pizza! -- 03/19/15

Today's encore selection -- from 'American Pie: How a Neapolitan street food became the most successful immigrant of all' by Hanna Miller. Pizza! Pizza did not truly become pizza until the enterprising citizens of Naples embraced a long-shunned fruit imported from America -- the tomato -- and added it to the equation:

"A staggering 93 percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. According to one study, each man, woman and child consumes an average of 23 pounds of pie every year. ... Pizza, like teenagedom and rock 'n' roll, is a lasting relic of America's mid-twentieth-century embrace of good times. ...

"Modern pizza originated in Italy, although the style favored by Americans is more a friend than a relative of the traditional Neapolitan pie. Residents of Naples took the idea of using bread as a blank slate for relishes from the Greeks, whose bakers had been dressing their wares with oils, herbs and cheese since the time of Plato. The Romans refined the recipe, developing a delicacy known as placenta, a sheet of fine flour topped with cheese and honey, and flavored with bay leaves. Neapolitans earned the right to claim pizza as their own, by inserting a tomato into the equation. Europeans had long shied away from the New World fruit, fearing it was plump with poison. But the intrepid citizens of Naples discovered the tomato was not only harmless but delicious, particularly when paired with pizza. Cheese, the crowning ingredient, was not added until 1889, when the Royal Palace commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo, Raffaele Esposito, to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three contenders he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pie swathed in the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). ...

"Pizza crossed the Atlantic with the four million Italians, who by the 1920s had sought a better life on American shores. ... Although non-Italians could partake of pizza as early as 1905 when the venerable Lombardi's -- the nation's first licensed pizzeria -- opened its doors in Lower Manhattan, most middle-class Americans stuck to boiled fish and toast. The pungent combination of garlic and oregano signaled pizza as 'foreign food', sure to upset native digestions. ...

"The number of parlors in the United States skyrocketed from 500 in 1934 to 20,000 in 1956. ... Unlike other ethnically derived foods that enjoyed faddish popularity in modern America, pizza never masqueraded as exotic. Its consumers didn't aspire to be cosmopolitan or courageous. They were simply drawn in by the bewitching interplay of tomatoes, bread and cheese -- drawn in so strongly that by 1958, the novelty singer Lou Monte could issue an album called Songs for Pizza Lovers. ...

"Sophia Loren in 1959 told the Los Angeles Times that, having been raised in Italy, to consider pizza the food of poverty, she pitied Americans when she saw how many pizza joints they had. 'So I think America not so rich after all. Then I find eating pizza here is like eating hot dog -- for fun.' ... The image was polished in 1953 when Dean Martin swung his way through 'That's Amore!', an Italian-flavored love song that famously compared the moon to 'a big pizza pie' (a phrase that irritated exacting food writers who insisted it was redundant)."


'American Pie: How a Neapolitan street food became the most successful immigrant of all'


Hanna Miller


American Heritage


April/May 2006 Volume 57 Issue 2
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