Friday, April 25, 2008

It's Friday! Who Wants Pizza?

If there is one dish nearly everyone can agree on enjoying, it's pizza. And Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook is ready to please with a Crawfish Pizza with Pancetta and Roasted Garlic on page 249. In the introduction, it's stated that "cooks in South Louisiana never seem to run out of ways to cook crawfish, so the appearance of a crawfish pizza was probably inevitable." Inevitable indeed, as pizza and it's variations have been prepared since Neolithic times.

According to Linda Stradley's, the dish has been prepared since the Stone Age and was baked beneath the stones of the fire. Having the toppings on top of the bread permitted people to enjoy the dish without the need of plates or utensils. In Virgil's The Aeneid, one stanza refers to the devouring of cakes of flour:

Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band

Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”

Pizza as we know it today, with its rich tomato sauce, developed after tomatoes were brought back from South America. At, it's stated that tomatoes, initially viewed as poisonous by Europeans, began to be eaten in the late 1600s. Peasants in Naples, Italy, began to use tomatoes on their herbed bread about this time. Queen Maria Carolina (1752-1814), wife of Ferdinando IV, King of Naples, enjoyed pizza so much that she arranged to have a pizza oven installed at their summer palace at Capodimonte.

According to a history written by Cliff Lowe at, pizza became the break-out food of 1889 when Queen Margherita, wife of Umberto I, became curious about the flat-bread dish the peasants dined on. She horrified members of her decorous court when she became a fan of the peasant dish, though the common people embraced her for it. She ordered a local pizza chef, Rafaelle Esposito, to the palace to bake a selection of pizzas for her dining pleasure. In her honor, he created the Pizza Margherita that commemorated the Italian flag with its colors of red (tomato sauce), white (mozzarella cheese) and green (basil), which is still a popular dish to this day.

The dish came to America in the late 1800s with the arrival of Italian immigrants. It remained a dish associated with the Italian community until the end of WWII, though pizzerias opened in New York City and Chicago prior to the war. American servicemen became fans of the dish while stationed in Italy and sought it out after the war ended.

Today, the pizza is entrenched in our culinary culture with 23 pounds consumed annually by the average American and its own holiday, International Pizza Day on February 9. The Guinness Book of World Records credits a 100-feet and one inch diameter pizza made in Havana, Florida, as the largest pizza made and consumed.

With New Orleans chefs' tendency to put its own spin on recipes, it's only natural that an enterprising chef jumped at a chance to put local seafood on pizza. "History & Legends of Pizza" 2004 "Pizza Facts and History" 2003 "Pizza History"
photo courtesy of bucklava, used under this Creative Commons license

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