Thursday, 09 November 2023 13:40 Written by Francesca Inverardi
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 "The perfect lover is the one who turns into pizza at four in the morning" - Charles Pierce

Italians love pizza, and we are obsessed with it: "Saturday night is pizza night" or, in my case, it could be "every day is pizza day". I must admit it, pizza is undoubtedly my favourite food.

Pizza is much more than just a Neapolitan speciality; it is a true culinary and cultural treasure, an Italian pride famous and appreciated worldwide!

To find out how pizza really came into being, we have to go back quite some time.

In Sardinia, French and Italian archaeologists have found clear evidence of bread baking dating back more than 7,000 years, and, according to some, it was leavened bread. Since ancient times, dough similar to what would become pizza was prepared and was seasoned in many different ways to flavour it.

There are several theories regarding the etymology of the term "pizza," not necessarily related to the product's origin. Here are some possible explanations:

  • “pizza” may come from "pinsa" (from the Neapolitan language), the past participle of the Latin verb "pinsere" or the verb "pansere," that is, to pound, crush, press;
  • it could derive from “pita”, meaning the Mediterranean and Balkan dish, in Greek πίττα, derived from πεπττος meaning "baked."
  • it may originate from the Hebrew or Arabic word used to call bread or flatbread.
  • the most widely accepted etymology, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (although it has not been definitively confirmed), is from the ancient Germanic word "bizzo" or "pizzo," meaning "bite" (also related to the English words "bit" and "bite"), a term imported into Italy in the mid-6th century during the invasion of the Lombards.

In any case, the first use of the word "pizza" dates back to 997 and is attested in a Latin text from the city of Gaeta.

But when was Pizza Napoletana born?

Around 1600, Neapolitan bakers (always very inventive) started to make the traditional “schiacciata di pane” (crushed bread) tastier and more flavorful. Initially, it was bread dough baked in wood-fired ovens, seasoned with garlic, lard, coarse salt and sometimes caciocavallo cheese and basil. They also shaped the oven as a half moon, to quickly allow it to reach high temperatures, 450 to 480 °C; at these temperatures, the dough rapidly bakes and dehydrates, allowing the complete “fusion” of all ingredients, flour, oil, cheese and, later on, tomato.   

We need to wait, however, until the second half of the 1800s to find the first classic "tomato and mozzarella" pizza as we know it, precisely 1889, the year in which the sovereigns of Italy, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita, visit Naples. Tradition has it that Raffaele Esposito, the best pizzaiolo (pizza maker) of the time, to honour Queen  Margherita, created "Pizza Margherita," garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, to represent Italy’s national colours.

The real innovation was the use of tomatoes as a topping. When tomato was brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, many Europeans believed it was poisonous. It was not until the late 18th century that the cultivation of the long tomato in the Naples area was given a boost, and in the early 19th century, Neapolitan bakers began using it to season pizza. Soon, pizza became a tourist attraction when Grand Tour travellers to Naples ventured to the city's poorer areas to try local specialities.

Pizza remained a typical Neapolitan food, and a tourist attraction for Naples, until the early 1900s, when it slowly began to spread to the rest of the boot.