How was pizza margherita born in Italy? Discover its origins
The history of pizza begins in antiquity, as various ancient cultures produced basic flatbreads with several toppings.
A precursor of pizza was probably the focaccia, a flatbread known to the Romans as panis focacius, to which toppings were then added. Modern pizza evolved from similar flatbread dishes in Naples, Italy, in the 18th or early 19th century.
The word pizza was first documented in 997 AD in Gaeta[ and successively in different parts of Central and Southern Italy. Pizza was mainly eaten in Italy and by emigrants from there. This changed after World War II when Allied troops stationed in Italy came to enjoy pizza along with other Italian foods.
Origin of the Pizza
In Sardinia, French and Italian archaeologists have found bread baked over 7,000 years ago. According to Philippe Marinval, the local islanders leavened this bread.] Foods similar to pizza have been made since antiquity. Records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavorful can be found throughout ancient history.
- In the 6th century BC, Persian soldiers serving under Darius the Great baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields.[
- In Ancient Greece, citizens made a flatbread called plakous (πλακοῦς, gen. πλακοῦντος – plakountos) which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, cheese and garlic.
- An early reference to a pizza-like food occurs in the Aeneid (c. 19 BC), when Celaeno, the Harpy queen, foretells that the Trojans would not find peace until they were forced by hunger to eat their tables (Book III). In Book VII, Aeneas and his men are served a meal that includes round cakes (like pita bread) topped with cooked vegetables. When they eat the bread, they realize that these are the "tables" prophesied by Celaeno.
Some commentators have suggested that the origins of modern pizza can be traced to pizzarelle, which were kosher for Passover cookies eaten by Roman Jews after returning from the synagogue on that holiday, though some also trace its origins to other Italian paschal bread. Abba Eban writes, "some scholars think [pizza] was first made more than 2,000 years ago when Roman soldiers added cheese and olive oil to matzah".
Other examples of flatbreads that survive to this day from the ancient Mediterranean world are focaccia (which may date back as far as the ancient Etruscans); Manakish in the Levant, coca (which has sweet and savory varieties) from Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands; the Greek Pita; Lepinja in the Balkans; or Piadina in the Romagna part of Emilia-Romagna in Italy.
Foods similar to flatbreads in other parts of the world include Chinese bing (a wheat flour-based Chinese food with a flattened or disk-like shape); the Indian paratha (in which fat is incorporated); the Central and South Asian naan (leavened) and roti (unleavened); the Sardinian carasau, spianata, guttiau, pistoccu; and Finnish rieska. Also worth noting is that throughout Europe, there are many similar pies based on the idea of covering flat pastry with cheese, meat, vegetables and seasoning, such as the Alsatian flammkuchen, German zwiebelkuchen, and French quiche.
In 16th-century Naples, a galette flatbread was referred to as a pizza; it was known as a dish for poor people, particularly as street food, and was not considered a kitchen recipe until much later. It was not until the Spanish brought the tomato from the Americas and developed the modern variation that Pizzas in their modern conception were invented. It is said that the tomato reached the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, at the time part of the Spanish Empire, through either Pedro Álvarez de Toledo in the 16th century or viceroy Manuel de Amat, who may have gifted some seeds to the Neapolitans in 1770 on behalf of the Viceroyalty of Peru. In 1843, Alexandre Dumas described the diversity of pizza toppings. An often recounted story holds that on June 11, 1889, to honour the queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito created the "Pizza Margherita", a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, to represent the national colours of Italy as on the Flag of Italy.
But the Pizza Margherita already existed: "The most popular and famous pizzas from Naples were the ‘Marinara’, created in 1734, and the ‘Margherita’, which dates from 1796-1810. The latter was presented to the Queen of Italy upon her visit to Naples in 1889, specifically on account of the colour of its seasoning (tomato, mozzarella and basil), which are reminiscent of the colours of the Italian flag."
Pizza evolved into a variety of bread and tomato dish often served with cheese. However, until the late 19th or early 20th century, the dish was sweet, not savory, and earlier versions that were savory resembled the flatbreads now known as schiacciata. Pellegrino Artusi's classic early-twentieth-century cookbook, La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte di mangiar bene gives three recipes for pizza, all of which are sweet. After the feedback of some readers, Artusi added a typed sheet in the 1911 edition (discovered by food historian Alberto Capatti), bound with the volume, with the recipe of "pizza alla napoletana": mozzarella, tomatoes, anchovies and mushrooms.
The innovation that led to flatbread pizza was the use of tomato as a topping. For some time after the tomato was brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, it was believed by many Europeans to be poisonous, like some other fruits of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family are. However, by the late 18th century, it was common for the poor of the area around Naples to add tomato to their yeast-based flatbread, and so the pizza began.
Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba in Naples, which is widely believed to be the world's first pizzeria
According to documents discovered by historian Antonio Mattozzi in the State Archive of Naples, in 1807, 54 pizzerias existed; listed were owners and addresses. In the second half of the nineteenth century the number of pizzerias increased to 120.
In Naples, two other figures connected to the trade existed – the pizza hawker (pizzaiuolo ambulante), who sold pizza but did not make it, and the seller of pizza "a oggi a otto", who made pizzas and sold them in return for a payment for seven days.
The pizza marinara method has a topping of tomato, oregano, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. It is named "marinara" because it was traditionally the food prepared by "la marinara", the seaman's wife, for her seafaring husband when he returned from fishing trips in the Bay of Naples.
The margherita is topped with modest amounts of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil. It is widely attributed to baker Raffaele Esposito, who worked at the restaurant "Pietro... e basta così" ("Pietro... and that's enough"), established in 1880 and still in business as "Pizzeria Brandi". Though recent research casts doubt on this legend, the tale holds that, in 1889, he baked three different pizzas for the visit of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Queen's favorite was a pizza evoking the colors of the Italian flag – green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). According to the tale, this combination was named Pizza Margherita in her honor. Although those were the most preferred, there are many variations of pizzas today.
"Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana" ("True Neapolitan Pizza Association"), which was founded in 1984, has set the very specific rules that must be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. These include that the pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven; that the base must be hand-kneaded and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means (i pizzaioli – the pizza makers – make the pizza by rolling it with their fingers) and that the pizza must not exceed 35 centimetres in diameter or be more than one-third of a centimetre thick at the centre. The association also selects pizzerias all around the world to produce and spread the verace pizza napoletana philosophy and method.
There are many famous pizzerias in Naples where these traditional pizzas can be found, such as Da Michele, Port'Alba, Brandi, Di Matteo, Sorbillo, Trianon, and Umberto. Most of them are in the ancient historical center of Naples. These pizzerias follow even stricter standards than the specified rules by, for example, using only San Marzano tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and drizzling the olive oil and adding tomato topping in only a clockwise direction.
The pizza bases in Naples are soft and pliable. In Rome, they prefer a thin and crispy base. Another popular form of pizza in Italy is "pizza al taglio", which is pizza baked in rectangular trays with a wide variety of toppings and sold by weight.