Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Now, which city in the world do you suppose has the most pizzerie? Naples? No. Rome? No. New York? Wrong again. The answer, surprisingly, is São Paulo. The writer of the article [unavailable online] in which I read this, in yesterday’s Giornale di Sicilia, was obviously aghast at innovations such as selling pizza by the metre and covering it with exotic fruits. Yet it was probably, originally, a sweet tart or pie, containing almonds. Personally, I think the sweet fillings, or a mixture of sweet and savoury, can work well where care is taken, as it was here.

The word pizzeria did not enter an Italian dictionary until 1918 and the etymology of the word pizza itself is unclear; it is probably related to Greek pitta and Turkish pide, denoting flat breads, yet my Italian etymological dictionary suggests that the origin is Germanic [and there's more on that here]. Focaccia is an earlier word for in some nineteenth century texts pizza is described as “a kind of focaccia”.

Just when our ancestors in many cultures began to put toppings on to flat breads is not known, but Elizabeth David, in French Provincial Cooking, wonders whether French pissaladière, which has an onion topping and which might have been brought to France by Roman chefs, is the antecedent of Italian pizza as we know it today. If her supposition is correct it would mean that something akin to the pizza we can all recognise was known in Italy before the introduction of the tomato into this country.

Most of you probably know the story of how the most well known and mildly flavoured type of pizza, the Margherita, got its name: in 1889 Queen Margherita accompanied her husband, King Umberto, on a trip to Naples. She wanted to try pizza and a pizza chef was called. He made 3 types of pizza and the Queen preferred the simplest, with its topping of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil leaves. Thus, we are told, the pizza Margherita was born.

Universal love of the pizza is a relatively recent phenomenon, even in Italy, for in the nineteenth century, because of the squalor in Naples, the city of its origin, it was thought to be an unhygienic food. It was when Italian American celebrities made their love of pizza known in the 1950s that their fans became curious about it and began to demand it too. And where America led, the world followed!

Traditional Modican pizza has a soft, rather than crispy base and I decided to knock one up today, to a recipe given to me by my friend Gina. [ I like this recipe because it involves a lot of slapping, throwing around and stretching of the dough - very therapeutic]:

250 gr 00 flour or strong white bread flour
half a cube of fresh yeast, crumbled, or a sachet of easy-blend yeast
coarse sea salt
warm water
400 gr can chopped tomatoes, with juice
dried oregano
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
chopped basil leaves
250 gr mozzarella, sliced fairly thickly
a little grated
caciocavallo or pecorino cheese
extra virgin olive oil

Mix the flour, crumbled yeast cube or sachet of yeast and some salt together with enough warm water to make a soft, springy dough. I use a processor and it takes about 3 seconds but you can mix it in a bowl by hand if you want. Then knead it hard – slap it against the sides of the bowl. [Do this even if you have mixed it in a processor.] Leave to double in size in an oiled bowl covered with a clean, damp tea towel.
Meanwhile, mix together the tomatoes, garlic, oregano and basil. Add some salt.
Cover a baking tray or sheet with baking parchment and oil it.
When the dough has risen, heat the oven to 200 C.
Chuck the dough onto the oiled baking parchment and stretch it out as best you can into an oblong shape. [I love this bit as it’s messy.] Pat it out with the heel of your hand, dipping your hand in the tomato mixture so that it doesn’t stick to the dough.
Cover the dough with the mozzarella slices.
Spoon the tomato mixture over and sprinkle on the grated cheese. Drizzle some olive oil all over the pizza.
Put it in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. NB: the oven MUST be really hot before you put it in.

I used to teach basic Italian to a class of 17-year-olds with both educational and physical special needs. In the very first lesson I suggested to them that they probably already knew a lot of Italian words and asked them to think about food. Of course everyone shouted out, “I like pizza!” and a carer who was in the room with me, a girl of about 19, piped up: “Oh, yes, and they’re easy, too. You just take them out of the freezer and microwave them.” I kept my mouth shut.


PinkAcorn said...

I can't read your blog before my breakfasts have consisted of pasta or deserts!
So much for the dieting.

Ellee Seymour said...

You can't beat home made pizza, the frozen variety is like chewing cardboard.

Off topic, in tonight's London Evening Standard is a great review of "All About my Mother" at the Old Vic, do give me notice if you plan to visit the UK and I will try and get us tickets, it sounds wonderful. I'm afraid I haven't found the review online.

Also, sorry to hear that Pavaroti is very ill again.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, pink. Sorry! Hi, Ellee,I agree. I'd love to see that but I don't think I'd be in London for long enough if I came over. Will let you know, though. Yes, was just watching the Ital news about Pavarotti. Poor man.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Love homemade pizza...but only thin ones...and quite plain..tomato , mozzarella, and basil.

