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Authentic Neapolitan Pizza

The history and the recipe of the Neapolitan pizza

Have you ever eaten a pizza or a slice of it?

Maybe you are thinking I’m going crazy. How can I think that there is someone in the world who has never eaten pizza? Seriously, there is someone who maybe doesn’t know what pizza is.

I believe you understood from which Italian famous dish we are starting this blog section that we called #FoodIS. The name comes from the word ‘foodies’ and ‘IS’, that stands for Italian Storytellers. Every Thursday, until the end of the year, we will publish an article containing the history and the traditions connected to a regional recipe. It’s our gift for you to celebrate with us the 3rd year of Italian Stroytellers. You know for sure what pizza is, but maybe you have never heard about ‘risi e bisi’ or ‘vincisgrassi’. Well, what you have to do is to continue reading our blog or, better, subscribe here below to the #FoodIS newsletter.

Among the myths about Italian cuisine pizza has a place of honour. For example pepperoni pizza doesn’t exist in Italy. This pizza is called ‘pizza alla diavola’ (i.e. evil style pizza). It’s a little bit weird and amazing at the same time to watch American movies where pizza is covered with any kind of ingredients, while in Italy the rule is ‘less is more’.

Pizza was born in Naples. Have you ever been there? If not, you should read the 4 reasons to visit Naples. The first reason is exactly the food. In this city you’ll be spoilt for choice of what to eat both salty and sweet. Believe me! And you cannot miss to taste the ‘pizza napoletana’.

Now we are ready to know deeper what stands behind this famous Italian dish and, of course, how to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza.

The origin of the name pizza

The Greek colonization – and afterwards those of the other people such as Romans –  led to create a strong bond between the countries overlooking the Mediterranean sea under different aspects. First of all the food. Couscous, for example, originally comes from Africa, but is one of the main Sicilian dishes and is prepared in many different ways.

The word pizza derives from Latin. The verb pinsere means to press, to flatten, to grind. People in the Mediterranean countries ate flattened bread made of smashed grains of barley, water and different sort of ingredients. These breads are the forefathers of pizza and of many other common food in Italy, like piadina in Emilia-Romagna or pane carasau in Sardegna, and in Greece, like the famous pita.

The history of the Neapolitan pizza

In the past there were schiacchiate (flattened breads or focaccia breads) cooked on fiery stones: the first not raised bread ever. During the Egyptian time, or maybe before this, kind of breads were prepared to honour gods. You can find mentions of this breads everywhere in the Mediterranean area. Herodotus wrote many Babylonian recipes of focaccia bread in his writings and in the VII century BC this was the main meal of soldiers.

How To Cut Pizza
How to cut Neapolitan pizza? With fork and knife.

The ritual of the bread is still present in our today’s traditions. You need to think about food prepared during Catholic events, such as Christmas or Easter. For example pandoro, where ‘pan’ refers to pane, that is bread in Italian.

In the past the ingredients of these breads included also olives, graves pork, raisin, honey, pine nuts, fish, basil and some other. So pizza with ingredients on top already existed. Around the year 1000 AC we know that in Naples people ate ‘lagano’ or ‘picea’, but we don’t know if the words were used alternately indicating two different ways to prepare bread. Then the word piza was born and it started to be appreciated by aristocracy during the Middle Age and the Renaissance.

The name became as we know it today, but we have to wait until the 17th century to see tomato sauce on it. Well, the tomato was imported from America and America was discovered in 1492. Why did it take so long? Because Italians thought tomatoes were venomous.

Between the 18th and the 19th century pizza became more and more popular. Alexandre Dumas mentioned pizza in his writings comparing it to a bread made in St. Denis, France. This is the proof of the bond between countries in the Mediterranean area with a connected past. Dumas talked about pizza with oil, lard, leaf lard, cheese, tomatoes, little fishes. He said there was a particular pizza, but he wasn’t able to give the right meaning. He concerned about ‘pizza a 8’ which was a long institution that meant you could eat pizza paying it 8 days later.

In the 17th century pizza was cooked in wood-burning oven and then sold along the streets. A man used to put a stove on his head to carry pizza keeping them hot. They were already with ingredients on top. The man used to walk shouting his coming to draw pedestrians’ attention. People started to eat pizza very often: this is the reason why pizzeria was born. The place where pizza was cooked became a place where to buy and eat pizza. Today the furniture setting of the pizzeria is the same of that period, with the wood-burning oven, the marble counter, the shelter where you put the ingredients for the pizza, the tables, the external exposure… nothing more than you could find today in a Neapolitan pizzeria.

As the pizza became more popular in Naples a new job appeared: the pizza maker. In 1780 Pietro Colicchio opened the pizzeria “Pietro e basta così” (i.e. Pietro and so much for that), which was acquired by Enrico Brandi because Pietro had no daughters and therefore no one to teach how to make pizza. Another famous pizzeria was Port’Alba.

The Pizza Margherita

If you are looking for the origin of the pizza Margherita, probably you will find it in the following history. A long time ago in Italy there was King Umberto I. In 1889 he and his wife Margherita spent their summer in Naples. The queen wished to tastepizza once there. As she couldn’t go to the pizzeria (she was the queen), they invited Raffaele Esposito, the most famous pizza maker in Naples at that time, to prepare pizza inside the Royal Palace of Capodimonte.

How To Eat Pizza
How do we eat pizza? Like that!

Do not believe he prepared the pizza eaten by the queen! Women prepared it, specifically his wife Rosa Brandi, the real author of that so famous pizza. The queen ate 3 kinds of pizza: one with leaf lard, cheese and basil (pizza alla Mastunicola); one with garlic, oil, oregano and tomato (pizza alla Marinara); one with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, whose colours referenced to the Italian flag.

The queen was enraptured by the last one. That’s why Raffaele Esposito called it Pizza Margherita in honour of her. She thanked Raffaele Esposito for the delicious pizza and the piece of paper where she wrote her gratitude is still preserved in the Antica pizzeria Brandi.

Pizza Margherita already existed in Naples… it only has no name!

In fact it was born between 1796 and 1810. Many years before the episode above described. An Italian philologist talked about a pizza prepared with tomatoes and thin slices of mozzarella on top forming daisy (margherita in Italian) petals. Real pizza are just two: Pizza Margherita and Pizza alla Marinara. In 1866 Francesco De Bourcard mentioned them among the Neapolitan traditions and in 1839 ‘Riccio’ in his book described a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

The authentic Neapolitan pizza

On the 4th February 2010 pizza became a ‘Traditional Speciality Granteed’ elected by the European Union.

In June 1984 in Naples the ‘True Neapolitan Pizza Association’ was founded to promote and protect worldwide this typical product. The association laid down the procedural guideline that pizza makers have to respect everywhere in the world if they want to be part of the association.

So if you are looking for a pizzeria in your city, try to search those affiliated to the association so you will have the chance to eat a real pizza.

On 6th December 2017 the Art of Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The ingredients to prepare pizza are very simple. Flour, water, salt and… subscribe to the #FoodIS newsletter and download the Neapolitan pizza recipe. Try to make it at your home and buon appetito!


I'm a Italy lover, mom of two, living in central Italy and I love travelling. I have a degree in Tourism economics and management and now I'm a consultant helping businesses working in tourism.

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