Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Slice of History

Pizza was born of necessity, but not when, or where, most people think. It isn’t really something that was created in Italy sometime after Columbus discovered tomatoes in the new world. It’s much, much older than that.

Flat bread has been around since people first discovered grain. Topping it with other good things to eat was natural. There is evidence that many Mediterranean cultures, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Israelites and, okay, yes, even the Romans were making a dish akin to modern focaccia thousands of years ago.

It wasn’t until the 1800s that cooks in the Naples region, finally embracing the tomato they once thought was poisonous, began to experiment with the flavors most commonly associated with Italian food, and pizza, today. In the late 19th century, an innovative baker combined a flat crust with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, creating the dish now known as pizza Margherita to honor his queen and country. Pizza has been on a roll ever since.


This is the pizza that launched a worldwide love affair with Italian food. It is classically Neapolitan, as was intended by Raffaele Esposito when he created it to honor his country, with the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag, and his queen, whose name it bears.

1 pizza crust (fresh or your favorite pre-packaged convenience crust, dough, mix, whatever)

1 pound tomatoes, peeled (Roma are best, but sliced beefsteaks are fine.)

1 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T. fresh basil, sliced in ribbons (or 1 t. dried basil)

½ pound mozzarella, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pizza crust on baking sheet.

Slice tomatoes. If you are using Romas, halve them and gently squeeze out seeds. Quarter larger tomatoes. If you are using beefsteaks, slice them somewhat thickly, about ¼ to ½ inches, and place on paper towels for a few minutes to absorb liquid. Gently remove seeds. (If tomatoes aren’t in season, use canned whole Romas instead. Season and warm the puree they are packed in to serve with the pizza.) Arrange tomatoes across crust. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle oil over tomatoes and around crust. Scatter half of the basil over tomatoes. Cover with sliced mozzarella. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown if using fresh dough, or until cheese is melted if using a packaged crust. Scatter remaining basil over cheese.

Extra Extra!!!

Ingredient Info – Fresh mozzarella cheese is more expensive then bags of shredded cheese. It’s very good, but not a big enough difference to justify the expense if you are feeding kids (and adults) a traditional pizza they will swallow whole without noticing. A Margherita pizza, however, is a good place to use it. The fresh flavor complements the whole tomatoes and bright herbs.

No comments:

Post a Comment