Jun 2, 2013

The Origins of Pizza

Humans have been putting ingredients on top of flatbreads since the Neolithic time.  Many cultures have their own flatbread variants, from the paranthas and naans of India, to tortillas from Mexico, the foccacias of Ligurian Italy, and various flatbreads from Scandinavia which were topped with early versions of ingredients which we might find in a modern smorgasborg.


As best we know the first apparition of the word “pizza” dates from 997.  A Roman document mentions that one person owed another several “pizze” (the plural of pizza).  Pizza as we know it originated in Naples, Italy and came to America with the immigrants who flocked here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


The Neapolitan pizza is the model for pizzas all over Italy: the crust is thin, chewy, and crispy all at once, the toppings are spare, and the whole is cooked in a hot wood-fire or coal-fired oven.  Due to the high heat of the oven (700 degrees is common) and the thinness of the pizza cooking time for a typical Italian pizza is around 90 seconds. Traditionally there are some scorched edges to the dough and the ingredients are hot and bubbly.  In the Italian tradition pizza is eaten immediately so that if there are several people at the table nobody waits until everybody has been served their pizza, they just dig in to their own one.


We don’t have time to make dough and let it rise but we are going to roll out dough balls that we’ve bought from a pizzeria. We’ll roll the dough out quite than and then apply our toppings in the Italian way: not too much. We can’t get our oven to 700 degrees but we’ll get it as high as possible and see what happens. Once the pizzas come out of the oven we’ll top them with arugula with its peppery, tangy flavor and give the whole a spritz of good olive oil.


With our pizza we’ll enjoy a traditional antipasto (anti= before; pasto=meal) called “fagioli al ucceletto”—white beans stewed with tomatoes, garlic, and fresh rosemary. This dish is typical of Northern Italy and is as nutritious as it is delicious. Our junior chefs will get experience working with fresh herbs and achieving great flavor with simple and humble ingredients.


Buon appetite!