We usually focus our posts on Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria but today we’re going further down the boot to the Italian village of Acciaroli on coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea in the Province of Salerno. One of Italy’s 284 Blue Flag Beaches (an award given for water quality, beaches and marinas) the village may also have found the key to a longer life where 300 of its residents are over 100 years old with impressively low rates of Alzheimer’s and heart diseases.
An ancient maritime village, Acciaroli is also part of “Cittáslow“, a philosophy of municiple living that follows the succession of seasons, respectful of the health of its citizens, the authenticity of artisan products and good food, with places for the spirit, unspoiled landscapes and respect of traditions through the joy of a slow and quiet living.
I think we just don’t get Italian pizza. One summer when my friend Luca from Perugia stayed with us he was severely traumatized by an American pizza. He went so far as to say “it frightened” him. Overloaded, over indulged, American pizzas are far from the true interpretation of the Italian pizza; thin crust, simple toppings, fresh ingredients.
The classic version of the Italian pizza was first created in Naples in 1889 for Queen
Margherita of Italy. A pizza was made in honor of the Queen’s visit with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil (representing the colors of the Italian flag; red-white-green). The mozzarella cheese was made from buffalo’s milk which had never been used to make a pizza before. The Queen was pleased and the pizza was named Pizza Margherita in her honor.
Up to that point, pizza had been considered peasant food and could not be made in the royal ovens. But Queen Margherita loved food and was not to be denied, after all why should the peasants have all the good food to themselves. She wanted to eat in the common way as evidenced by this catchy little rhyme my cousin Lidia made me memorize on my first trip to Italy ” la regina Margherita mangava un pollo con ditta” translated loosely to mean even the Queen eats (chicken) with her fingers so relax . . enjoy Italy and its food!
Try to find an authentic Italian pizzeria for a Pizza Margherita. In Italy neighborhood pizzaioli (pizza makers) follow strict guidelines for ingredients, making dough and cooking. The dough must be kneaded by hand or mixers which do not cause the dough to overheat and the dough must be punched down and shaped by hand. Only wood-burning, bell-shaped brick ovens are used to cook the pizza on the surface of the oven (often made of volcanic stone) and not in any pan or container, with oven temperatures reaching at least 400-430° C (750-800° F). These ovens often have to heat up for hours before the first pizza is cooked. My friend Luca says that if a pizza takes longer than 10 minutes it’s not a true Italian pizza!
The widespread use of this most basic utensil can be credited to the Italians through the tablescapes of Venice and a Medici princess. From the 10th through the 13th centuries, forks were fairly common among Venice’s wealthy trading partners in Byzantium. In the 11th century, the Byzantine wife of a Doge of Venice brought forks to the tables of La Serenissima however it wasn’t until the 16th century that forks were widely adopted in Italy and beyond.
The epicurean tastes of a Medici princess were transferred to France in 1533 when Catherine de’ Medici wed King Henry II, bringing with her Italian recipes and cooks, confectioners, distillers and the fork! French tables and travelers seeing and savoring Italy in the 1600’s were enamored by the slender handled 2-tined instrument that allowed food to slide more easily into the mouth.
In later centuries larger forks with 4 curved tines were developed and soon after the fork became more than a once criticized “excessive delicacy, a luxury of habits” that sufficiently offended the likes of St. Damian,a hermit and ascetic, who criticized the Byzantine-born Venetian princess for her use of the fork at the table that when she died of the plague, he regarded it as a just punishment from God for her vanity.