Flatbread has been a typical dish for many cultures through the centuries. The grandfather of them all is considered to be the Roman panis focacius, a flatbread baked on the fireplace, and from which breads such as the Italian focaccia, Spanish hogaza and Portuguese fogaça, to name a few, are derivatives.
The first documented usage of the word “pizza” was in AD 997, in central Italy. But it wasn’t until the late 1700s, when some enterprising Neapolitan added tomato to create what we now know as focaccia, and from there the modern pizza was born. Sold in Naples as a quick street food primarily to the working poor, these pizzas featured the same time-honoured garnishes we enjoy today such as cheese, garlic, olive oil, and anchovies.
Neapolitan pizza is considered the best in the world. Ideally made with sourdough, it should have a light, fluffy crust with charring—otherwise known as “leopard spots.” Cooked in a wood-fired oven, pizzacontinues to be one of the most popular meals to share with friends in the neighbourhoods of Naples, where it’s said there are more than 1000 pizza ovens.
Legend has it that in 1889, to honour the Queen Consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Royal Palace of Capodimonte commissioned Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito to make a special pizza for her. So he created the “Pizza Margherita”, a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to represent the tri-coloured Italian flag, and the margherita has changed little since.
One of the more controversial toppings that has since found its home on the humble pizza is the pineapple. In 1962, the famous “Hawaiian pizza”, topped with tomato sauce, cheese, pineapple, and ham, was created by Greek-Canadian chef Sam Panopoulos of the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario. His took inspiration from his experience with Chinese cooking, where the juxtaposition of sweet and savoury flavours is common.
The slight char and smoky flavour is one of the characteristics of a good Neapolitan pizza. It features a thin but chewy crust, which is a result of using quality wheat flour and a wood-fired oven. To ensure the crust is cooked properly, it’s important not to use too many ingredients so as not to weigh down the crust.
A classic calzone is created by folding the salted bread dough into a crescent shape so the toppings are sealed inside. This “pizza dumpling” was created in Naples, and typical toppings such as olives, ham, anchovies, mortadella, mozzarella are usually used with the tomato sauce served over the top.
New York-style pizza may not be the most authentic, but they have become the most popular and widespread choice in the United States. There may be similarities between the more traditional Naples variety, but classic New York-style pizza has a large thin crust—usually hand-tossed—that is also thick enough so you can hold the slice one-handed for easy eating.
Also commonly referred to as deep-dish pizza, Chicago pizza gets its name from the city from which it was invented. In the 1940s, Italian immigrants to the Windy City were searching for something similar to the Neapolitan pizza that they knew and loved. But instead of imitating the notoriously thin pie, entrepreneur Ike Sewell had something else in mind. He created a pizza with a thick crust that had raised edges, similar to a pie, and with the ingredients in reverse—with slices of mozzarella lining the dough, followed by meat and vegetables, then topped with a can of crushed tomatoes. In 1943, this original creation led Sewell to open the now-famous American chain restaurant, Pizzeria Uno.