In our previous post we discussed memories of a pizzeria on a lake where pie could be had with joy and laughter. Those mystic chords of memory sharpen our acuity as we reflect on the past.
Pizza. Where did it originate and why is it consumed daily on this planet traversing the cosmos by millions?
To begin with, no one knows for sure. Bread has been a staple for millennia.
Every culture has its own unique bread creation with the same basic ingredients—grains. Before the introduction of yeast, flatbread was the rave once the ancients figured out to mill grains.
Matzah is one of the most famous flatbreads. In the story in Exodus where the children of Israel were in bondage to Egypt, matzah became a symbol of their slavery and liberation—continued today in observance of Passover.
I remembered when I first tasted matzah as a young man helping with a health seminar on smoking cessation at the local hospital. There was a specialty store where international foods were sold, and I purchased a pack of matzah to take home. My taste buds found it unique.
Over the years I have eaten tortillas, naan, pita, and other breads. However, returning to the subject of pizza, perhaps pizza originated with Greece.
The Greek plankuntos is a flat bread to which the common people added herbs and other toppings. Perhaps this flat bread is the mother of pizza, but once again no one knows.
Now, there is a major difference between Americanized pizza and the pizza from Italy, especially from Naples. It is in Naples, where a legendary story of a common pie and a Bodacious Queen has its roots.
According to the story, Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples in 1889. She was out among the people and noticed that they were eating some type of bread with great relish.
It had no resemblance to her rich pastries and other palace delicacies which plagued the regal tables of the European monarchies. In fact she had grown tired of the fare and wanted something different.
She had the most famous maestro della pizza summoned to the Capodimonte Palace. Raffaele Esposito was the master of the pizza.
He baked three pies in the ovens of the palace for the Queen. She did not care for pizza Napoli (anchovies). Anchovies are an acquired taste.
She found pizza marinara too garlicky. Her husband, King Umberto, would not have appreciated passionate kisses laced with garlic—she knew her husband well.
So Raffaele had a novel idea. He would create a distinctive pizza never before attempted—or so the story goes.
When he presented his new pizza to the Queen, she was overjoyed. Because with the tomato sauce and mozzarella craftily arranged with a garnish of basil, the red, white and green represented the Italian flag—truly an art form creating the perfect pizza under a master’s touch and impressing the Queen.
Raffaele had a problem. What would he name this new pizza creation?
As fate would have it or a good storyteller would tell it, he named it after the Queen: Margherita. And that’s the rest of the story of why there is an exquisite pizza named Margherita.
However, to find a true Margherita, one must travel to Naples where pizza, Italian pizza, music, stories, architecture and real life abound to entertain the curious traveller. Like pizza the ingredients of life truly lived and enjoyed are simple.
New York, Chicago, Paris or whatever city you frequent to buy your pizza, they have their own uniqueness. So, when you sit down the next time in a ristorante or at home or by the lake:
Godere la vostra pizza
To wash your enjoyment of the pie with beer or cheap wine from the local market is just unpalatable with a fine pizza. Try acqua minerale— San Pellegrino is my choice.
And if you must indulge yourself with one of the myriad frozen pizzas in the local market, all I can say is yikes! Don’t do that to yourself unless you are a castaway and there is nothing else which washed ashore with you.
Life is too short. Have your pie, but eat the good pies.
G. D. Williams © 2016
The Making of an Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Margherita
Filmed at the Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente pizzeria in Naples, Italy.
Owner: Mr Enzo Caccialli