Pizza. One word. Many (two) uses of the letter z. Is there any foodstuff around the world so famed for its double “z”s? No. We think not!
Today, we’re looking into the history of pizza. Not only is it a most excellent food, it’s a lot of fun to make, and it’s kind of a most welcome comfort food. Let’s ruddy well do it.
It’s a dish that consists of a round, flat dough base that’s garnished with various topings and baked in an oven.
Typically, most pizzas will have a topping of tomatoes, sweetcorn, mushrooms, and some form of meat. That may be tuna, prawns, or chicken.
One of the key ingredients is also cheese (see the history of cheese), which is liberally sprinkled over the pizza and makes it all gooey and tasty.
Pizza is enormously popular worldwide—you’ll find it served all the way around the world. Whether it’s Bolton or Bermuda, there’ll be a pizza joint and it shall be tasty.
And fast food delivery services make ordering, and receiving, your pizza easier than ever.
That’s thanks to a hyper-competitive market with chains such as Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, Papa John’s, and Chuck E. Cheese.
Yeah, this is one of the most popular foods in the world. But where did all of this come from?
What’s the History of Pizza?
Right… this is another one of those confused, complex histories that doesn’t have a clear origin story. We mean, the formulation of the dish took a long time.
You can trace the origins of pizza back to antiquity, with flatbreads the norm back then. Focaccia (oven-baked Italian bread) was kind of a precursor to what we know and love today.
Hungry archaeologists were able to find examples of this dating back 7,000 years to Sardinia. And the first time the word “pizza” is documented in history is 997 AD in Gaeta, Southern Italy.
Yes, it’s common for lots of people to assume Italy invented pizza. But did it!? Kind of. But lots of cultures had similar things going on for thousands of years. In fact:
- Persian soldiers in 6th century BC would bake flatbreads with cheese on their battle shields.
- Ancient Greeks made flatbreads topped with herbs, onion, cheese, and garlic.
What’s clear there is flatbread seems to have been the precursor to pizza, its inspiration before it went all circular.
It’s not too much of a stretch, is it? Ancient humans weren’t thick. And baking cheese on top of bread and adding veg isn’t too difficult to work out.
But what’s also clear is you can’t look at the past and definitely say, “Yes, it was invented in this country and by this person!”
It’s a mass of cultures having variations of bread with cheese on top. For example:
- In China there are bings, a wheat flour-based flattened disk shape food.
- In India there’s paratha.
- South Asian has naan and roti.
- In Finland there’s rieska.
- France has its quiche (kind of a pizza).
All of these are similar to pizza, but not quite getting there.
Naples does seem central in how things eventually turned out. During the 16th century, galette flatbreads were called pizzas. It was mainly a street food eaten by the poor.
But perhaps the most crucial development for the dish was from the same century, when Spanish conquistadores brought tomatoes with them across Europe. It was the Age of Discovery, after all.
Trading and travelling like that introduced chefs to new possibilities and it appears to be crucial in the formulation of pizza in its modern form.
Skip forward to 1841 and Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870—of The Count of Monte Cristo fame) wrote about the impressive variety of pizza toppings when he was in Naples in the early 1840s.
“Pizza is a sort of cheesecake like we bake at St.-Denis, and is round in shape and moulded by the same dough as bread. At first glance, the pizza appears to be a simple dish; after examination, it manifests as a compound dish. The pizza is with oil, the pizza is with bacon, the pizza is with lard, the pizza is with cheese, the pizza is with tomato, the pizza is with small fish; it is the gastronomic thermometer of the food market: it increases or decreases in price depending on the course of the ingredients named above, depending on the abundance or scarcity of the year. When the pizza with fish is priced half a grain, the fishing has been good; when the pizza with oil sells at one grain, the harvest has been bad. The more or less degree of freshness of pizza also has an impact on its price. ”
The above segment was included in Le Corricolo (The Wagon), Dumas’ journal he had published between 1841-1843.
Popular history from later in the 19th century says Raffaele Esposito (an Italian chef and owner of a pizza chain called Pizzeria di Pietro e basta così) invented the modern pizza in 1889.
But the Margherita was documented in Naples as early as 1796-1806.
It’s clear Esposito did a big part in the popularisation of the dish, but the late 18th century and early 19th century is where everything seemed to click and it all took off.
As the 20th century loomed, then arrived, pizza turned from more sweet (which it had been for a long time) to more savoury.
