Pizza or Flat Bread can be said share the same roots as with the beginning of civilization itself. When we examine and look back at the roots and origins of pizza we discover that the populace of the Mediterrean basin such as Babylonia (Middle East), Etruria (Rome) and Greece used to mix flour from wheat grown in wild fields with water to form dough, shape this into disks and cook it on red hot stones or open flame and you have the basis of what we call modern day pizza. This was then called flatbread known as pita in the Middle East & Greece, pinsa, and picea in Ancient Rome. The word pizza literally means pie. It was the Egyptian that started the principle of leavening by making it more digestible and tastier. They sprinkled herbs on it for special occasions and started the first wood burning ovens so to say, by creating ovens of clay bricks. The Greeks learned from the Egyptians the craft of making these ovens and gave birth to the dome ovens and improved on the technique of making pizza by adding olive oil, herbs, garlic and other toppings, and thus calling it “Plankuntos” or flatbread. With migration and wars between the empires the pizza eventually makes its way to Italy via the Romans.
After the fall of the roman empire the Lombard’s or Longobardi ( Germanic Tribes) that settled in Southern Italy introduced buffalo breeding in the regions of Lazio & Campania and created cheeses made of Buffalo milk that we find very popular in our present day gourmet Neapolitan pizzas.
Through the rise of the middle ages the pizza took on different forms and flavours. In Venice during the Renaissance it was made with eggs, butter, sugar, and cooked in oven or fried. With the discovery of America yet another important change in the history of the pizza came about. Europe introduced different produce to America and flour was made with corn. Peru introduced the tomato and the era of modern pizza began. Back in those times the tomato was considered a poisonous fruit, present day we top our pizza with sweet San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, aromatic herbs such as oregano and basil and all kinds of toppings.
Today it’s the foundation of our pizza. But not all pizzas have tomato and cheese on it, there are many variations, transcending many cultures. It was not until the 18th century that the first Pizzerias appeared in Naples and became the dish of many Neapolitan kitchens. Pizza started to be sold in the streets by vendors usually destined and marketed for the working class people. The first pizzeria “Antica Pizzeria- Port’ Alba” first established as a stand in 1738 opened in Naples in 1830 as a pizzeria and remains open today. Pizzerias were exclusive to Naples until the end of the 19th century when they started spreadingacross the Atlantic to North America and other parts of the world because of Italian immigration across the globe. It was also during this time that Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples and a local pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito was asked to prepare three pizzas for the queen. She chose the pizza topped with tomato, basil and mozzarella, it soon became her favorite and the term Margherita pizza was coined.
The Pizzeria as it is known today was really established during this period. All the elements that characterize the modern day pizza and pizzerias can be found in the start-up of this Classic Neapolitan way of making flatbread, from the ovens to the décor to the ingredients that classify it as the great Neapolitan pizza.
Tradition dictates that only Margherita and Marinara Pizza are the true Neapolitan pizza but many other varieties can now be added to this list. Neapolitan’s will insist that the best pizza still only comes from Naples. The secret to good pizza comes from using fresh ingredients and those authentic to Neapolitan tradition. It will cost a little more, but not as expensive as eating out at one of your local pizzeria’s. You will get more bangs for your buck if you make your own pizza. With the cost of one pizza in a gourmet shop, you can made two at home for the whole family or special guests. Always remember to use fior di latte, bufalina, mozzarella di bufala cheese from the Campania region. Fresh tomatoes of your choice, San Marzano or cherry tomatoes. Good quality olive oil and oregano. Really fresh produce and meats. It takes many years to master the art of a being a good pizzaiolo but by following these simple steps will guarantee you will be on your way.
For full proof good textured dough, make sure you get always use good flour, tepid water, enough salt and yeast. This ensures it will rise well properly. In the beginning when I first started making dough I couldn’t get my dough to rise , my mother, a fantastic pizza maker showed me a dozen times. My pizza turned out rock hard every time, you could have flung it across the room like a Frisbees and it would have maimed people. It took me a few times till I finally got it. My secret was to have tepid water instead of hot, exact measurements for the yeast and always add sugar to make it foam.
