I LOVE PIZZA.
If given one food to survive on for the rest of my days, I’d take pizza over everything else.
Good any day of the week, but especially over the weekend, a piping-hot pizza pie, either homemade — like my Lazy Person’s flatbread recipes (pesto and bell pepper sauce) — take-out, or a wood-fired pizzeria pie brought to your table, you just can’t go wrong.
Did you know that the very first documentation of pizza dates back to 977 AD in Gaeta, Italy, a seaport city along the Riviera di Ulisse of the Tyrrhenian Sea south of Rome and just north of Naples? Documents at the time reported that the Bishop of Gaeta was gifted duodecim pizze (12 pizzas) on Christmas Day and an additional dozen pizzas on Easter Sunday.
The precursor of pizza was probably focaccia, an early flatbread known to the ancient Romans as panis focacius (Latin for bread cooked over hot ashes, the embers in the center of the fireplace) to which toppings were added. According to archeologists, foods similar to pizza date back almost 7,000 years to Neolithic times, and the ancient Greeks had their flatbread version called pitta.
In 16th century Naples, flatbread was referred to as pizza, a dish of the poor people. It was sold by street vendors and was not considered a kitchen recipe for quite some time.
With the widespread use and acceptance of the tomato — introduced into Europe from the Americas by the Spanish in the mid 16th century — the pizza began to appear similar to today’s pies with the addition of olive oil and crushed tomato as toppings for these flatbreads. In 1843, Alexandre Dumas, a French playwright-novelist (The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo), wrote about Neopolitan pizza and the diversity of toppings available.
By the late 19th century, pizza was common fare around Southern Italy, spreading from the ovens and creativity of the Neopolitian pizzaioli (pizza makers).
As the story goes, in June of 1889, to honor the Queen of Italy — Margherita of Savoy — pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito created the pizza Margherita, a flatbread pie garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves, representing the tri-colore of the Italian flag: red, white and green.
And the first known pizzeria? That distinction goes to the l’Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples.
Just a street stand when it started out in 1738 selling slices of pizza to peddlers, as the popularity of the hand-held, inexpensive food grew along with its demand, the pizzaioli expanded their business and established, in 1830, a small restaurant at 18 Via Port’Alba.
With tables and chairs placed outside, the world’s first pizzeria quickly became a prominent meeting place for Naples’ street people: artists, students and others with very little money. The early pizzas at l’Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba were generally simple, with basic toppings of olive oil and garlic on the wood-fired flatbread.
L’Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is still in business today serving up it’s “slices of heaven” at No. 18.
Whenever the mood strikes you, take a bite out of history and enjoy a piping-hot pizza pie. Now, that’s amore!
©The Palladian Traveler