The first versions of pizza date back thousands of years; however, the first variations were much different from what we now define as pizza. More than 7000 years ago, breads were flavored with oil and spices and were much more basic than pizzas today, more like what we call “focaccia”.
During the Middle Ages (18th and 19th century), pizza began to evolve.
In the 1700s and 1800s, Naples was an independent and thriving port city. Naples had many working poor people that lived outdoors or in homes that consisted of one small room. Unlike the small population of wealthy citizens, the Neapolitans needed food that was abundant, inexpensive, and could be eaten quickly. Street vendors sold a form of pizza (more like a flatbread) that met these criteria. Fun act: the word “pizza” actually comes from the Latin word, “pinsa”, meaning “flatbread”.
Tomatoes were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century; the addition of tomato (once thought to be a poisonous fruit) to the popular street food was an innovative creation that led to the evolution of the pizza we know today. The tomato-topped bread became increasingly popular in Naples, and even the wealthy began to venture into Naples’ poorer areas to try the local fare. Until the early 1800s, pizza was something only sold by street vendors. In 1830, the first pizzeria was established in Naples and is still in business today.
Although some doubt the authenticity of the story, Margherita pizza was allegedly created in 1889 when Italy’s Queen, Queen Margherita, visited Pizzeria Brandi (an established pizzeria) in Naples. Apparently the Pizzaiolo (i.e., pizza maker) created a pizza for the Queen containing the colors of the Italian flag; tomatoes represented the red, mozzarella represented the white, and basil represented the green. It is rumored that this creation, combined with the Queen’s love for the fresh flavors, led to the official creation of the Margherita pizza.
Pizza was not popularized in the Americas (or outside of Naples, for that matter) until nearly 1940. During the early 1900s, there were many immigrants relocating to the United States, some of who were from Naples. The Italians typically resided in large American cities (i.e., New York, Chicago, St. Louis) and they inevitably (and thankfully) brought their local cuisine of pizza with them. The freshness and flavors of the street food resulted in the popularization of pizza across the United States.
The very first documented pizzeria in the United States was G. Lombardi’s in Manhattan in 1905. This pizzeria still makes pizza today!
2 cans (15 ounces each) tomato sauce
1 can (12 ounces) tomato paste
3 tablespoons fresh oregano (or 1.5 tablespoons dry)
1 tablespoons fresh basil (or half tablespoon dry)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme)
1 teaspoon crushed fennel
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and mix well. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat then reduce to a simmer for an hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture cool before putting on pizza crust. Any leftover portions can be frozen for up to one year.
*featured image courtesy of http://www.pixelatedcrumb.com