PIZZA. Although it is one of the world's simplest and most popular foods, pizza is oddly difficult to define. Centuries of evolution have transformed it from the patties made of mashed grains that were its earliest antecedents into a dish that, though related to those early grain cakes, is almost unrecognizable as their descendant. Most significant is the change in the primary ingredient, from various coarse grains to a solely wheat-based dough, and eventually to a dish made almost exclusively with white flour.
However, though pizza has taken many forms, and its composition, toppings, seasonings, methods of preparation, and the equipment used to make it have altered radically over the years, it has usually been a flatbread baked at high temperatures.
Early History of Pizza
For millennia, pizza, a food of various origins and multiple styles, has played an important role in the diet of those who inhabited the land now called Italy. Neolithic nomads, the Etruscans from the North, and the Greeks from southern regions were the three earliest societies to develop pizza prototypes, for example, focaccia. Each group made small adaptations that changed the original product into a slightly more refined dish.
As early as the Stone Age, Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribal groups foraged throughout what would become Italy for wild grains, among them wheat varieties such as emmer and einkorn, as well as barley. Commonly first soaked or boiled, these grains were mashed into pastes and cooked on hot stones over open fires.
Later, around 1000 B.C.E., the Etruscans, a people of uncertain origin, introduced their flatbread to Northern Italy. Like the Neolithic tribes before them, the Etruscans pounded their grains. However, unlike their predecessors, the Etruscans baked their mash on stones and buried the stones in the ashes, creating smoky tasting bread. They further elaborated on the primitive Neolithic flatbread by seasoning the mash with oil and herbs after baking it. Though little more than rough slabs of cooked grain, these Etruscan flatbreads, among the earliest forms of this type of food documented, were often used as dough "plates" in lieu of dishes.
The Greeks, who had superior baking skills and technology, further advanced and elaborated on pizza during their 600-year (730–130 B.C.E.) occupation of the southern areas of the Italian peninsula. Like their predecessors, they produced a grain-based mash, but instead of placing the toppings on the cooked breads, they placed them on the raw dough prior to baking, perhaps to ensure a more highly flavored dish. Plakuntos, for example, flat, round breads, were made with various simple toppings, among them oil, garlic, onion, and herbs. Additional Greek contributions included the use of ovens, instead of open fires, and the development of kneading, which produced a more digestible bread. Evelyne Sloman highlights early excerpts from Plato's Republic that refer to meals created from barley flour kneaded and cooked into "cakes" with olives and cheese (Sloman, 1984, p. 5).
Although it is not firmly established, many also credit the Greeks with improving on the knowledge of leavening agents that came down to them from the Egyptians, and then introducing yeast into their own flatbreads. The Greeks also added a raised rim to the outside of their dough circles, to stabilize their dough "plates," making them easier to hold, and, perhaps, even helping to keep the toppings in place.
Much later, the Romans combined the Etruscan and Greek techniques to create the pizza antecedent most like the pizza known today. They valued the intense heat the Etruscans achieved by baking their flatbreads below the fire, and they appreciated the Greek idea of preseasoning the dough. They also modified the Greek plakuntos. Known to them by the Latin term placenta, their adapted bread, though still round, was topped with cheese and baked on a wood-burning hearth. Laganum, a light, thin wafer bread, was also cooked on the hearth.
If the Greeks and Etruscans were primarily responsible for creating the prototypes of what was to become pizza, and the ancient Romans were responsible for improving it, it was largely the Neapolitans who brought it fame. Probably not coincidentally, the Neapolitans were responsible for the addition of the ingredient most commonly associated with pizza today—the tomato.
No one is sure of the precise reason, but it took well over two centuries from the time the New World tomato was introduced to the continent of Europe during the Columbian food exchange for Neapolitans, and various other inhabitants of the peninsula, to begin consuming tomatoes in quantity.
There are several theories about why adoption of a fruit that has almost come to symbolize Italian cuisine took so long. One argues that it was because tomatoes were believed to be poisonous, another that the earliest tomatoes were inferior and, therefore, eaten only in modest amounts until quality improved enough to make the fruit genuinely popular. In the area of Naples, for example, a key moment appears to have come in the middle of the eighteenth century with the development of a pleasing, large, and sweet tomato. The fruit quickly became the mainstay of Neapolitan pizza toppings.
