I·ATE Food Term of the Week: Neapolitan pizza

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Neapolitan-pizza

A bit of history

Pizza is a staple food that originated in the Mediterranean area. According to some scholars, this poor food was invented by the Egyptians, the first ones that distinguished between small spelt and “normal” spelt, and the ones who understood the role of yeast. Romans, instead, were the first people to use round-shaped bread as plates that contained succulent dishes.

In 997, for the first time the word pizza was used in the Codex Cajetanus of Gaeta to indicate a focaccia. In the course of its history, pizza experienced a second turning point when it started to function as an “oven test” for bakers to test the temperature.

Finally, in the 18th century the wood-fired masonry oven revolutionised the world of pizza, giving Neapolitan pizza its specificity.

The characteristics of a good pizza

The main characteristic of a good pizza is its digestibility, which depends on the leavening process. In a good Neapolitan pizza, specifically margherita and marinara, flavours blend perfectly, thanks to the cooking at 480°C for a maximum of 90 seconds.

The cornicione

The term cornicione indicates the raised edge that surrounds the central part of a pizza with the seasoning. Whereas in the past people tended to ignore the cornicione, now pizza is mainly evaluated from this outer ring, and for young pizza makers it is a source of pride. These pizza makers are called canottisti because they make cornicione similar to a canotto (rubber dinghy), that is particularly pronounced and fluffy.

The oven

Neapolitan pizza is the only type to have a dedicated oven: the one with the crescent-moon shaped opening. This oven has a structural feature that allows to reach a temperature between 450-480°C internally, requiring 60 to 90 seconds for a pizza to be evenly cooked.

According to the rules of the Verace Pizza Association, the temperature required for cooking the Neapolitan pizza is about 430°C at the base and about 485°C at the vault of the oven.

Pizza outside of Italy: who are the best foreign pizza makers?

“Italians think that pizza was born in Italy, but if you talk to Americans you will find they think this dish was born in America.” This quote can be hilarious, but it could be motivated by the existence of 5,000 pizzerias in New York alone. The city with the most pizzerias in the world is Sao Paulo in Brazil with 6,500 shops. Naples is only third with 1,500 shops. Outside Italy pizza is transformed: for example, the Japanese have become meticulous masters of the Neapolitan style, while in the United States new styles are flourishing such as the New York and Chicago, which are similar to Bari’s focaccia. Here pizza is not served whole, but in portion-size slices because of the excessive seasoning. Pizza is also very common in Arabic countries, masters of the schiaffo (slap) technique, that is the ability to enlarge the dough by tossing it from one hand palm to the other according to a typical gesture.

UNESCO recognition

In 2017 the art of the Neapolitan pizzaiuolo became part of the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The importance of pizza and everything that revolves around it has changed, starting from the very people who make pizza, the pizzaioli, who are strongly demanded abroad, especially in Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai and the United Kingdom. Even in France, where pizza was looked down on, it has now become a real trend.

History and recipe of pizza Margherita

All over the world pizza is one of the most appreciated dishes, but the queen of pizzas is certainly pizza Margherita: simple, tasty and traditional. Prepared with healthy ingredients, such as flour, tomato, fiordilatte cheese, basil, salt and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita contains a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals that make it a nutritionally complete dish.

Pizza Margherita, the royal pizza

After Neapolitan pizza makers had spread various qualities of pizza among the population, this was officially approved in 1889, on the occasion of a visit to Naples of the then sovereigns of Italy, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. During their stay in the city, the sovereigns were welcomed by Raffaele Esposito, the best pizza maker of the time, who made for them three pizzas: Pizza alla Mastunicola (lard, cheese, basil), Pizza alla Marinara (tomato, garlic, oil, oregano) and Pizza pomodoro e mozzarella (tomato, oil, mozzarella, oregano and basil), the latter made in honour of Queen Margherita and whose colours intentionally recalled the Italian flag. The Queen appreciated the pizza so much that she wanted to thank and praise its creator in written form. For the pizza maker the only way to repay the queen’s gesture was to name this pizza after her, hence the culinary creation Pizza Margherita.

If you liked this article, we recommend you to read also the one of Soul Cakes.

Bibliography

– Tony Gemignani, Pizza Bible, The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and More, 2014.

– Marc Veltri, Mastering Pizza: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pizza, Focaccia, and Calzone, 2018.

– Giovanni Chianelli, Pizza and Street Food. Italian and English editions, 2016.

– UNESCO, Art of Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’, https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/art-of-neapolitan-pizzaiuolo-00722.


Written by Teresa Bifulco and Carmen Serena Santonocito, PhD in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.