February 21, 2014 |

Before pizza became “American”

By Jeremy White

Chicken Pesto PizzaIf you read our pizza headlines section, you’ll see this article I wrote on the history of pizza in the U.S. While the food may have originated elsewhere, there’s no question America has made it its own.

But, as I conducted my research, I couldn’t help but be fascinated about the history of pizza BEFORE it became an American staple. Here’s a very brief look at what I turned up when writing the story:

The precursor to what we now call pizza is believed to have originated in prehistoric times when Egyptians cooked bread on flat, hot stones. Later down the road — approximately 1,000 years ago — Neapolitans began covering focaccia with herbs and spices, according to the Smithsonian. Next came pizza’s most direct ancestor, “Casa de nanza,” which were doughs pounded into thin crusts and topped with leftovers prior to baking.

Detroit-style pizza

We may not eat tomato sauce today if some brave soul hadn’t finally tasted a “pomodoro” in the 1600s.

Interestingly enough, early Europeans feared the tomato was poisonous. Native to the South American countries of Peru and Ecuador, tomatoes were introduced to Europe in the early 1500s by Spanish Conquistadors. But Europeans would not eat the tomato until nearly 150 years later when, in the late 1600s, some brave soul discovered the fruit was not only safe to consume, but delicious. This opened the door for modern-day pizza as we know it, which was developed in Naples, Italy.

The world’s first pizzeria, Port’ Alba, opened in Naples in 1830. According to the Smithsonian, the pizzas there were cooked in an oven lined with lava from nearby Mount Vesuvius, a world-famous and historically important volcano.

The early pizzas in Naples were flavored with oil, lard, tallow, cheese, tomato and often anchovies.

In 1889, Don Raffaele Esposito created the Margherita Pizza, which is adorned with nothing but tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, in honor of Margherita Teresa Giovanni, who was the Italian Queen at the time.

Even today, the classic Margherita remains one of the world’s most popular pizzas.