That determined the pizza’s fate.
And into the 21st century now (or whichever one we’re in… hell, they all seem to merge together like pizza ingredients) this is now where we’re at.
One of the most popular foods in the world. Great for a Friday night slob out. Great for when you’ve got friends round. Great for stuffing your face and feeling guilty after.
It’s a treat. But it’s one that’s livened up many a human being’s life.
The Different Types of Pizza
There are a few types of pizza. Yes, that big old 12″ with extra anchovies doesn’t cover every area of the pizza world. Shocking, right?
And this leads us to the variations:
- Pizzetta: These diddy things are a small version of the above
- Flatbread pizza: Uses unleavened dough that doesn’t need yeast to make
- Calzone: An oven-baked folded pizza
We had one of these once (the calzone) and it was disappointingly dry. But then we have only had one… and that was 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s time to try and second one, eh!?
Popular Pizza Toppings
Anyway, now onto the very best pizza toppings you can think of! Here are some of the most famous types:
- BBQ chicken
- Hawaiian (more on this bastard below)
- Buffalo (that’s a type of sauce, substituting for the tomato)
- Supreme (this is basically every topping imaginable)
- Sweetcorn and tuna
- Farmhouse (ham and mushrooms)
These are the standard ones you’ll find in most establishments. But you can get more daring with pizza toppings, like with this lot:
- Beetroot pesto with goat cheese
- Caramelised onions, apples, and goat cheese
- Breakfast pizza
- This is like a Full English Breakfast on your pizza, complete with sausages, Parmesan, egg, bacon etc.
- Ice cream with pizza
- Deep-fried pizza
- Banana curry
- Squid ink and shrimp
- Bacon and cheese burger (see the history of burgers)
- Saddle of wild boar
- Cheesecake sandwich pizza
Plus, these days there’s the whole stuffed crust thing which took off in the 1990s.
Basically, this dish is a circular sandwich you can pile any manner of toppings on to slake your hunger. The versatility is there for the taking.
The Great Pineapple on Pizza Debate
Indeed. Also called the Hawaiian pizza, this dish has ruined friendships and will (probably) one day trigger off World War III.
Should pineapple be added to pizza?
We’ll leave that down to individual tastes, but it’s certainly a foodie topic that triggers off a lot of controversy.
America’s ’90s Love Affair With Massive Pizzas
This one was new to us, as we’re British goddammit. But we wanted to flag up Weird History’s new food channel. As it’s good fun. And we like the sardonic voiceover guy.
But yeah, the above ’90s craze saw the US’s major chains pitch total war against each other in the name of the biggest pizza.
Domino’s crucial error? Making the thing so big the delivery driver couldn’t fit the box in the car, rendering the whole delivery system pointless.
These days, the biggest pizza you can usually order is about 14″, which is likely a lasting legacy of America’s enormity wars a few decades back.
How Do You Make Pizza?
Ermahgerd! It’s Jamie Oliver… ermahgerd! Well, asides from being a top chef Oliver is also top totty and we want his hand in marriage. Pipe dreams… pipe dreams.
Anyway, for once Oliver can back the hell up.
And why!? As we’re homemade pizza making experts! Yes, this is the one dish (other than the inspiring cauliflower cake) we’re really super skilled at making.
You’ll need to make the dough for this SOB, with the ingredients being:
300 grams of wholemeal flour
1 tablespoon of instant yeast
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Sprinklings of black pepper
Sprinklings of wheatgerm
Making dough is a lot of fun, but also messy work. Don’t do this whilst wearing your favourite suit or frock, you hear?
But you can punch the dough. This is a good stress reliever, you can give it a good old punch to the face.
We could write out the whole process, but this one is easier to just show.
Oliver (ermahgerd) covers the pizza dough process above, but we thought we’d turn to The New York Times for additional help. Here it is. Like a brain, eh?
Once that’s done, it’s really about making the pizza base shape of your dreams.
And then picking your topping. What do you want to add for your pizza? That’s down to you! We used to do anchovies, asparagus, mushrooms, and tomato. And all with lashings of cheese on top.
Whatever you fancy, you’ll need to pre-heat your oven. Then bung the pizza in on the 200c mark, usually for around 10 minutes or so.
Et voilà! C’est magnifique, eh? Bon.
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Oh yes, you’re anti-cheese. What on Earth do you have on pizza?!