Pizza has a long history in Mediterranean food. It goes back to the kind of flat bread that was made and sold all over the Mediterranean and Middle East. Flat bread of this kind would often be spread with oil and seasoned with olives, garlic and herbs, or dates.
Flat bread is still often served for breakfast in the Mediterranean. Originally the main meal would be served on bread of this kind. It could also be used for scooping food out of a common dish like the modern Indian paratha bread.
In Italy flat bread of this kind became known as pizza. The word was also applied to sweet dishes made of flaky pastry.
Pizza as we know it with its characteristic covering of a tomato based sauce only came into being after the tomato was imported into Europe from the Americas. The legend that the pizza was invented by Marco Polo who missed the Chinese green onion omelettes he had enjoyed in China is probably untrue.
In the course of the eighteenth century the poor of Naples began to season their flat bread with tomato. As Naples began to attract tourists so interest in the local specialties grew. The first pizza restaurant was set up in Naples in 1830. From there the pizza has spread all over Italy and the rest of the world as migrants from Southern Italy have taken their cuisine with them.
Pizza began to appear in the USA during the nineteenth century. It was sold in the streets of cities that had large Italian populations such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. The first pizzeria is thought to have opened in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Lombardi’s in Manhattan claims to descend from this original pizza restaurant.
After the Second World War pizza began to become a genuine international food. New varieties of pizza began to appear and the big commercial chains of pizza restaurants began to appear.
The idea of the take away pizza began to emerge and the pizza began to encapsulate all that is enticing and excessive about modern convenience food. Customers could demand any topping they wanted. They could consume vast amounts of fatty cheese and meat. Like the hamburger a once simple food has become a source of obesity and ill-health.
There is no reason for a pizza to be unhealthy. Eaten in moderation and not dripping in high fat cheese and meat it can be a healthy food. Getting back to its roots is surely the way for pizza to go in the future.
Purists claim that there are only two kinds of authentic pizza: the Marinara and the Neapolitana. They are both covered with tomato paste and mozzarella but the Marinara has anchovies added. Both can be seasoned with oregano, basil and pepper.
The base of a traditional pizza is typically much thinner and crisper than that of commercial pizzas available elsewhere. This base is brushed with a light coating of olive oil and spread with tomato paste. It then has rounds of fresh mozzarella added. The grated mozzarella often served even in Italy tastes nothing like the real thing. The masses of cheap grated Cheddar type cheese that is often used in commercial pizzas is an abomination and should be avoided. It has no flavour and is high in heart-stopping cholesterol.
A few anchovies can be added before the whole thing is baked quickly in a wood fired oven. When it comes out of the oven a few basil leaves can be scattered on it. The whole result is light, crisp and flavoursome.
Those who have tried a traditional pizza baked in a wood fired oven, especially if it is fired with vine pruning, will seldom willingly go back to the commercial kind. At its best the pizza, especially when eaten out of doors on a summer evening with friends and a bottle of red wine captures the essence of simple rustic fare.
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