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March 2017
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PIZZA

PIZZA

Thick, like in Naples, or thin, like in Rome. Very simple, with tomato and oregano, or overloaded with ingredients from eggs to prosciutto, vegetables and sea food. Cooked in a classic wood fired oven or frozen and heated up in the microwave. A slice or a whole circular one, taken away or eaten in historical and old restaurants with paper tablecloths. It is quintessentially Italian. It has the same name all over the world; from America to Japan, there is only one way to pronounce it: pizza. Created as a food for peasants and made from very few ingredients, today there are many varieties of pizza, however all of them make up a full meal that is comprehensive and perfectly balanced. This is the real ambassador of Italy and it has a very long history that begins with focaccias made from farro in pre-Christian times. It has surpassed centuries and continents, survived gourmet wars and invasions from ethnic cuisines and now it has peacefully conquered the world.

The history of pizza

It is most likely that there was an ancestor of the pizza around in the Etruscan times and the Romans prepared focaccias made from farro called libum, but the author of Aeneid, Virgil, had already described the preparation of round focaccias made from wheat flour, water, herbs and salt. Around the 1500s a light dish made of eggs, butter and sugar was made in Venice and was cooked in the oven. When America was discovered, foods were imported that had never been seen before on the old continent, among which was the tomato, which was destined to become the fundamental ingredient of pizzas starting from the 1700s in Naples. Pizza was eaten in the South of Italy at this time (at least from the 1600s) as a schiacciata (a kind of flatbread) made from wheat flour and seasoned with different ingredients such as lard, or olive oil, cheese and aromatic herbs, like basil and oregano. Pizza with basil was also know as pizza mastunicola and, together with ‘cicinielli’ (very small fish), these make up the two oldest pizza recipes known. From the second half of the 17th century, Neapolitans began adding buffalo mozzarella to the tomato base. The first Neapolitan recipe is just about identical to this and it dates back to the mid 1800s.

Pizza is cited in numerous songs, poems and novels that date back to ancient times. If Virgil cited the Roman ancestors’ techniques of pizza preparation in his works, then one of the first "literary appearances" of the current version of the pizza dates back to the seventeenth century in a Neapolitan work called the 'Cunto de li Cunti', which is made up of various stories, including one entitled 'Le due pizzelle' which talks about a food made from a disc of dough, with a filling. Dumas, the celebrated author of ‘The Three Musketeers', but also a great travel author, dedicated notes, precise information and acute observations to pizza and he listed the types of pizza that were available in his time: pizza with olive oil, with lard, pork fat, cheese, tomato and little fish. In ‘Usi e costumi di Napoli' (Rituals and traditions of Naples), by De Boucard, which came out in the mid 19th century, the first pizza recipe could be found and the most common varieties were cited: pizza with garlic, oil, oregano and salt; pizza with grated cheese, lard and basil; pizza with small fish; pizza with mozzarella, prosciutto, clams and tomato.

The story of pizza margherita

This story is almost legendary... In the summer of 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita were staying in Naples in the Royal Palace of Capodimonte. The Queen, who was curious about pizza as she had never tried one but she had heard people talking about them, called one of the most famous pizza makers of the time to court and he, together with his wife, made one pizza with pork fat, cheese and basil, one with garlic, oil and tomato and one with mozzarella, tomato and basil, that is, in the colours of the Italian flag. The Queen liked the latter one the most so the pizza maker, Don Raffaele, decided to name it the Margherita. However, this pizza was not invented specifically for this occasion, as is often said, as it already existed and was particularly loved by another queen, the Bourbon Maria Carolina.

Recipe

Some of the ingredients have to be chosen with care: the best flour to use is 00 flour as it is more workable and the dough comes out softer and more elastic. The water must be drinkable and stay between 6-12°C. The oil must be added near the end when the dough is nearly ready. The secret to a great pizza is the high temperature in the oven.

Ingredients needed for the dough:

  • 1kg of flour
  • A small block of brewer's yeast
  • 500ml of tepid water
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 teaspoons of salt

Place the flour over a wooden or marble surface and slowly add the water, yeast and other ingredients. Knead the dough until it is soft and elastic. Roll it in to a ball, sprinkle flour on it and cover it with a humid cloth and leave it to rise to double its size (2-3 hours). Sprinkle some flour on the work surface and lay out the dough and roll it with a rolling pin, rolling it in to the shape you want (circular, square, rectangular). Domestic ovens do not reach high enough temperatures and so it needs to be cooked for 20-30 minutes at at least 250°C. 10 minutes is sufficient at a temperature of 300-350°C. It is best to let it cook with only the tomato base on for the first 15 minutes and then add the mozzarella and other ingredients of your choice.

PIZZA

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