The Birth of Pizza Margherita
We still have to wait the year 1830 to have true evidence of the existence of a real pizzeria- since then pizzaiolos had only open -air stalls- and that is the one born in Naples called Porta D’Alba because it was found by the arch that introduced from Dante square into Costantinopoli street. The pizzeria had a good oven covered with firebricks and the fire was stocked by wood. Alexander Dumas, the French writer, mentioned in his works the various types of pizza made in Naples and stated that there was a pizza called "a otto" that was cooked a week before eating it. But he surely was wrong since it meant that people could pay it after eight days when they got paid.
The crowning of the pizza, certainly, happened during the visit of Queen Margherita and her prince consort Umbert I at Capodimonte royal palace in Naples during summer 1889. The queen got curious about pizza she had probably heard by some writers or artists admitted at court. Since she couldn’t go to a “pizzeria” she had the most famous pizzaiolo of that time go to her.
The chronicles of the times, tell that the Neapolitan pizzaiolo, Raffaele Esposito and his wife Rosa, who was the real pizza expert, owners of the famous pizzeria “Pietro il pizzaiolo”, that later would become pizzeria Brandi, were asked to prepare in the kitchen of the palace their special pizzas. They prepared three pizzas that were introduced to the sovereigns: one made with scraps on pig fat, cheese and basil; the second one garlic, oil and tomato and the third one with mozzarella , tomato and basil, representing the colours of the Italian flag, which thrilled the queen Margherita and not only for its patriotic reasons.
Don Raffaele being a good public-relator, seized the opportunity and called it pizza “Margherita”. He had the permission to name it after Queen Margherita. The following day he put it on the list at his pizzeria and got many and many requests. This episode had such a vast echo that the pizza Margherita and all of its variations became so popular in Italy that soon met the favour of people all over the world.
But what's the secret to make a great Neapolitan pizza?
To make a great Neapolitan pizza first of all you need quality food, a well-built oven, an experienced pizzaiolo.
As for the oven, ours comes from the Greek tradition inherited by Egyptians who were the first to build it and that had a cylindrical form. Greeks modified it introducing a dome with a room. Romans learnt from Greeks how to build ovens improving dome ovens. Built with full bricks that would slowly build up heat and slowly release heat, it allowed to cook after bread, meat, fish, vegetables, cakes.
From the Roman age till the beginning of 1900s there haven’t been relevant modifications in oven building. Today there are different types on the market for domestic use (gas, electricity, air, microwave) and commercial use.
There isn’t a big difference from the oven that are made in Italy from the ones made in Portugal or Bulgary since there is not one type : some of them are in the external part rectangular shaped others dome shaped, but the one made in Hungary called kemence is quite interesting.
As far as pizza oven regards , it can’t be the usual common wood-firing oven but studied to cook pizza, as it is said in Naples , in a “blaze” at once!
The ideal oven should have the floor made with a first layer of tufa, a second layer with river sand , a third layer with sea salt and the last layer with a stone called “ground of Sorrento” which has the characteristics of storing heat. In such an oven well built pizza cooks at 400° degrees or more, at once.
The dome oven has had for centuries also a relevant social function: in villages where bread was made once a week men and women would “meet” while bread was cooking.
Today there is a new tendency that is groups of families or friends gathering in villages or mountains on week-ends or in occasion of holidays or feasts to cook pizzas and meat and/or prepare dishes with simple local food of the traditional gastronomy in public ovens made by Municipalities or Comunità Montana .It is also a way to rediscover the old good way of being together and have fun in a natural environment.
As far as the pizzaiolo concerns everything lies on his hands that he should use skilfully both to balance the ingredients and to work the dough. In fact, he should know how much salt, yeast and water to use and , according to his experience, work the dough in a way that it should be soft and elastic. The water used is also related to weather conditions . A good pizzaiolo should know all the factors that contribute to make the success of pizza that he will acquire through years of training by experienced pizzaiolos and not following a few months course where you get a certificate at the end as most of the old experienced, skilful pizzaiolos from Naples say.
