I went to many different sources to discover the one true history of pizza since I love to find these things out –– only to find––there really isn’t one.
I found a multitude of possibilities just for the origin of word… like lexicographer Charles Earl Funk’s opinion that the word "pie" came from "magpie" (called only “pie” in English until the 16th century and one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet—part of the crow family). That connection was inspired by the assortment of objects the birds collect to decorate their nests as a pie has many ingredients within its crust. Are you following? Magpie is “pica” in Latin, meaning black and white, and that became pizza in time. A stretch, don’t you think?
The first written example of the word pizza (that has been discovered to date) comes from a 997AD document from the southern Italian town of Gaeta, very near Naples. It records that a tenant will give the bishop “duodecim pizze” (12 pizzas) every Christmas day and every Easter. Another theory, from Your Dictionary, postulated that that the word Pizza came from German domination of Italy in the later part of the 1st millennium -- from the Germanic Langobard or Lombard (hence Lombardy region of Italy) language’s “bizzo” or “pizzo”, related to bite. There are other ideas… some truly far-fetched, others reasonable, but none were definitive.
Honestly, I don’t think we will ever know for sure
There were also many attempts to create an ancient lineage for Pizza. It is easy to find flatbreads in the most ancient cultures, and eating bread topped with the rest of your dinner is quoted in Virgil’s (70-19BCE) Æneid where he talks about eating bread plates, “See, we devour the plates on which we feed.” The great Roman gourmet, Apicius, one writer posited, made a proto pizza (# 126 in Book IV, De Re Coquinaria) –– although I thought that was again stretching it, if you ask me. The recipe reads that on a hollowed out loaf of bread you place chicken, sweetbreads, cheese, pignoli nuts, cucumbers, chopped onions … that sounds right, but the writer neglected to mention it was covered in a jellied broth then chilled and covered with a dressing made of crushed herbs and flavorings (celery seed, pennyroyal, mint, ginger, fresh coriander and raisins were mashed up), oil, vinegar and honey added. Honestly, that sounds more like a terrine or even a composed salad to me… delicious, but nothing like a pizza.
A carbonized bread was found in Pompei along with marble slabs that could have been used for making pizza-like breads. I know my ancestors used bread for plates called trenchers in England for a thousand or more years but that’s not quite pizza, is it? There are pitas in the mideast and parathas in India but they aren’t pizza... that’s not cooking the bread with a topping of tomatoes and cheese… that started in Naples…as far as we know.
Our idea of pizza came from a peasant food that became popular as the tomato became readily available. At first, it was only sold from stands and bakeries. Antica Pizzaria Port’Alba came about in 1830 and was the first Pizza restaurant (still going strong) that famously served the Margherita pizza at the request of a slumming Queen Margherita in 1889. The mozzarella, tomato and basil topped pizza honored the colors of the flag and the Queen. It was said she enjoyed it very much.
American pizza started slowly in NYC with Lombardi’s in 1905 and still delicious today (although it closed up for a few years and was re-opened near the original Spring Street location in 1994 by a descendant of the original Lombardi). Pizza was popular with immigrants and Lombardis began selling 5¢ pies… sounds cheap these days but wasn’t for poor immigrants at the time. To accommodate empty pockets they sliced them up and sold the slices so you could get as many as you could afford.
After WW2, soldiers came back from the European theater having eaten pizza in Italy and they wanted more. Pizza parlors began springing up all over America to satisfy the new appetites for Italian pizza.
I love pizza and have experimented with various doughs and toppings for years. About a dozen years ago I found a pizza recipe in Gourmet that I have been making ever since. I thought the crust was really flavorful and the rich cheese and mushrooms with the wonder of “boskily perfumed” truffle oil, (as Nigella Lawson once said), put it over the top. This is not uncle Luigi’s pizza.
The zucchini is a great simple addition too, amidst the other more luxurious toppings. Instead of chopping everything as the recipe had requested, when I found the gadzukes zucchini variety with ridges at the farmer’s market –– they sort of asked to be sliced. I decided to slice some of my mushrooms too… a little chopping and a little slicing for a little variety in the texture.
And then there’s the truffle oil. My friend Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks and I have talked about real vs chemical. I remembered Daniel Patterson’s NYT’s article from a few years back that threw me for a loop. There I discovered most truffle oil had never been anywhere near a truffle. The smell came from 2,4-dithiapentane. Hmmm. Many chefs still use it, other chefs are horrified by it. Serious Eats’ Ed Levine quotes “Comparing truffle oil to real truffles is like comparing sniffing dirty underwear to having sex.” OUCH! Well, I don’t feel quite that strongly about it, in fact I have 3 different bottles in my fridge… one that I keep meaning to toss that’s lost all it’s flavor, another is really too strong and chemical and the last one that is fine… you just can’t use very much or the phony comes out in a big way. I have found the best way to use the faux version is to combine it with good olive oil and then drizzle that… it calms down the strength of the chemical.
But I wanted to know, what does real truffle oil taste like?
So, I went to Oregon Truffle Oil to investigate and then bought the real deal from Amazon. Real white truffle oil is delicate – sort of the ethereal spirit of a truffle in the oil. I thought it was marvelous. It is a little more expensive… the best phony I had was $18 and this is $30… but not horrendous. I’ve already used it on pizza and drizzled it on a mushroom omelette that was fabulous. If you want to be knocked over the head with truffle-ishness... this is not for you. It is subtle.
I also recommend, as all good pizzerias do, that the dough be allowed to rise overnight… it maxes out the flavor and makes it more digestible!
Robiola Pizza, makes 2 pies
2 t yeast
1 T oil
1 c water
2 ½ c flour + 1 cup extra
¼ c cornmeal
3 T whole wheat
1 ½ to 2 t salt
2 portobello mushrooms, chopped and sliced
4 shitaki mushrooms, chopped and sliced
2 m zucchini, sliced very thinly on a mandoline
1 pound robiola cheese, that would be 2 cheeses usually, rind top removed and scooped out (I used Robiola Due Latti) but you could use a camembert or other soft creamy cheese since robiola is pricey. You can also just slice them with the rind… your call.
5 T cornmeal
½ c chopped chives
¼ cup chopped thyme
smoked salt & pepper
3-4 T white truffle oil
Combine all the crust ingredients and blend for 8 minutes in a stand mixer… it will be a wet dough. Let it rise for about an hour and then spread the dough out (you may need a little extra flour for this) to make 2 pizzas on cornmeal covered pans… make them as thin as you like put into the fridge, covered, overnight (lightly oil plastic wrap or it will stick. Or, refrigerate the dough in the bowl and make the pizzas the next day.
Toss vegetables and ½ the chives with salt and pepper.
Toss vegetables and ½ the chives with salt and pepper.
Spread the robiola cheese over the crusts, one cheese per pizza. I took the cheese out of the rind but it’s fine to just slice it and lay it on the dough. Sprinkle with the vegetables.
500º for 15 minutes or until the crust looks the way you like it.
Sprinkle with remaining chives and thyme and serve.
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!!