The Neapolitan pizza

The birth of the Neapolitan pizza is the result of two factors:

• the land;
• the starvation (the famine).

Two different things, but jointed by historical, environmental and social changes that are the pillars of this popular dish that is a important part of the gastronomic culture of the Neapolitan people.

The Land

The birth of the Neapolitan pizza is linked to Campania land, where the tomato, imported from America, finds its natural environment and is able to reproduce itself in different varieties.
Campania land, buffalo are bred with native species, where the monks from the monastery of Santa Maria Capua Vetere produced a cheese called “provatura” and then in turn mozzarella.
Campania land where still today native breeds of cattle graze and the farmers prepare a cheese called fior di latte.
This is the land where the olive tree grows wild with its infinite variety.
The sea was the fertile ground for fishermen, bringing their catch to the market and any unsold fish to the pizzeria to fill the pizza.

The Famine

Famine stimulated the creativity of the human, who, to survive, created the pizza bread covered with different ingredients. Naples suffered eleven dominations in eight hundred years, with the famine, epidemics and natural disasters. Napoli was hardly loved by its rulers and the Neapolitans learned over time to mould their nature, being able to make even “the nothing” useful; unrivaled living by their wits and in need of taking comfort with manifestations of the spirit always exaggerated. In the first half of the eighteenth century, a phase of decadence, the Neapolitan personality add a revolution to the gastronomy. The starvation changed the history, giving dignity to the poverty, is the genius growing from the need, the “Genius of the Starvation”. It’s a redemption, the pride of a population, which was essential for the Neapolitan cuisine identity.

There is a wonderful document from a book of Bouchard, 1847,  which is the synthesis of this art:

A’ Pizza

It’s not possible to find the word Pizza in the “Crusca” Diccionary, because the pizza is made with the flower, and because it is a Delicatessen of the Neapolitan people, indeed of the city of Napoli. Take a bit of dough, stretch it enlarging it with the rolling pin or  slapping it with your hands, put on whatever you want, dress it with olive oil or lard, cook it in the oven, eat it and you’ll understand what pizza is. The bun or the white pizza are something similar, but can be considered only the embryo of the real  art. The most ordered pizza, “coll’aglio e l’oglio” (with the garlic and the olive oil), has a dressing of olive oil and on the top salt, oregano and finely chopped garlic and sometimes small fish are added. Another pizza is covered with grated cheese, lard, and dressed with basil leaves, occasionally some fine slice of mozzarella cheese, slices of ham, tomato, clams are added. The pizza dough can also be wrapped up (folded) on itself to make the calzone.

Historical notes
The people of the ancient Greece and Rome fed themselves mainly with a little of bread or a corn soup adding some vegetables, fish and herbs. Cereals were considered a food relatively more important than nowadays. The Greeks prepared a leavened white pizza called “Artos”, in fact, during the excavations of Pompei (Naples) they found some undamaged bread left in the oven during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD (see photo 1).

In ancient Rome they made two types of bread: one cooked in the public ovens (see photo 2), where Greek slaves produced bread for the population and the soldiers of Rome. In return for this service, the Emperor granted them the freedom from slavery.

The other bread was produced privately, each nobleman (wealthy citizen) had his own oven at home, millstones and equipment for bread making. The word “focaccius” means “related to the fire” or it could mean a crushed bread cooked by the heat of the fire or in the ashes.

Foto 1 – Focaccium e Foto 2 – Pubblic oven

Foto 3.4 - Oven and Millstone

With the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1492), the tomato arrived (see photo 3-4) to Spain. The first recipe found in Naples is from the book by Antonio Latini in 1692. Antonio Latini was a court butcher and the recipe describes the tomato cooked on the grill and then seasoned. It’s not until the first half of 1700 when the tomato is placed on  dough. Initially it was considered only a bun, even if the word pizza appeared in Italy around 990. In Naples the word pizza appears in documents around 1535, during the marriage between Bona Sforza and the King Sigismund I of Poland, during their sumptuous wedding reception held at Castel Capuano.

Many experts believe (and we share their thinking) that the birth of the Neapolitan pizza coincides with the moment when the tomato is added on the pizza, whereas previously it could be considered a simple cake or bun.

Experts believe that the birth of the Neapolitan pizza should be dated around 1720/1730, there are watercolor paintings from those years where the red color of tomatoes is highlighted on the dough. The first Neapolitan pizza is the marinara *, but the classic is the pizza with mozzarella and tomato.

Later, on June 11 1889, an historic day for the Neapolitan pizza, the Queen Margherita di Savoia asked for the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito at the Reggia di Capodimonte to prepare some pizza for her. The pizzaiolo prepared the three different types of pizza made at that time: one stuffed with lard, pecorino cheese (sheep cheese) and basil (known as Mast ‘Nicola), the second one with tomato and fish (Pizza Marinara), and the last one with tomato and mozzarella. Since that time, in honor of the queen who ate the food of the Neapolitan population, the pizza with mozzarella was called pizza Margherita.

Foto 5 – The Queen Margherita

The Pizzeria

The pizzeria or “Pizzaria” is the restaurant or the shop where the pizza is prepared. The pizzeria is a dining room for table service, as place where the pizza is take away or sold in a special banquet outside the venue. From 800 until after the war the pizza was produced to be sold on behalf of a third party (street selling). In a document Bouchard was found a written description of the workshop of pizzaiuolo. The oldest pizzeria was the one of N’Tuon, on the hill of Santa Teresa close to the archaeological museum. But any historical or land register reference has never been found. In the writing of Salvatore di Giacomo he mentions the workshop with the grandson of N’Tuon, owner of the pizzeria. De Cesare in his book “The End of a Kingdom” mentions a pizzeria named “da Pietro” in 1760, unfortunately also in this case there are no land register records. The first document is from 1792 and was discovered by the Professor Mattozzi in the book “A Neapolitan history”.

It refers to Giuseppe Sorrentino who rented a shop in the district of Loreto, and asked the ministry of the general police a permit to carry out activities of a pizzeria.

Left Right

Pizza products

Mozzarella has a very old history. There are several conflicting opinions about the age in which buffalos had been introduced in Campania. Some historians date it back to the 6th century, attributing it to Longobards, but some others say that buffalos had been already brought in Italy by Hannibal. The term “mozzarella” comes from a production phase of this kind of cheese, when the small parts are cut (“mozzate” according to Campania dialect) by hand from a big milk dough.[...]

Pizza and equipment

he oven is made of a single monolithic structure with characteristics of strength and strain. The feature that makes the oven of the “Pizza Napoletana” different from other types of ovens is the use of traditional local clay bricks baked in the same ovens that made famous the Pizza Napoletana all over the world and with a base of special firebrick from Sorrento or Santa Maria Capua Vetere. For the construction of the cupola, the bricks are laid in the old manual technique, to avoid even the slightest movement [...]

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