Let's order a pizza! When we are tired after work and don't want to cook a
meal, when there's some special excuse for a small celebration, or for no reason at
all - we just call and get a large, delicious Italian dish delivered at our door.
And so did the Romans all of two thousand years ago, although they, of course, sent
their slave to nearest take-away food bar and ordered a freshly baked and flavored
bread. There wouldn't have been tomatoes on it, since at this time the only ones
that knew about tomatoes were the South American indians, but olive oil, spices,
onions, meat, fish, mushrooms and vegetables will have given the bread its special
flavour and qualities. Today, you may still order a "white pizza" without tomatoes
in Italy, and if you prefer a bread without so much stuff on it, you get a
"focaccia" instead. That's a bread with olive oil and spices only.
When the Roman world came to an end, the pizza stayed on. It's practical food and cheap food, and it supplies lots of carbohydrates, needed energy for working men. It became the staple food of the poor and hard-working fishermen of Naples, and began to look more like the pizzas we eat today, although it might seem a more austere cousin were we to get one today. A flat bread, with olive oil, a little tomato sauce and garlic was most often the whole thing - perhaps with a few small salt fish on
Cheese oficially made it onto the pizza in 1889, when Raffaele Esposito created the
"Pizza Margherita", decorated with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basilica to
honour the Italian queen Margherita, but presumably the fresh buffalo cheese from
the region around Naples had been used before this.
From then on the pizza spread over the world and became more and more elaborate.
There are the classics - the Margherita, the Quattro Stagione or Four Seasons
pizza, with ham, shrimps, mussels and mushrooms, topped with a an artichoke, or the
Vesuvio with ham only. But today every pizzeria with some self-esteem has its own
variety, often a blend of ingredients known only locally. And that applies both to
Italy and the rest of the world. Enter a shop where you get "pizza a taglio" in
Italy (rectangular slices of giant pizzas) and they will tell you what's their
special - guaranteed to be different from the shop next door. Or visit a pizzeria
anywhere in the world and ask if they have something unique, and you're likely to
be confronted with everything from a taco pizza to a kebab pizza, passing by really
mouth-watering vegetarian alternatives with fresh local produce.
And it's not only what is on the pizzas that differs. The bread also has its
varieties. The Roman version is thin and crisp at the edges, while the Neapolitan is
thicker and heftier, and the thickest of all is of course the American pan pizza,
made in a pan on the oven instead of inside it. Outside Italy it's the Neapolitan
variety you get, unless you go to a specialized pan pizza shop.
Want to bake your own pizza? Get a prepared pizza-kit in the supermarket and some of
your favourite salami or ham and do it the easy way! Or make your own pizza dough
with half a litre of water, some yeast, a few spoonfuls of olive oil and salt. Mix in wheat flour until you get a smooth paste and leave it to rise for 40 minutes. Then you flatten it out on the baking plate, spread some tomato sauce on it and let your imagination flow when it comes to the filling. Top off with your favorite cheese grated over the whole and bake att 225 degrees C until the cheese is molten
and the edges distinctly have a "bread" appearance. (An extra five minutes under a
cover of tinfoil makes sure it's not raw in the middle). Serve with a salad and some
red wine, and imagine you're in Italy...