After 10-15 minutes, you can smell the yeast and see it foaming, then you know it’s ready to add to flour. Never over salt dough either, cause you can always add salt in tomato sauce. If adding salty prosciutto as topping go light on the salt in the dough and tomato sauce. Dough should always be light and smooth, easily stretchable to shape. Never burn your pizza. The edges should form a crust up to be 1-2 cm and the center of the pizza about 3 mm, never place tomato sauce up to edges. The crust should contain nothing on it.
The oven and temperature of the oven play a big role in cooking of the pizza. The texture of dough is another factor. Follow these simple instructions and you can have your own pizzeria in your own home every night of the week.
Instructions: Preheat oven to 500 F. Grease your pizza pan with small amounts of oil. Take divided pizza dough and begin stretching dough with palm of your hands or with your fingers on pie plate. Make round pizza about 12 inches in diameter. The pizza should be as thin as possible with a little thicker edge for the crust. Brush with more olive oil and top with tomato sauce made with tomatoes, garlic and oregano. Spread tomato sauce till curved part of pan but not till end of the edges. Start layering ingredients for extra topping. Margherita pizza call for just cheese therefore spread cheese evenly over pizza, top with fresh sliced tomatoes or cherry tomatoes whole or halved and fresh basil. Once you have topped your pizza, slide it into the oven on upper rack of your oven and bake for 10 min. Lower heat to 475F. Check underside with knife to make sure it’s cooked and not burning. Rotate pizza to cook evenly. Some ovens do not cook the same, therefore, test it first with one pizza and change temperature setting if undercooked or overcooked.
Margherita: Ingredients: Tomato Sauce- San Marzano chopped or pureed, or cherry tomato. 1 cup of mozzarella di bufala campana DOP or fiore di latte, grated, diced or sliced (some famous Neapolitan pizzerias recommend sliced), 1 tbsp. virgin olive oil and at least 6 basil leaves and pinch of salt.
Proscuitto & Arugula: Ingredients : Tomato Sauce, made with Cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella di bufala, or fiore di latte, sliced prosciutto, basil leaves, topped with arugula, proscuitto only after cooked. Sprinkle olive oil spiked with red pepper flakes.
Capricciosa : Ingredients: Tomato sauce, 1/2 c grated mozzarella, 50 g grated grana or parmigiano cheese-200 gr marinated artichoke hearts cut in quarters,200 g prosciutto or ham cut in thin slices, 200 g pitted sliced black olives, 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, 6 basil leaves.
Diavola: Ingredients: Tomato sauce,1/2 c grated mozzarella-25 g grated cheese (Grano Padano or Parmiggiano), 150 g hot salami, sopressata Calabrese sliced 2 tsp. extra olive oil and hot pepper flakes.
On Friday nights you can smell a waft of dough cooking in my home. It has become a tradition to have pizza every Friday night. I have officially branded it Pizza night and all my friends and family know that they could come over for a good fresh homemade pizza after a long work week. Made with love and fresh ingredients from my garden in the summer, my home becomes a BYOB pizzeria that people can come to, relax and unwind and partake in a good meal and great conversations. An affordable way to begin the weekend. When I am really tuckered out and don’t feel like cooking, cause the chef gets tired too you can find me in my favorite pizza parlour.
FooFoodie Favorite Neapolitan Pizza Parlours:
- 189 Rue Dante,Montréal, Québec H2S-1K1
(514) 276-8226- No reservations accepted, BYOB
- 65 Rue St Zotique E, Montreal, Quebec,H2S-1K6
Enoteca Mozza Pizzeria Moderna (2 locations)
- 505 Prom. Centropolis, Laval, Québec H7T -0A3 (450) 973-3400
- 3800 Boul St Jean, DDO, Quebec, H9G 1X1 (514) 675-3400