In fact according to tradition, Pizza must be spread out only by hands, without using the rollig pin or any other mechanical tool. With a quick and wise swinging of the dough, when entrusted to wise hands, "the pettola", so it's the ready dough called, assumes its classical, perfectly round conformation, thin and of the same thickness in every single position. Pizza, made in pizza-places, has transformed into a rite: watching the best pizza-makers at work is the same as being able to admire the perfection of man' hands which, through manipulation often reaches an unbelievable spectacularity.
The ingredients for making the pizza dough should have the following features:
The four to make pizza is usually 00 flour since it is easier to work it and the dough becomes softer and more elastic.
The water used should be potable with a temperature ranging from 16° to 12° but in Winter it should be 22° and Summer 18°.
The yeast used in pizzeria is the industrial type.
The oil is added towards the end when the dough is almost done.
As for the ingredients used as condiments on top of pizza they are:
mozzarella that should be diced and of the best quality. Fiordilatte type usually replaces mozzarella because it contains less water and melts better.
Tomato should be the peeled tomato found in tins and not too juicy because water would soak the pizza dough and it wouldn’t cook well. S. Marzano canned tomato contains less water. It should be made into a sauce using a tomato mill and seasoning it with salt, basil, olive oil, pepper and a tea spoon of sugar to take away its acidity. You can use instead fresh cherry tomatoes cut in half.
Cooked Ham should be finely sliced.
Mushrooms drained and cooked in oil with garlic and parsley.
Artichokes should be the ones marinated in oil.
Cured Ham should be put after the pizza comes out of the oven, never before!
Sea food should be seasoned with oil, garlic, salt and pepper and without mozzarella
Arugula cut and added to pizza when it is done cooking with a drizzling of olive oil.
As for the following pizzas, 4 seasons, 4 cheeses, 4 vegetables it is better to put the ingredients separately to avoid the mixing of flavours.
As far as the toppings one should bear in mind that:
Thanks to our fantasy pizza can really be the one and only food if we use as toppings the many and different ingredients without exaggerating because there are some criteria to respect the garnishing
Never use food with an acid PH because it would not favour the cooking and pizza would have a bad taste.
Put the toppings in a balanced way because “too much” is not synonym of “good”.
Don’t use food with contrasting flavours.
Genuine, quality food contribute to the goodness of pizza.
Trattorie and Focaccerie: pizza is found here before landing in “pizzerie”
In the past times, pizza was found in trattorie and focaccerie that were places frequented mainly by men used to go there to be with friends, chat , have fun, and taste the goodies that the local gastronomy would offer. Places of aggregation where people could eat simple food made with genuine ingredients and as good as the ones made at home: fritters, pizzas and other wonderful food.
By the end of 1800s we can see a blooming of these places to have later, except for the historical ones, a long period of oblivion due to the transformation of our society from an agricultural one into an industrial one as well as the offer of new food according to the new trends of the food industry field.
But some of these places haven’t gone trough a period of oblivion thanks to their history. In fact, they have always had food of high quality of our culinary tradition keeping the same quite, friendly atmosphere and good service.
From the mid of 90’s we see a coming back of these eating places where today even at focaccerie you can taste at a table maybe overlooking a nice square, delicious food made in the same way as in the old times to be able slowly “to chew” the past. In fact, today there is the tendency to reconstruct old mills, oil mills, stables to make modern trattorie, focaccerie, or other type of restaurants in order to propose to a more and more increasing clientele dishes and atmosphere of the old times.
But what are the places that survived to the different alimentary trends of Italians?
According to our knowledge there are many of them across Italy, but let’s talk of the most famous for the historical people that stopped there: the “ Focacceria S. Francesco” in Palermo.
There is a long list: Pirandello, Crispi, the King and queen of Spain and Belgium, Head of States, famous national and international movie stars.
You can taste besides sfincione, spaghetti with ricotta, bucatini pasta with sardines, margherita with anchovies, crocchè ( potato dumplings), rolls with meusa, panelle (fried pizza dough), arancini (fried rice meatballs), mixed fritters and among sweets , cannolo and cassata.
How can we know that we are eating a true Neapolitan pizza?
The "Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana" ("True Neapolitan Pizza Association"), which was founded in 1984 and only recognizes the Marinara and Margherita type of pizza, has set specific rules that must be followed to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza. These are the following:
a) pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven at 485° C for no more than 60 to 90 seconds;
b) the pizza dough must be hand-kneaded and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical machine;
c) pizza must not exceed 35 cm in diameter or be more than a third of a cm thick at the centre.
