It’s Italy’s national dish: the pizza. As early as 1,000 years ago, there was already the word pizza in Latin, which at that time referred to a flat pastry. The topping was oil and fresh tomatoes. In the 16th century, the word pizza was used for the first time in Naples. But at that time, pizza was far from the shape for which it is famous today: at that time, no one thought of the cheese that can be found on almost every pizza today.
In the 18th century, the cultivation of tomatoes started in southern Italy:: The climatic conditions in southern Italy predestined the region for growing tomatoes. The yeast dough, known as pizza today, was drizzled with olive oil and topped with tomato slices and basil. A pizza must be baked at very high temperatures: At that time, most households weren’t able to do that. The solution was to carry the pizza to the local baker with the toppings ready but not yet baked, and the baker would bake it. A little later, a separate branch of the baker’s trade emerged, the pizzaiolo (Italian: pizza baker): His job is to make the pizza dough, topping it and baking it. The craft of the pizzaiolo still exists to this day.
The first Neapolitan pizza was created on June 11, 1889, when pizza baker Raffaele Esposito was commissioned to serve a pizza to King Umberto I and his wife Margherita. For this pizza, the baker Esposito thought of something special: the topping was based on the colors of the Italian national flag – green basil, white mozzarella and red tomatoes. The Pizza Margherita was born: The pizza was named after the wife of the Italian king, who is said to have liked it very much.
So much for the legend of the creation of the first Neapolitan pizza: the high crust of a Pizza Napoletana remains characteristic to this day: this is created by a long dough process and very hot baking.
A particularly popular topping among pizza bakers is the San Marzano tomato: This is a type of tomato that tastes particularly fruity and intense. Because of its delicate texture, each San Marzano tomato must be harvested by hand.
At the end of the 19th century, the pizza started its triumphal march outside Italy: Italian emigrants brought the art of pizza baking to the USA. There, different variations of the pizza developed, including the New York variety: In contrast to the Neapolitan pizza, the base and edge of the New York pizza is extremely thin.
The “original” pizza
However, the origin of all pizza variations is the Neapolitan pizza: the pizza makers from Naples agreed on two variations that are now commonly called “original”: The Pizza Margherita and the Pizza Marinara. The Pizza Marinara, also called the sailor-style pizza, has seafood and garlic on it, unlike the Margherita. The method of preparation is the same for almost every pizza: for a few minutes, the pizza is baked in a wood-fired oven at 400 to 500 degrees celsius: The wood-fired oven is the most traditional way of baking, but many pizzerias now also use electric and gas ovens.
Cover picture: A Pizza Napoletana from the side, © Simon von Ludwig, all rights reserved