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When the Moon Hits Your Eye….

January 29, 2009

“If Naples had managed to patent pizza, it would now be among Italy’s wealthiest cities instead of one of its poorest.” –Burton Anderson (arguably the leading authority on Italian wine)

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When it comes to “fast food,” pizza takes the cake—or perhaps, the pie. Hardly anyone can resist the tantalizing combination of a crunchy crust, gooey, melted cheese, and the sweet and savory of tomato sauce, not to mention the multitude of extras people like to throw on top of their pizza pie.

While “pizza” typically conjures up images of cheese and sauce, the earliest archetypes of the modern pizza can be found in the breads of the Italian farmhouses. All preceding the pizza alla Napoletana, they are the less showy versions of a pizza: focaccia—essentially pizza dough with olive oil, herbs, and sometimes olives; the piadina of Emilia Romagna—sort of like pita bread, this small, round dough cooked on a griddle is delicious with a little cheese and salumi on top; the pizzella of Apulia.

Don Raffaele Esposito of Napoli (Naples, Italy) is credited with the creation of the first pizza in 1889, the Margherita. In a grand display of nationality and loyalty to his queen, Don Esposito constructed a pizza resplendent with national colors (known as tricolore)—red tomatoes (or sauce), white mozzarella, and green basil leaves—and named it after Queen Margherita, who is said to have been enraptured by its flavor upon her visit to Napoli with her husband King Umberto I after the unification of their Kingdom of Italy. Since that moment, Napoli has fully embraced its position as the ultimate authority on the authenticity of la pizza.

Essentially, to be fully authentic, pizza should be baked in a special wood-fired brick oven heated to 400°C, or 750°F. It ought to be inserted and removed with a long-handled wooden paddle, or peel. However, since not all of us have the luxury of a wood-fired brick oven in our homes or backyards, we must settle for the less than authentic but still entirely workable electric (or gas, if that’s what you have) oven. So, gather your ingredients and let’s make some pizza!

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