Only three variations are allowed for the condiment:
Pizza marinara: tomato, garlic, organo, olive oil.
Pizza Margherita: tomato, mozzarella strips STG , basil , olive oil.
Pizza Margherita extra: tomato, mozzarella strips of buffalo campana DOP or fior di latte, basil and olive oil.
The dough and the ingredients shouldn’t be burnt. Pizza must be soft and pliable and refolded like a booklet. It has to be eaten as soon as it comes out of the oven.
The Neapolitan pizza got the quality label (STG) in 2004. To be able to have this label, pizza must be prepared with ingredients and methods of processing . The only thing allowed is the use of a kneading machine to prepare the pizza dough. The cutting of the pizza dough to make balls and the manipulation of the dough to get the disk must be done using exclusively with the hands.
There are many famous pizzerias in Naples where these traditional pizzas can be found like Da Michele, Port'Alba, Brandi, Di Matteo, Sorbillo, Trianon and Luigi Lombardi Di Santa Chiara. Most of them are located in the ancient historical centre of Naples. These pizzerias will go even further than the specified rules by, for example, only using "San Marzano" tomatoes grown on the slopes of Vesuvio and only drizzling the olive oil in a clockwise direction.
Pizza a metro
Pizza a metro (by metre) is a specialty coming from the Sorrentina peninsula that soon spread first across the country and later also in some parts of Europe. The recipe was made by Gigino dell’Amura in the ‘30s and patented in 1960.
It is prepared in the same way as the regular pizza. The secret lies on stretching the pizza dough to get a predefined size. It can be filled with the ingredients that are used on the regular pizza and in some cases they are separated with pizza dough strips so to have different recipes on the same pizza. Pizza al metro is cooked in wood-firing oven which have to be very big since pizza can be a metre long.
Today this kind of pizza can be tasted in almost every pizzeria of Sorrentina peninsula and in some pizzerie of the country.
Pizza in Lazio (Roma), as well as in many other parts of Italy is available in two different "flavours".
In take-away shops known as "Pizza Rustica" or "Pizza a Taglio". Pizza is cooked in long, rectangular baking pans in electric ovens. Pizza has a crispy crust according to Romans’ tastes. When purchased, it is usually cut with scissors or knife and priced by weight.
In Pizza Restaurants (Pizzerie), where it is served in a dish in its traditional round shape, it features a very thin crust compared to Neapolitan recipe. It is mostly cooked in a wood-fired oven which gives pizza its unique flavour and texture. In Rome a "Pizza Napoletana" is topped with tomato, mozzarella, anchovies and oil. Thus what Neapolitans call "Pizza Romana", people from Rome call "Pizza Napoletana".
Bread , since it has been discovered the leavening process, has been part of all cultures and its consume is seen as a unifying time, means “welcome” and is widely used during religious rites then it has a “social” value.
From time immemorial, bread as nourishment belongs to the maternal code therefore it is generally the positive form of communication and aggregation between peoples.
Bread base and the leavening process was considered time of joy , good omen and prosperity and everybody would see this moment as a way of getting together and sharing this gift while if the base wouldn’t leaven well that was seen as bad omen and sorrow.
The base would have needed the “pasta cresciuta” (a piece of dough, yeast) which in turn women would keep and give to the one who would have made bread the following days. In fact, they would ask around who made bread lately to go ask for the pasta cresciuta and nobody would say no.
Some of the bread base would be worked on a working board where some flower would have been sprinkled and the pieces of dough flattened out to make simple pita bread (empty) or make pizzas to be filled according to the regional culinary tradition.
As for Calabria region the most popular are, besides the “pitta liscia” with a hole in the middle, those made with pork lard, rosamarina (baby fish), tomatoes, anchovies, potatoes and peppers.
As for the “pitta liscia” it was and still is flattened out on the oven peels, baked on the oven floor while pizzas with the filling are flatten out with the fingers straight on handcrafted tin-plated round (old) or rectangular (recent) greased baking pans.
The importance of pizza in our diet
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