It was also around this time, during the era of Bourbon King Ferdinando I and Queen Maria Carolina, whose empire included Naples, that one of the earliest pizza legends took root. In one version of the story, the queen (Marie Antoinette's sister and the daughter of Empress Maria Teresa of Austria) is said to have been described by the king as having "common tastes," apparently a quality thought to explain her love of pizza, a dish of the people. It is, however, a measure of the confounding nature of pizza lore that in a variant of the story, it is the king who relishes pizza and the refined queen who does not understand his passion.
Whichever of their majesties was the real enthusiast, the object of desire was probably flavored with lard (a less expensive alternative to oil), tomatoes, salt, and sometimes tiny eels, anchovies, or sardines. Over time, craving for this pie became so great that either the king, to gratify his wife's yearning, or the queen, to gratify the king's hunger, had a pizza oven built at the Capodimonte palace, so they could make the dish at home, an act that brought the pie even more attention. Pizza became the fashion, and other nobles followed suit, building pizza ovens where they lived.
However, it was not until 1889, a time when yet another ingredient is purported to have become part of the equation, that pizza began its march toward wide celebrity. It was then that inspiration is said to have struck Raffaele Esposito, a noted Neapolitan pizzaiolo (pizza chef), who decided to pay homage to Queen Margherita and King Umberto I of Savoia, the ruling house of Italy, by adding mozzarella to the traditional tomato and basil pie. The combination of red, white, and green suggested the colors of the Italian flag and saluted the United Kingdom of Italy, a gesture that for patriotic reasons is said to have made the pie a favorite of the queen.
Though most stories of origin give Esposito credit for adding cheese and thereby inventing the tri-color pizza, still known as Pizza Margherita, others deny it, believing that mozzarella had been used earlier. There is no doubt, however, that Esposito popularized the "made for each other" combination of cheese, dough, and tomato that produced a dish even more delicious than before, thereby setting the modest pie on a course to fame that he could never have imagined.
In Italy today, pizza exists in a number of regional styles, of which two of the most famous are the Neapolitan and the Roman. Both schools knead the dough, but pizza alla Napoletana is round, has a high border, takes diverse toppings, and is generally sold in pizzerias, while pizza alla Romana, also called pizza bianca, is more or less rectangular, often as much as a meter long, topped only with oil and salt, and sold by weight, primarily in bakeries and groceries, according to the size of the piece requested. Many other regions of Italy—Sicily, for example—also have distinctive versions of pizza. However, the popularity of the dish has meant that the styles are not always confined to the geographical areas in which they were created. Neapolitan-style pizza, for example, can be found in many places in Italy, as can Pizza alla Romana.
The Birth of the Pizzeria
From the beginning, pizza was rarely prepared at home because few people had the skill to stretch the dough properly or the money to build a wood-fired oven in which to bake it. Consequently, it was almost always bought from small stalls or from pizza sellers carrying their aromatic wares through the crowded Neapolitan streets. Some more elaborate open-air pizza stands offered slightly more upscale options, along with makeshift seating, but it was not until 1830 that the first documented pizzeria, that is, an inexpensive gathering place specializing in pizza and equipped with wood burning stoves, began doing business in Naples. It was called Port'Alba. Still in operation, its opening marked the birth of a style of eating establishment now known around the world.
The notion of a pizzeria as a fast-paced, economical restaurant has continued. In fact, the institution of the pizzeria is as critical to its vast global appeal as the food itself is.
The Development of Pizza as an American Icon
Although pizza is not exclusively Italian in origin, there is no question that from a cultural standpoint, it is an iconic food of Italy. Italians "own" this delicacy. Nevertheless, pizza in the United States may also be considered an icon food, perhaps even more so than in the land of its birth. The dish has become an American institution—embracing food-on-the-run, corporate enterprise, and American ingenuity, and it may fairly be said to be as representative of American foodways, food customs, and food choices as it is of Italian ones.
Pizza arrived in the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century, along with a wave of largely southern Italian immigrants. Soon many of those immigrants were making their livelihood operating bakeries and groceries where they sold pizza alongside produce and staple ingredients.
The first real American pizzeria, opened in New York City in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi, was located in
Manhattan, at 53⅓ Spring Street. As with other early pizzerias, the clientele was composed predominantly of southern Italian immigrants, who wanted to eat their own dishes in a familiar and homey atmosphere. However, after World War II, when GIs returned from Italy well acquainted with pizza and other Italian foods, they forged a new and growing market for those foods.
