Without a doubt, pizza is one of the most famous and best-loved dishes in the world, especially among the Italians themselves. The Bel Paese’s historic centres are liberally sprinkled with pizza restaurants offering an essential stopping point for all tourists to savour this dish while admiring a stupendous view. Whether under Vesuvius in Naples or in the lanes of Rome, they serve up a unique experience that no visitor to Italy can pass up. History tells us that pizza’s origins and name can be traced to the city of Naples. Here, pizza preparation is a fine art handed down from father to son, a tradition that has made this product an icon of fabulous Italian food all over the world.
Pizza has a long, complex and mysterious history. Its beginnings, its geographical provenance, and even the etymology of its name are still debated today. Back in antiquity, flattened focaccias, leavened or otherwise, were popular among the Egyptian, Greek and Roman peoples, but the first appearance of the term “pizza” in a document dates back to the year 1000 in the town of Gaeta. Beyond its ancient origins, though, what we know for certain is that in 1500, the name “pizza” was used for a flattened bread in Naples (the term probably derives from “Pitta”, also a type of flattened bread). Thus today, along with Vesuvius, pizza is one of that splendid city’s greatest symbols.
Round or square-sliced, pizza is cooked using an endless variety of toppings and condiments to suit all tastes and preferences. The best known is undoubtedly “margherita”, created by Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito in 1889 in honour of Queen Margaret of Savoy, with toppings – tomato, mozzarella and basil – in the colours of the Italian tricolore flag.
For those who prefer simplicity, minimalist “marinara” is made with tomato, garlic, oil and oregano.
The sumptuous “quattro stagioni” (four seasons) combines mushrooms, artichokes, ham and olives with the tomato and mozzarella base, while the “capricciosa” goes one better, adding boiled egg. The “boscaiola” is another flavoursome favourite, with mushrooms and sausage, complementing the lighter but equally delicious pizza bianca (white pizza) with potatoes and rosemary.
Dairy devotees can relish a “quattro formaggi”, featuring mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola and provola cheeses. And those who like it hot will love a devilish “diavola” with Calabrian salami, one of the many gourmet specialities that Italy has to offer.
Recipe and ingredients
Pizza is a very simple recipe. All you need is a few genuine ingredients: soft-grain wheat flour, fresh baker’s yeast, water and salt. Once made, the dough must be allowed to rise; the longer it is left, the more digestible the pizza will be.
The resulting pizza dough then needs to be carefully worked, smoothed out and dressed with toppings, ready to cook in a wood oven (or, failing that, an electric one). The oven must be given plenty of time to heat up to its maximum temperature in advance. To obtain a soft pizza, it is vital to stretch the dough with your hands, not a rolling pin, to ensure a clearly superior final consistency.
The art of the pizza, a UNESCO heritage candidate
Delicious Neapolitan pizza with a soft, high edge combined with a base that is not too low but never really high, topped with unique-tasting mozzarella, tomato sauce and a basil leaf, is Italian pizza at arguably its most authentic. Perhaps for this very reason, perhaps to establish Italy’s status as the mother of pizza once and for all, the national UNESCO committee has decided to submit it as a candidate for the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list for the next round of nominations. The application dossier, which talks of the “art of the Neapolitan pizza makers”, will be assessed by November 2016.