Just saw on BBC news website about Mount Etna eruption..and they closed Cantania airport...

Liz Hinds said...

That sounds wonderful. I do love pizza.

Lee said...

Great post, Welsh. It is true that it was the Romans who brought the art of cooking to the French. The French may not like to admit to that, but that's them the facts! ;)

I love pizzas, too...home-made ones, of course!

I'm making ricotta and spinach-filled cannelloni this weekend...or that's the plan at this point in time!

Jeremy Jacobs said...

I'm flying over now!

Gledwood said...

the refrigerated thin crust ones i got from my local supermarket are better than those from our local pizzeria...

i used to know someone who did the deliveries

his boss was such an oldfashioned sexist

he wanted "a girl with a sexy voice" to answer the phone

(the kind of person who would advertise for a "waitress" and not see what they were doing wrong)

anyway my friend the driver crashed the car one day... with loads of pizza boxes in the front seat...

... i have this enduring image of melted cheese slowly smearing down the windscreen...

(no one was injured but the pizzas were ruined!!)

jmb said...

Great post WCLC, tracing the roots of the beloved pizza. I don't like the thin crusted ones either. I know this is blasphemous but I think the Americans have taken the pizza and made it better than it ever was.
My post today is about the Culinary Institute of America and my son had a pizza there. The crust was wonderful but the filling was "unique" to say the least. Thai-style barbecue chicken pizza. I may just post it and link to your post tomorrow.

jmb said...

Oh and the worst pizza I ever had in Italy was radicchio and spek, ordered by an Italian for me, telling me I would love it. Yuk, I had to manfully eat it anyway.

Maria said...

Microwave pizza is sacrilegious and anyone who makes it should be tortured! Pizza is my favorite food but it so hard to find a good place even here in nyc where i grew up and now work. jersey were i live is even worse!!!

What better food is there... You have bread, tomatoes and cheeseeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!! Yummmmmm! Thanks for the recipe. I've never tried to make pizza before... maybe as it gets cooler here I will give it try.

Thanks Welshcakes!


Tom Paine said...

Have you got a view of Etna from where you are, WCL? I look forward to photographs of Sicilian dishes cooked on lava. B^) Perhaps you could cook Laver Bread on lava, thus neatly combining the traditions of your old and new homelands?

PS: Lee, if "them's the facts", how come our Romans didn't teach us?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Anne. Yes, Etna is at it again. Thanks, Liz. I was pleased with the way it turned out. Hi, Lee. Yes, the French don't like to admit that! Your cannelloni sound wonderful. And very welcome you'll be, JJ! Ciao, Gleds. What a tale -glad no one was injured and I can just imagine the mess! Hi, jmb. Can't agree with you about the Americans and pizza, I'm afraid - they put all sorts of awful cheeses on it! Do post about that filling! I can't stand spek. Hi, M. My pleasure. Surprised you can't find a decent pizza where you are! Hi, TP. No, we're 2 hours from Catania. Laver bread on lava - I'll have to try that out! Good point about "our" Romans.

Chris at 'Chrissie's Kitchen' said...

Guess what I shall be having for supper tonight? Thanks, WCL for the recipe. It's interesting that you put the mozzarella beneath the tomatoes, if I'm correct in saying that.

Lizzie x

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Lizzie. Yes, that's correct. That surprised me in the recipe, too.

Anonymous said...

WL -

Your foodie posts are a joy, but this one takes the biscuit, so to speak.

Pizza isn't just the best-known food in the world, it's the best food in the world full stop.

Speaking of Elizabeth David, I'm sure that somewhere or other she described pizza for her post-war readers as "Italian rarebit," though I can't seem to find the quote at the moment.

She gets it just right in her "Italian Food". She says "the Neapolitan pizza is a beatiful thing to look at" and calls it "coarse food, to accompany copious glasses of rough wine."

Certainly works for me, especially the "copious glasses of rough wine" bit...

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Ludlingtonian. I fancy I've read that quote somewhere, too. ED always gets it right, doesn't she?

Sharon said...

It would be my request for my last meal. I LOVE pizza. Yours looked very nice!

Lee said...

tom paine...perhaps the French were in need of a good feed and were hungrier, therefore more receptive! ;) It is a fact, however.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Sharon. Lee, I'll let you and Tom fight it out!

Crushed said...

Ok, I'm off to get a Pizza now.
I was goung to be good and eat the leftovers in the Freezer, but a Pizza sounds better now.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Buon appetito, Crushed!


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