As is the case with so many other traditional Italian foods, pizza underwent significant changes in the United States. Thanks to the American postwar emphasis on excess and increased portion size, as well, possibly, as the desire of poor Italian immigrants to eat more copiously than they had been able to do at home, the delicate Neapolitan pizza was transformed. Formerly lightly embellished with tomatoes and other toppings, it was increasingly laden with an abundance of meats and cheese, sometimes creating slices weighing close to a pound.
Other differences developed in the United States, too. The pie acquired regional American styles, New York, Chicago, California, and New Haven the best known among them. New York pizza is cheesy and gooey, with a high, dense border and medium-thick crust; it can be bought by the slice or whole. California style has a very thin crust, adorned with an array of toppings unlikely to be found in Italy, ranging from goat cheese to tandoori chicken, to moo shu pork or bacon with pineapples. Chicago style is "deep dish," prepared in a pan, and based on a thick-crust pizza. New Haven style is somewhat similar to New York pizza, but is known especially for its white clams.
In addition to the regional pizzas available in the United States, ethnic variations exist. Because the costs of opening a pizzeria are relatively low compared with those of opening a more formal restaurant, the business of pizzerias has long attracted immigrants. In addition, because pizza seems to be a blank slate inviting adaptation, Arabs, Chileans, Israelis, Greeks, Indians, and a diversity of other pizzeria owners often serve ethnicized versions next to traditional Italian pies. Depending on ownership, the menu may offer curried double-crust pizza, or pizza topped with feta cheese, or falafel. (It should also be noted that the same process occurs abroad. Pizza flourishes in Tokyo, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Moscow, and other cities around the world.Though still associated with Italy or, perhaps, even the United States, the pizza itself often bears minimal resemblance to the original dish.)
Once a handcrafted art form, pizza in America (and often elsewhere) is now mass-produced by an overabundance of pizza chains that incorporate the technological advances featured in the monthly print-and-on-line trade journal Pizza Today. In 1951, just ten years after the Minneapolis-based members of the Totino family founded one of the first Midwestern pizzerias, that family initiated the frozen pizza business. In 1953, 100,000 stores were offering refrigerated or frozen pizza (Trager, 1966, p. 544), and at least 15,000 pizzerias similar to the Totino original were operating in the United States. Shakey's opened in 1954, Pizza Hut in 1958, Little Caesar's in 1959, and Domino's in 1960. In 1973, perhaps cashing in on the American attraction to anything French, Stouffer's introduced frozen French bread pizza.
In 1982, the California chef Wolfgang Puck joined the California food revolution and introduced his super thin–crusted, "designer" pizzas, featuring among other choices, a smoked salmon variety. This marked the beginning of the "anything goes" upscale and innovative pizza, completely characteristic of quintessentially American iconic foodways.
See also Bread ; Icon Foods ; Italy ; Take-out Food ; United States: Ethnic Cuisines .
Anderson, Burton. Treasures of the Italian Table. New York: William Morrow, 1994.
Behr, Ed. "Pizza in Naples." The Art of Eating 22 (Spring 1992): 1–14.
Del Conte, Anna. The Gastronomy of Italy. New York: Prentice Hall, 1987.
Field, Carol. The Italian Baker. New York: Harper and Row, 1995.
Romer, Elizabeth. Italian Pizza and Hearth Breads. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1987.
Rosengarten, David. "Pizza Now in New York City: The New Reality." Rosengarten Report 1, no. 7 (January 7, 2002): 15–19.
Schwartz, Arthur. Naples at Table. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.
Sloman, Evelyne. The Pizza Book: Everything There Is to Know about the World's Greatest Pie. New York: Times Books, 1984.
Trager, James. The Food Chronology: A Food Lover's Compendium of Events and Anecdotes from Prehistory to the Present. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.
Jennifer Berg Cara De Silva
Derivation of the Term "Pizza"
The word "pizza" simply means "pie" and is a Southern Italian derivative of the Roman term picea, both a bread itself and the ash-blackened underside of the Roman bread called placenta. Some say this term eventually evolved into "piza," then "pizza." Similarly, another flat bread, pitta, thought by some to have been introduced to southern Italy during the sixth-century Byzantine conquest, may also have influenced the modern day pronunciation of "pizza."
