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Q6.9 Is pizza really coming from Italy?


This article is from the Italy FAQ, by Gianluigi Sartori gg@angel.stanford.edu, Paolo Fiorini fiorini@telerobotics.jpl.nasa.gov with numerous contributions by others.

Q6.9 Is pizza really coming from Italy?

Last modified: August 8 1993

Ugo Piomelli <ugo@eng.umd.edu> writes:

A "false cognate" is a word that has the same sound in two languages
but different meanings. "Pizza" is one of them.

Flatbreads are as old as baking itself, and one can trace something
akin to pizza to the ancient Greeks or perhaps the Etruscans. Pizza in
its present form, however, was common in Naples as far back as the
mid-1700s. Around 1850 two references to pizza can be found, one by
Alexandre Dumas, in the "Grand Dictionnaire de la Cuisine", and one in
"Usi e costumi di Napoli". The pizza they describe can still be bought
in the streets of Naples today. Dumas mistakenly thought that the
"pizza a otto giorni" was baked eight days before eating, whereas in
reality it is paid eight days after it is eaten (see Marotta's "Oro di

The basic pizza, the "Marinara" is made of a circle of bread dough,
about 6-8 inches in diameter, flattened and covered with tomato sauce,
sprinkled with oregano, basil, salt, garlic and olive oil, and baked
for a few minutes in a very hot brick oven with a metal floor. "Pizza
Margherita" was invented in 1889 to honor Queen Margherita who was
visiting Naples. Don Raffaele Esposito, one of the premier pizzaioli
of the time, used tomato sauce, fiordilatte (not mozzarella, which is
made with buffalo milk and is too flimsy to withstand baking) and
basil to obtain the colors of the Italian flag.

Nowadays, numerous variations exist using artichokes, anchovies, ham
and other ingredients (two or three at a time, however, never the
horrendous mishmash found on American pizza). Pizza at its best,
however, is still based on the careful juxtaposition of subtle,
contrasting flavors and colors: the sweetness of basil and the burnt
bitterness of the cornicione (the part that is left sauceless, which
takes a burnt look and which, in Naples, is significantly wider than
elsewhere). The white islands of fiordilatte parting the Red Sea of
tomatoes. The green basil leaves standing out on the red background.

Brought in the States, most likely, by Neapolitan immigrants around
the turn of the present century, pizza has been modified to suit the
American taste: quantity has replaced subtlety; meats (sausage,
salami, ham and so on) have become a nearly irreplaceable ingredient;
over-sweetened canned tomato sauces have replaced the simple strained
tomatoes of the original; a thick layer of plastic cheese has replaced
the fiordilatte islands. The result: a plastic animal that bears to
the original the same resemblance that Hearst Castle bears to Palazzo

Ugo Piomelli again:

Fast-food partenopeo, storicamente la pizza si basa su pochi
ingredienti ben scelti ed accostati, e sull'abile mano e l'occhio attento del
pizzaiuolo, che stende la pasta uniformemente, mantiene il forno alla
temperatura giiusta, ed estrae la pizza al momento supremo. Il forno
deve essere a legna, con pavimento di metallo e pareti in muratura.

Originariamente, gli ingredienti erano pomodoro, basilico, origano e
olio (pizza marinara). La pizza si mangiava per strada, e spesso si
comprava a credito (la "pizza a otto giorni" de "L'oro di Napoli").
Alla fine dell'Ottocento viene introdotta la Margherita, in
onore della regina, in cui il fiordilatte (di consistenza piu` robusta
rispetto all'eterea mozzarella di bufala) permette di realizzare il
tricolore. Al giorno d'oggi esistono varie combinazioni: bianca, con
prosciutto, quattro stagioni, ed infine la pizzza frattale del
Collettivo Immaginario. Personalmente, ritorno sempre ai vecchi
standard: marinara e, raramente, Margherita. Preferenze personali:
Pizzeria Trianon ai Tribunali e Bellini a Port'Alba. Entrambe a
Napoli, naturalmente.


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