Recipe of The Week
The Origins of Pizza
By The Well Seasoned Traveler
The “official” story of the birth of pizza is that it was born in Naples, Italy from a baker honoring Queen Margherita. I do not subscribe to this theory and propose a totally different origin.
We go back ten thousand years to the Neolithic period, to the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia, Babylon, and the Natufian people of what is today Jordan and surrounding areas who baked a form of flatbread used as plates to hold food to be eaten with the right hand, the left hand being reserved for less savory tasks. This carried on to Egypt and its civilization, where the dry hot climate of the Nile would make these tough flat dough cookies an ideal reusable dinnerware for centuries. You put your food on them, ate with your hands, washed them in water, dried them in the hot sun, and they were ready for the next meal. This bread “cookie” was popularly known as “pita” name also given to a modified version that prevails in some regions of the area until present times.
With the conquest of Egypt by the Romans, and the love affair between Mark Antony and Cleopatra around 41 BC, Pretorian presence in the Nile was so pervasive, that centurions had to be housed as “guests” in peasant Egyptian households. To the dismay of Egyptian housewives of the time, the roman soldiers ate the flatware cookies along with the food, forcing the manufacture of fresh ones. This practice reached Rome, where it was incorporated by imperial cooks into the menus of the infamous roman orgies, softening the dough and adding toppings to it. The name of the flatbread was corrupted linguistically to “Pinsa” from “Pita” and remained a popular way of eating until it was lost during the dark ages around 500 AD, resurfacing around the late Middle Ages, as a cheap ingredient where the largely poor peasant population could top with whatever they could find to make a meal.
Once more linguistically corrupted from its original name, it came up as “Pizza’ made famous by a pie created by the Neapolitan baker Raffaele Esposito for Queen Margherita of Savoy in the 1800s. Contrary to popular belief, the round pie known as “pizza” today was not created in Italy, where “pizza” is largely baked in square format, and cut in bite-size squares, but by Italian immigrants in New York and Chicago. The first successful pizza parlor was Lombardi’s in Little Italy, New York City. A plethora of styles have been created ever since, “deep dish” “Chicago” and more. I encourage you to make your own variation and enjoy the ride. If you grab a round piece of dough, fill it and fold it like a turnover, you can call it a “calzone” if you make it into a longer rolled shape, it becomes a “Stromboli”.
Be it how it may, making a pizza from scratch, putting your own toppings on it, and enjoying it with your loved ones is a very gratifying experience. Auguri per tutti!
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