History Of Pizza

The history of pizza: how pizza pie evolved from a simple flat bread on the Italian peninsula nearly 3000 years ago to the modern pizza of today.

Ah, pizza pie! Who can possibly not like that tastiest of all treats? And yet, popular as that dish is today, it took almost 3000 years of food evolution for pizza pie to reach its current fancy state.

Although flat breads had been baked since way back in the Stone Age, it is around 1000 BC that the pizza pie really began its long evolution on the Italian peninsula. In northern Italy, the ancient Etruscans began baking a flat bread beneath stones on a hearth. To add taste, simple toppings consisting of herbs, olive oil, and spices were added after the bread was cooked. This dish was given the name "picea" which in the old Neapolitan dialect means "to pick" or "to pluck," perhaps referring to the act of plucking this bread out of the oven or to picking at it with the hands.

In southern Italy and Sicily where Greek colonists lived, the people improved on the Etruscan picea by cooking the toppings into the bread rather than add them in afterwards. And instead of being a mere side dish as was the case with the Etruscans, the Greeks in Italy made picea a main course for dinner.

For many centuries, picea changed very little. An important catalyst for its change was the discovery of tomatoes in the New World by the Spaniards. Around 1522, tomatoes arrived in Italy via Spain. One roadblock to consuming tomatoes, however, was the widespread belief that tomatoes were poisonous. Fortunately for the pizza lovers of today, the poorer peasants of Naples finally overcame their doubts about tomatoes in the 17th century and began adding it to bread dough when baking their breads and called this dish pizzaioli.

As the tomato became popular with the Neapolitans, mozzarella cheese was slowly growing in popularity. Mozzarella had become available in Italy after water buffalo were imported from India in the 7th century. It is from water buffalo milk that mozzarella cheese is made. Its popularity grew very slowly until the latter half of 18th century when mozzarella came into widespread use in Italy.

So here we have two of the key ingredients of the modern pizza, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, yet they did not meet on a pizza until 1889 when Queen Margherita of Savoy ordered Raffaele Esposito, a Neopolitan pizza chef, to make a pizza for a royal party. In an act of patriotism, chef Esposito designed a pizza pie made of red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil to match the colors of the Italian flag. Not only was this pizza visually appealing but Pizza Margherita, as it was called, was a gastronomic hit. And the modern pizza pie was born.

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