Italian pizza as we know it probably originated in the region of Naples. It is a simple food, originally eaten by workers as an inexpensive lunch. It was popular in the south of Italy long before it was in the north. In fact, it became popular in the United States long before it became popular in the northern part of Italy. Immigrants from southern Italy were instrumental in introducing pizza to the United States, where it became widely popular. It was not until after WWII that pizza began to spread in popularity to northern Italy.
The pizza closest to what is eaten in North America is probably the iconic pizza Margherita, pictured above. Legend has it that it was invented in Naples in 1889 at Pizzeria Brandi, and made in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy on the occasion of her visit to the city (although some dispute the date and the place of origin). It is made with a lean yeast dough, tomato sauce (ideally made with San Marzano tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius), fresh mozzarella (ideally mozzarella di bufala, or water buffalo milk mozzarella), basil and olive oil. The crust is crispy on the edges but soft in the middle, really necessitating the use of a knife and fork. The picture above is my first pizza Margherita eaten in a restaurant in Naples, right on the Mediterranean.
|Pizzeria Brandi, site of the possible invention|
of pizza Margherita
|This was a calzone-like object stuffed with cheese and|
vegetables--no tomato sauce.
|This was a pizza with no sauce, but with green peppers, fresh|
mozzarella di bufala, and fish. The fish was a mild white
fish and tasted a lot like cod.
|The pièce de resistance, pizza baked with Nutella inside.|
Oh. My. God.
I must say that this was amazing stuff!
Up in Rome, the pizza was rather different. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures. It is baked in a long strip on thicker crust than in Naples. It is sold by weight--you indicate how much of the strip you would like, and they cut it, weigh it, then stick it in the oven to warm it up. It comes as a rectangle which is then cut in half, folded so that the topping sides face each other, then wrapped in paper. It makes for a very neat slice of take-away pizza which can be eaten without making a big mess. I tried two types while in Rome--mozzarella and prosciutto (no tomato sauce), and cheese and potato (!). It was pretty good, but I think I enjoyed the Neapolitan pizza the best--even the basic pizza Margherita from the restaurant along the Mediterranean.