Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pizza in Italy

As you might expect, one of the foods I experienced in Italy was pizza. I had eaten pizza in Italy many years ago--on the Ligurian coast in the northwest coast of Italy. It came on a plate, one largish pizza per person, intended to be eaten with a knife and fork. This was strange stuff for an American kid, used to ordering Dominos pizza. The pizza was quite good, with a thin crust, and I have remembered it for the last 24 years.

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
One of the places we went is supposedly the best pizzeria in Naples right now, La Notizia. A smallish place, La Notizia has won awards for its artisinal pizza and is particularly known for its crust, which is begun with a small amount of yeast and allowed to rise over a much longer period than usual, giving it a subtle but complex taste. Aside from the obligatory pizza Margherita which we had there, we had other, more unusual combinations.
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 pi├Ęce de resistance, pizza baked with Nutella inside.
Oh. My. God.
All of the pizzas at La Notizia were baked in a wood fire oven.

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.


  1. Cheese and potato pizza was much better than I expected, though when I first ordered it I thought the potato was yellow squash.

  2. I had to stare hard myself to determine if it was yellow squash or potatoes. Yellow squash would have made more sense, but the potatoes were actually quite good.