Pizza is a form of a seasoned flatbread that has a long history in the Mediterranean.
Several cultures including the Greeks and Phoenicians ate a flatbread made from flour
and water. The dough would be placed on a hot stone and then seasoned with herbs.
The Greeks called this early pizza, Plankuntos and it was basically used as an edible
plate when eating stews or thick broth. It was not yet what we would call pizza today but it
was very much like a Focaccia. These early pizzas were eaten from Rome to Egypt to
Babylon and were praised by the ancient historians Herodotus and Cato the Elder.
The word "Pizza" is thought to have come from the Latin word "Pinsa", meaning flatbread.
A legend suggests that Roman soldiers gained a taste for the Jewish Matza while
stationed in Roman occupied Palestine and developed a similar food after returning home.
However a recent archaeological discovery has found a preserved Bronze Age pizza in
the Veneto region. By the Middle Ages these early pizzas started to take on a more
modern look and taste. The peasantry of the time used what few ingredients they could
get their hands on to produce the modern pizza dough and topped it with olive oil and
The introduction of the Indian Water Buffalo gave pizza another dimension with the
production of mozzarella cheese. Even today, the use of fresh "Mozzarella di Buffalo" in
Italian pizza cannot be substituted. While other cheeses have made their way onto pizza
(usually in conjunction with fresh mozzarella), no Italian Pizzeria would ever use the dried
shredded type used on so many American pizzas.
After the Focaccia, came "Casa de nanza," which means "take out before." This early form
of pizza was created as a peasant's food and was designed like the French crepe and
Mexican taco as a food to be eaten without utensils, as a way to use fresh produce made
locally and as a way to get rid of leftovers.
Pizza as we know it could not have came into existence until Europeans got over their fear
in the late 1800's, that tomatoes were poisonous. Tomatoes were brought back to Europe
by explorers who found the fruit in Mexico and Central America.
The term pizza may have derived from an Old Italian word meaning a point, which in turn
led to the Italian word "Pizzicare", meaning to pinch or pluck. The word shows up for the
first time in print as a Neapolitan dialect word, piza or picea, about 1000 A.D., possibly
referring to the manner in which something is plucked from a hot oven, or the way the
dough is pinched around the edges.
The world's first true pizzeria is though to be "Antica Pizzaria Port'Alba," which opened in
1830 in Naples, Italy, and is still in business today. The modern pizza is attributed to baker
Raffaele Esposito of Napoli (Naples) in the Italian region of Campania. In 1889, Esposito
of Pizzeria di Pietro (now called Pizzeria Brandi) baked pizza especially for the visit of
Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita and for one of the pizzas embellished the
classic Pizza Alla Marinara with mozzarella and basil. The pizza was very patriotic and
resembled the Italian flag with its colors of green (basil), white (mozzarella), and red
(tomatoes). This pizza was named Pizza Margherita in honor of the Queen and set the
standard by which today's pizza evolved and spread to Northern Italy and beyond, firmly
establishing Naples as the pizza capitol of the world."
The popular pizza Margherita owes its name to Italy's Queen Margherita who in 1889
visited the Pizzeria Brandi in Naples. The Pizzaioli (pizza maker) on duty that day, Rafaele
Esposito created a pizza for the Queen that contained the three colors of the new Italian
flag. The red of the newly accepted tomato, white of the mozzarella and fresh green basil
was a hit with the Queen and the rest of the world. Neapolitan style pizza had now spread
throughout Italy and each region started designing their own versions based on the Italian
culinary rule of fresh, local ingredients.
To call a pizza a true Neapolitan pizza, one must adhere to the guidelines outlined by the
Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, based in Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza.
According to their rules, an authentic Neapolitan pizza must be that the dough should be
made with only flour, water, salt, and yeast. No sugar is used in Neapolitan dough,
because at the high temperatures at which these pizzas are cooked, the sugar blackens
too quickly. In Naples the true test of a well made pizza is whether it can be folded in half
without breaking or cracking the crust.
Each region of Italy has its own special types of pizza. Sicilian Pizza, or sfincione, is a
unique type of pizza which comes from Sicily and became popular in the U.S., particularly
among the Italian-American communities. The pizza dough is usually thicker than with
ordinary pizzas and uses sugar when making the dough. In the U.S., a Sicilian pizza has
over an inch-thick crust.