Preparation of the Pizza
Pizza preparation is simple, with few rules dictating a sublime product. The dough is made only with flour, natural yeast or brewer's yeast, salt and water. Dough is then kneaded either by hand or mixer, and the dough is punched down and shaped by hand.
Although most pizza is served as a round pie, a folded over variation, known as a calzone (or pants leg, so called because of the calzone's resemblance to the loose trousers once worn by Neapolitan men), is also popular. Originally from Naples, as is pizza itself, this style of turnover appears elsewhere as a mezzaluna (half moon) or panzerotti (stomachs). Additionally, there are double-crusted, or stuffed, pizzas filled with all sorts of meats, fish, vegetables, and cheeses. They are referred to by the same name as flat pizzas, but some argue that such famous examples as pizza rustica and pizza pasqualina come out of a different tradition entirely, one that dates back to the pies of Medieval times. In addition, there is a rolled variety of pizza called bonata, known to Americans as stromboli.
While standard toppings—among them, sausage, ricotta cheese, peppers, mushrooms, and meatballs—vary from region to region and city to city, the dough remains quite similar. Although any flour may be used, prized pizza is prepared using the high-gluten variety that produces strong dough that rises easily. Such flour, along with yeast, water, salt, and olive oil, creates the perfect dough.
- Commercial pizza oven—may be wood, coal, gas, or electric, but ideally should achieve a temperature of at least 700°F. Pizza stone or quarry tiles (to supply intense heat) simulate a pizza oven's temperature for home use.
- Pans—pizzas are either first baked in round pans to secure the shape or baked directly on the stones or oven floor.
- Pizza peel or paddle—an elongated wooden or metal paddle used to place the pizzas in and remove them from deep ovens.
"Pizza." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pizza
"Pizza." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Retrieved March 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pizza
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A pizza is a round, open pie made with yeast dough and topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and a variety of other ingredients.
Flatbreads or rounds of dough with various toppings can be found throughout the history of civilization. What is known as pizza today can be traced to Naples, Italy in the Middle Ages. The Italians are also credited with coining the term pizza, although its origin is not clear. It could have derived from the Italian word for point, pizziare, meaning to pinch or pluck, or a verb meaning to sting or to season.
Early toppings may have included cheeses, dates, herbs, olive oil, and honey. Tomatoes or tomato sauce were not introduced until the sixteenth century when New World explorers brought the red fruit back from South America. The wealthy classes regarded the tomato as a fruit to be avoided; indeed many thought it to be poisonous. But in the peasant neighborhoods of Naples, residents were enjoying it with the rounds of dough that constituted their primary staple. Somehow the news of this tomato pie spread, and open-air pizza parlors began to do a brisk business. It was also not unusual to see the pizza marker, or pizzaioli plying his wares through the streets.
Just as the tomato made its way to Europe, the pizza traveled to the United States with the large influx of Italian immigrants in the latter part of the nineteenth century. One of the earliest known pizzerias was opened by Gennaro Lombardi in New York City in 1905. The thin-crust pie served featured a layer of tomato puree, mozzarella cheese, and various toppings such as sausage and pepperoni. In 1943, Ike Sewell created a deep-dish version at his Chicago restaurant, Pizzeria Uno. The deep-dish pizza combines the sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, and such with the cheese, which is then poured into a high-sided crust. A layer of tomato sauce is then ladled over the top.
By the end of the 1940s, Frank A. Fiorello was packaging and marketing the first commercial pizza mix. Frozen pizzas were introduced in 1957. By the 1990s, one out of every 20 meals eaten American homes each week was pizza. From its humble beginnings as a staple of the peasant diet, pizzas now sport everything from shrimp to pineapples to barbecued chicken. The manufacturing process, however, remains virtually the same.
Flour is ground from grain. All grains are composed of three parts: bran (the hard outer layer), germ (the reproductive component), and endosperm (the soft inner core). All three parts are ground together to make whole wheat flour. To make white flour, the bran and the germ must be removed. Since bran and germ contain much of the nutrients in grain, the white flour is often "enriched" with vitamins and minerals. Some white flour has also been fortified with fiber and calcium.
Yeast is a single-celled fungus. The variety Sacchromycetais cerevisae is cultivated for use in fermentation to produce alcoholic beverages and bread. Yeast enzymes allow its cells to extract oxygen from the starch in flour and produce carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide then causes the flour to rise. Baker's yeast is sold fresh in cakes or dried in powder form.
