizza?
I’ll answer this question in the second part of this post, since I realised that the more I write, the more I have things to say… I just want to be exhaustive! 🙂
I’ll also give you my hassle-free recipe to make pizza at home.
That’s it for now, I hope you liked this little “guide” so far! I believe I’ll manage to post the rest within Wednesday, keep tuned!