The history of pizza
Italians owe a tip of their hats to the New World for their pizzas. It was not until 1522 that the tomato was brought back to Europe from Peru where it originated. Many Europeans thought the tomato was poisonous and refused to sample its nectar. But eventually the Italians came around and ended up developing some of the finest tomato sauces on earth (e.g., Ragù finto tomato meat sauce, Boticelli's rich Italian tomato sauce, and pizza sauce).
The poor of Italy and their flat bread
Prior to the introduction of the tomato, Italians along with other parts of the Mediterranean, ate yeast-based flat bread sometimes with white sauce, olives and fish on top (in a later article, I will discuss how to make a type of flat bread called focaccia). But it is believed that somewhere around Napoli (Naples, Italy) in the late 1500s, the poor began adding tomatoes to their yeast-based flat bread. This makes sense because the peasants subsisted primarily on only a few basic ingredients including flour, cheese, olive oil, olives, various types of herbs, and tomatoes after they were introduced. By the 1600s, it was an exceptionally popular Napoli dish among the poor.
Pizza and Napoli
By the time the 1700s rolled around, word had reached the far parts of Europe about the delicious pizza being made particularly around Napoli. Visitors and tourists flocked to the poorer parts of Napoli to buy pizza from open-air street vendors, called pizzaio. Some time during this period pizzerias sprang up catering to the outsiders. Although we will never know for sure, most point to the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba of Napoli as the first pizzeria.
Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
The wealthy discover the margherita pizza
It did not take long for the wealthy to catch on to the magical flavors of Napoli’s pizzas. The wife of the King of Naples, Queen Maria Carolina d’Asburgo Lorena enjoyed pizza so much that she had a special oven constructed in her summer palace at Capodimonte to make pizzas for her guests (see making a wood-burning stove from your grill). In 1889, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia, the King and Queen of Italy while on holidays in Napoli, invited the most popular pizza chef (called a pizzaioli) of the day, Raffaele Esposito, to their palace. He served them three pizzas that dazzled both. But the one that the Queen found particularly sumptuous for its taste and the fact that it bore the colors of the Italian flag consisted of mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes (in a later article I will discuss how to make your own mozzarella cheese). Raffaele was so appreciative of the accolades that he named the pizza after her – margherita pizza (which is one of the world’s most popular types - see our pizza crust and sauce recipes). But when I make it, I have to have garlic) on it. By the way, you can still visit the restaurant where Raffaele worked. It is called Pizzeria Brandi today but was known as Pietro e Basta Così when he lived.
Pizzeria Brandi in Napoli
The marinara pizza
Not only has margherita pizza become a staple of Napoli but also the marina pizza. In fact, some purists will only serve these in their restaurants. The marinara pizza has an older origin than the margherita pizza and consists of oregano, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and basil. It was named marinara, not because it contains seafood, but because it was a delight of fisherman who returned from a catch to the Bay of Naples.
The US discovers pizza
Although pizza had come to the United States via Italian immigrants in the 1800s, it mainly remained within Italian-American neighborhoods until World War II. As the allied troops marched up the through the boot of Italy, taking Napoli from the Germans (and Italians), the soldiers sampled pizzas. When the soldiers returned, pizzerias came onto their own in the US thriving on the support from the GI enthusiasts and their families.
I still contend that you cannot get pizza in the US like those in Napoli. So check out how to make real Napoli pizza crust and sauce.
Gee whiz, and I thugoht this would be hard to find out.