There’s a big difference between traditional Sicilian pizza and Sicilian-Style pizza, First,
there’s the crust. Traditional Sicilian pizza resembles focaccia, a thick Italian bread baked
on a sheet in the shape of a rectangle. Traditional Sicilian has evolved into what is known
as Sicilian-Style pizza, especially popular on the East Coast. The crust is similar, but the
toppings are vastly different in choice and presentation.
In Sicily, the herbs and what we know as toppings are baked into the crust itself after
being sautéed. After the crust has been coated in olive oil and rolled out, the sautéed
onions should be pressed into the dough, along with pieces of anchovy and olives.
Spread the cheese evenly across the top, and the pizza is ready to bake. If using tomato
sauce, the sauce is put over the cheese.
Regardless of what variety of Sicilian Pizza you want to make, invest in a pizza stone to
allow the pizza dough to cook before it has a chance to rise, and a pizza peel to transfer
your pizza dough to the pizza stone.
Pizza was imported to the United States by Italian immigrants. For many years, pizza was
mostly available in cities with large Neapolitan populations like New York, Boston and
Philadelphia. The ingredients immigrants found in their new country differed from those
they were use to. In New York there was no buffalo-milk mozzarella, so cow's milk
mozzarella was used, oregano, a staple southern Italian herb, was replaced in America by
sweet marjoram and American tomatoes, flour, even water, were different. Here pizza
evolved into a large, sheet-like pie, perhaps eighteen inches or more in diameter.
The first pizzeria opened in the U.S. was in New York City in 1895 by an Italian immigrant
named Gennaro Lombardi. The pizzeria is Lombardi's and it is still open. It wasn't until
American soldiers returned from WWII that pizza became a national phenomenon.
BRICK OVEN PIZZA - A wood fired brick oven gives a special flavor to pizza. Brick ovens
are for baking Neapolitan style pizzas. Brick oven pizzas are only about ten inches in
diameter, thin and light on toppings since they are meant to bake in just a minute or two.
CALZONE - A Calzone, is essentially an inside out, folded over pizza named for the style
of baggy pants worn by Neapolitan gentlemen in the 18th century. The Calzone has long
been considered a classic form of pizza and most Calzones are made in the traditional
half-moon shape that is achieved by rolling or pressing out the dough ball into a circle.
Then the filling is mounded into the bottom half of the circle and the top part is folded over
and crimped by hand or with a fork.
CHICAGO STYLE PIZZA - This is a deep-dish pizza, which was invented in Chicago. An
authentic Chicago pizza will have a thick crust, plenty of tomato sauce and generous
cheese and actually cooked in a deep pie pan.
FRENCH BREAD PIZZA - This is French bread cut in half or slices and topped with pizza
toppings as an alternative to using a dough pizza crust.
NEW YORK STYLE PIZZA - Neapolitan pizza (Pizza Napoletana). This pizza is known for
its thin, wide slices. Traditional toppings include mozzarella and tomato and this pizza is
light on sauce. The thin, crispy, hand tossed crust is made from high gluten flour and it is
common to fold the pizza slices to eat them.
PAN PIZZA - Pan pizza is made right in a baking pan and has a thicker crust than many
other kinds of pizza but not as thick as a deep dish pizza.
SICILIAN PIZZA - Sicilian thick crust pizza is one of the most popular pizza varieties. This
pizza originates from Palermo in Sicily. Pecorino cheese ( sheep's milk ) and sardines are
used on a traditional Sicilian pizza. In the United States, a Sicilian pizza is square and has
a very thick crust and the sardines were replaced with anchovies.
STROMBOLI - A roulade style pizza where the dough is first prepared in a rectangle like a
Sicilian pizza, but then it is rolled and baked. Stromboli is reported to have originated in
1950 in Essington, Tinicum Township just outside of Philadelphia, at Romano's Italian
Restaurant & Pizzeria, by Nazzareno Romano.
THICK CRUST PIZZA - Some pizzas feature a thick crust. Usually the dough is left to rise
for an hour or more in the baking process to result in this type of bread-like crust.
THIN CRUST PIZZA - A thin crust pizza might or might not contain yeast. Thin crust pizza
has a crispy, crunchy crust.
WHITE PIZZA - "Pizza Bianca" uses no tomato sauce, often substituting pesto or dairy
products. Most commonly, especially on the east coast of the United States, the toppings
consist only of mozzarella and ricotta cheese drizzled with olive oil and spices like fresh
basil and garlic. In Rome, the term "Pizza Bianca" refers to a type of bread topped with
olive oil, salt and, occasionally, rosemary leaves. It’s also a Roman style to top the white
pizza with figs, called Pizza e Fichi.