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!
This seems so wrong but like that 70’s song about conflicting emotions -“(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” the pizza cone is one of those anomalies of Italian cuisine that tastes so good but shouldn’t exist. At least not according to the AVPN, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Founded in Naples in 1984 its mission is to promote and protect “true Neapolitan pizza“ which among other things is not shaped like a cone. The ingredients, products, preparation and equipment are all strictly regulated so as to ensure the ancient traditions that distinguish the “original Neapolitan pizza“ are preserved and protected.
Believe it or not the sacrilegious idea of a pizza cone originated in Italy and has mutated to other areas, including Thailand and Bangalore India where it is known as a Conizza. Pillsbury has its own version calling it “portable, personalized pizza in a cone” perfect for tailgating.
Some are calling the pizza cone the best invention ever but in my mind 2 cone forms, 2 stands, 1 dough cutter, 1 crimper with easy to follow instructions or a teflon coated electronic cone maker that makes 500 cones a day does not make a pizza. Nor can it replace the artisan hands of the pizzaiolo who mixes, makes and bakes the pizza in the warm glow of a wood-fired brick oven. Flames dancing across the bubbling dough suddenly create a dark char on the crust, thin in the middle, crisper at the edges to create a slice of Italian gastro-history. A V-shaped slice of perfection that is all about being right.
I like Italian pizza so much I’m willing to try anything to bring Italy home for the taste of an authentic pie. So when I saw a post on the internet describing a portable pizza maker with the look of a rustic stone dome and the promise of an Italian style pizza my inner pizzaiolo got very excited. Never mind that its heat source is an electric heating coil and the pizzas are the size of a saucer. The gadget got good reviews with comments about family gatherings and great couples entertaining similar to a Swiss Raclette .
The natural clay “terra-cotta” dome, the glow of the electric coils and clicking your heels three times will not transport you back to Italy and neither will the Made in China manufacturing label. As to whether the clever design of this easy bake oven brings true Italian brick oven taste to your tabletop remains unknown to me as the product is currently listed as unavailable.
So you think you know pizza. Well if you do than your pizza is truly Italian if
– it is cooked in a wood burning brick oven
– the pizzaiolo (pizza maker) is a maestro, a master of ingredients and technique with dough stretching skills and at least a 3 year apprenticeship (an oven operator addetto al forno or pizza maker assistant aiuto pizzaiolo must serve an apprenticeship for 1 to 2 years)
– the crust is thin, soft and light because the dough is made the day before allowing the yeast to rise for at least 10 to 15 hours
– the pizzerias that make the traditional pizza “verace” are members of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.
Here are a list of AVPN US members who are committed to preserving and protecting the culinary and cultural history of a true Italian pizza. Bravi! Only 2 are listed in my area. I have been to Spacca Napoli Pizzeria in Chicago who believe that “pizza isn’t just a food, it’s a way of being”. Think about that the next time you order a pizza! I do everytime I eat pizza in Italy and bemoan my plight most times I eat pizza in the US.
Click to watch the making of a true Italian pizza.