PizzasAbout Pizza

History of Pizza

Title: Pizza, History and Development
Post by: Bernard on Jul 31, 2007, 05:09:37 PM
Last Plane Forums => White Courtesy Phone => Topic started by: Bernard on Jul 31, 2007

Here's what the books in my small food library have to say on the subject:

"Pizza is the Italian pronunciation fo rthe word pitta, which the Greeks used to refer to flat bread from the Middle East. The Italians used the terms pizza, pitta, petta, pizzela, or pizzeta as early as the tenth century (though not for a dish with tomatoes, which did not arrive from the New World until much later). Today, of course, pizza has attained the status of an international food. It has been said that if Naples could have patented its pizza it would have been one of Italy's wealthiest cities instead of one of the poorest. The classic Neapolitan pizza is better known as marinara because the ingredients for its topping (oil, tomato, garlic, and oregano) could be stored on ships so that sailors (marinari) could have pizza away from home."

From Najmieh Batmanglij's excellent "Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey"

So that sounds like a pretty solid vote for no cheese - I can't imagine any other than a hard, aged cheese which would not melt well holding up on a sea journey. However, it sounds as though the cheeselessness may have been a choice made in the interest of culinary pragmatism rather than interest. (It is interesting to note, however, that you can't make marinara without a New World ingredient, the tomato.)

According to Marcella Hazan:

"At one time, all mozzarella was di bufala, made from water buffalo milk. The buffalos graze on the pastures of Campania, the southern region of which Naples is the capital...Pizza, when it was created in Naples, was always made with mozzarella di bufalo. It is too expensive an ingredient today for commercial pizza, but it will immeasurably enhance homemade pizza, and such preparations as parmigiana di melanzane."

Marcella Hazan, "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

So it seems that cheese, specifically buffalo mozzarella, is a desirable addition if you can get and afford it. Hazan does not give the potential for spoilage of cheese, however, as the reason for omitting it from a marinara topping:

"Marinara means sailor style. It signifies cooked in the the manner used aboard ships, therefor yes to olive oil and garlic, but no to cheese, which would be incompatible with the fresh food most available at sea, fish. Marinara is the most traditional of all pizza toppings, and when the tomatoes are ripe, the garlic fresh and sweet, and the olive oil dense and fruit, it probably can't be surpassed."

Marinara should not, however, be confused with Margherita, which is tomato, mozzarella, basil, and parmesan, according to Hazan. She does argue, I think persuasively, that:

 "Pizza is made for improvisation and brooks no dogmas about its toppings. Throughout Italy and the world, armies of pizzaioli - pizza bakers - each day are formig new combinations, conscripting ... whatever seems to stray within their reach. Some ingredients are less congenial than others, however... it may be helpful, when one wants to make pizza in an idomatic Italian style, to refer from time to time to those few blends of ingredients that represent, in the place where the dish was created, the broadest and longest-established consensus on what tastes best on pizza."

That last line is interesting - she refers to what tastes best on pizza, and indeed, pizza seems to be classified in most of my books with the breads and doughs, suggesting that the key element is not the topping, but the crust. So, let's take a look at what differentiates pizza from other doughs:

"Since focaccia and its first cousin, pizza, are essentially flatbreads improved with yeast, the gluten-defect of rye flour is not so much a liability here as it is a fundamental problem..."

Raymond Sokolov, "With the Grain"

So you need gluten and yeast, and these distinguish pizza dough from that for other flatbreads. Pizza dough recipes typically call for a substantial amount of kneading. A little more on gluten and kneading:

"When the dough becomes too thick to stir, the cook abandons the spoon and commits hands to kneading, and extended period of menipulation, Kneading improves the aeration of the dough and furthers the development of gluten. As the dough is compressed, folded over, compressed, and folded over many times, pockets of air are incorporated into the dough and squeezed under pressure into smaller, more numerous cells. Because the carbon dioxide produced by yeast does not create new pockets - the process is too gradual and diffuse - but instead leaks into and expands preexistent pockets, kneading will largely determine the final texture...if the dough is worked long enough that many disulfide crosslinks are permanently disrupted, it breaks down and becomes sticky and inelastic. Overdevelopment is a real problem only when kneading is done mechanically; a food processor may need only a minute or two to ruin a dough, while humans are only too willing to stop work."

Harold McGee, "On Food and Cooking"

Sokolov and McGee are both excellent sources for food history and science, respectively, and I recommend them heartily.

The message is what makes pizza pizza is the crust, not the topping, and that both cheesy and cheeseless varieties can be considered authentically Italian, and even Neapolitan.

Source:,9140.0.html accessed June 30, 2009

History of Pizza from

Pizza has a long, complex and uncertain history that often inspires heated debate. The origin of the word "pizza" is unclear, but it first appeared in 997 in Medieval Latin, and it was in Naples in the 16th century that a galette flatbread was referred to as a pizza.
At that time, the pizza was a baker's tool, a dough used to verify the temperature of the oven. A dish of the poor people, it was sold in the street and was not considered a kitchen recipe for a long time. Before the 17th century, the pizza was covered with white sauce. This was later replaced by oil, cheese, tomatoes or fish - in 1843, Alexandre Dumas, père described the diversity of pizza toppings. In June 1889, to honor the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the chef Raffaele Esposito created the "Pizza Margherita", a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag. The exact sequence through which the many flavored flatbreads of the ancient and medieval Mediterranean became the dish popularised in the 20th century is not fully understood.


Classic pizza typed include:

Marinara – tomato, oregano, garlic, olive oil
Romana – tomato, oregano, garlic, olive oil, anchovies, black olives, Calabrian chiles
Margherita – tomato, mozzarella, grana padano, basil, olive oil