The relationship between Italians and pizza is not just about food, but is also an essential part of our culture.
When you think about Italy, you think about wonderful landscapes, history, architecture and...pizza.
The history of pizza dates back to the Neolithic Age when it was nothing but a simple flatbread, to which varied ingredients were added by various cultures (including the ancient Egyptians and then Italians). The first ever documentation of pizza happened in 997 AD in Gaeta (Italy), which mentioned it as a flatbread flavoured with fat or oil, and herbs. Later, in the 16th-century pizza became popular in Naples and was an inexpensive dish topped with fat, herbs, and cheese available on the streets. Then in the second half of the 18th century, tomatoes became a part of pizza toppings, and the gateway to experimentation with pizza opened.
It is popularly known that pizza became popular in the year 1889, when Umberto I, King of Italy, and his wife, Queen Margherita di Savoia, during a holiday in Naples, called to their palace the most popular of the pizzaioli, Raffaele Esposito, to taste his specialties.
He prepared three kinds of pizza: one with pork fat, cheese, and basil, one with garlic, oil, and tomatoes, and a third one with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes (the colors of the Italian flag).
The Queen adored the last pizza so much that she sent a letter to the chef thanking him and expressing her appreciation for his creations. Raffaele Esposito dedicated his specialty to the Queen and called it "Pizza Margherita." This pizza set the bar for modern pizzas, and firmly established Naples as the pizza capitol of the world.
Types of Pizza in Italy
Italy is composed of 20 regions, each with its own history, customs, dialects, flavors and food specialties. Every region is different in many ways, and pizza is no exception.
In Italy, we have 7 different types of pizza:
The dough is comprised of wheat flour, yeast, salt, and water and is left to rise for up to 24 hours. It’s shaped by hand into a flat, round disk, about 3 millimeters thick. After that, it’s topped with ingredients and baked for 90 seconds in a blisteringly hot (around 900°F) wood-burning oven. The result is a soft, elastic heart with a tall, fluffy crust called the cornicione in Italian.
Pizza alla Pala
Meaning “paddle pizza” in Italian, pizza alla pala originated in Roman bakeries as a way to use up leftover bread dough. Bakers would stretch the dough lengthwise, top it with fresh ingredients, and serve it by the slice on a wooden paddle. This style is cooked in an electric oven around 580°F. The dough is denser and rises for a long time, giving each slice a soft, fluffy interior and a crispy exterior.
Pizza Tonda Romana
Pizza alla pala isn’t the only variety of pizza from Italy’s capital city. In Roman pizzerie, you’ll find another type: la pizza tonda Romana. This kind is flat and round and it has a very thin crust. This style is crispy and has an almost cracker-like crust.
Pizza al Taglio
Literally meaning “pizza by the cut,” pizza al taglio is the perfect pizza for enjoying on the street. It’s baked in a large, rectangular pan before it gets cut into squares or long strips. The price of each slice is often determined by the weight and customers can decide how big of a slice they want when ordering.
A classic Neapolitan street food, pizza fritta is fried pizza dough. It comes in many different shapes and forms. Like many other great things in life, pizza fritta was born out of a crisis. After World War II, the price of mozzarella and wood for the ovens increased dramatically. In order to continue to serve their staple dish, cooks in Napoli decided to fry the dough instead of baking it, filling it with ingredients they had on hand instead.
There is also another type of pizza fritta: panzerotti. Shaped like half-moons, panzerotti is pizza dough stuffed with ingredients like mozzarella, tomato, and ricotta, then deep fried until golden. They are often served as street food in Puglia, but have become a popular tradition in many regions throughout Italy today.
Pizza al Padellino
Pizza al padellino, or “pan pizza,” is a type of pizza that’s baked in small, round pans. Think of it like Italian-style “deep dish.” Typically served in Torino, pizza al padellino has a thick soft crust, that gets slightly browned on the outside when baking. It can be topped with a variety of ingredients, from prosciutto to mozzarella.
Also known as sfincione, Sicilian-style pizza has a thick crust with a fluffy, sponge-like consistency. It is baked in a rectangular shaped pan, topped with tomato sauce, anchovies, onions, oregano, and a hard sheep’s milk cheese. For the final touch, the pizza is covered in breadcrumbs which help absorb some of the oil from the ingredients. Sfincione is often served in bakeries rather than pizzerias as a snack or street food.
More Pizza Facts
Can you tell me which country eats the most pizza? Are you thinking of Italy? You are wrong. Italy is in second place, followed by Brazil. In first place is the United States. However, if we consider that the population of the U.S. is far greater than the one of Italy, Italians remain the number one pizza lovers.
When did pizza arrive in the US? Italians migrated to America in the second half of the 19th century, bringing with them pizza and other culinary traditions. Pizza was introduced to Chicago by a peddler selling pizza on Taylor Street from a metal washtub. This recalled the traditional Neapolitan way of selling pizza: from copper cylindrical drums with false bottoms packed with charcoal to keep the pizzas hot. The name of the producer was embossed on the drum.
Who opened the first pizzeria in the United States?
Gennaro Lombardi claims to have opened the first pizzeria in the US. His establishment could be found in New York.
Every year, on December 7, we celebrate a huge recognition: the Neapolitan pizza is on the Unesco World Heritage list. It’s not really the Neapolitan pizza, but the Art of the Neapolitan pizza makers (Arte del pizzaiuolo napoletano) to be inscribed in the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list since 2007 after a petition that proposed the application to Unesco gathering two million signatures worldwide. UNESCO praised the ancient expertise required, calling the pizza makers "a living link" to the historic culinary practice.
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