Mozzarella cheese was originally made from buffaloes' milk. In the Italian regions of Latium and Campania, it is still made this way, but the vast majority of mozzarella cheese is now made from cows' milk. It is stored in salted water or whey to keep it moist. For use as a pizza topping, the mozzarella is shredded.
Pizza sauce is made from pureed tomatoes seasoned with a variety of spices including garlic, oregano, marjoram, and basil. Both fresh and dried spices can be used.
The preparation of olive oil is as old as, if not older, than the that of pizza. Olives are gathered from orchards of olive trees and pressed to release their oil.
The list of pizza toppings is exhaustive. Meats include sausage, pepperoni, bacon, chicken, and pork. Vegetables include mushrooms, spinach, olives, broccoli, onions, green peppers, and artichokes. Some of the toppings may be partially cooked before being added to the pizza.
Making the pizza crust
- 1 A small amount of baker's yeast, about 1 tbsp, is mixed with a cup or so of warm water. It is left in a warm place until the mixture becomes foamy.
- 2 Several cups of sifted flour are poured into a bowl. The yeast and water mixture along with 1 tbsp of olive oil is poured into a well made in the center of the flour. The liquids are mixed into the flour with the hands and then kneaded on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. The kneading time is approximately 10 minutes.
- 3 The kneaded dough is formed into a ball, dusted with flour and then placed in a bowl and covered with a damp kitchen towel. The bowl is placed in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. This occurs in approximately one to two hours.
- 4 The dough is kneaded again for about one minute and then rolled out onto a floured surface into a circle. The standard pizza is approximately 10 in (25 cm) in diameter. The edges of the circle are raised by pushing up on the dough with the thumbs.
Filling the pizza
- 5 A half cup or so of tomato sauce is spooned over the pizza dough. The sauce is spread over the surface of the pie to within 0.5 in (1.3 cm) of the rim. The shredded cheese may be added before the toppings or on top of them.
Baking the pizza
- 6 Using a wide metal pizza peel, a long-handled flat shovel, the pizza is eased onto a metal pan or clay stone. Pizza pans feature a flat, circular bottom set into a round metal frame. After the pizza is baked, the outer frame is removed. Pizza stones are made of a clay similar to that of old-fashioned brick ovens. Because the clay is porous, it absorbs moisture. The thickness of the stone, usually about 0.75 in (2 cm), radiates heat evenly.
- 7 The pizza is baked at 450°F (230°C) for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling. The pan or stone is removed from the oven with the peel. The pizza is allowed to sit for approximately five minutes before cutting it into slices with a pizza wheel. Slice shapes, like the placement of the mozzarella cheese, differs from region to region. In some cities the pizza is sliced into pie-shaped pieces. In other cities, the pie is cut into squares.
A staple since the beginning of human civilization, the pizza shows no sign of diminishing in popularity. So-called gourmet pizzas, made with pastry dough, goat cheese, and escargot, can be found on the menus of upscale restaurants. And in spite of increased awareness about cholesterol levels and fat content, a slice of pizza oozing with cheese and pepperoni is a favorite item in storefront pizzerias and shopping mall food courts.
Where to Learn More
Anderson, Kenneth N., and Lois E. Anderson. The International Dictionary of Food & Nutrition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993.
Lang, Jenifer Harvey, ed. Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Crown Publishers, 1998.
Scicolone, Charles, and Michela Sciolone. Pizza: Any Way You Slice It. Broadway Books.
Stradley, Linda. "History and Legends of Pizza." What's Cooking America Web Page. 2000. December 2001. <http://www.geocities.com/familysecrets/History/Pizza/PizzaHistory.htm>.
"Pizza." How Products Are Made. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/manufacturing/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pizza
"Pizza." How Products Are Made. . Retrieved March 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/manufacturing/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/pizza
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"pizza." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pizza
"pizza." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Retrieved March 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pizza
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piz·za / ˈpētsə/ • n. a dish of Italian origin consisting of a flat, round base of dough baked with a topping of tomato sauce and cheese, typically with added meat or vegetables.
"pizza." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pizza-0
"pizza." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved March 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pizza-0
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"pizza." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pizza
"pizza." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved March 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pizza