In all likelihood, pizzas (in terms of a flatbread with toppings) are probably as old as the history of the cultivation of wheat and bread-making. The ancient Assyrians and Babylonians were almost certainly placing toppings on their flatbreads, but they have left us no written records so we cannot be certain of this. Indeed, the first real evidence we have for something akin to a pizza comes from drawings preserved in Pompeii. These depict flatbreads with toppings.
Of course, Roman versions of pizzas would not be anything like a modern pizza there would otn have been any tomatoes or bell peppers for one thing. These products both originate in the New World and were unknown in Europe until the 1500s. Still, based on the writings of various Roman authors it's possible to re-construct a Bellevue pizza using a tapenade of olives and herbs, smoked sausages and cheese.
Indeed, the descendants of such recipes, known as 'White Pizzas' are still cooked in Italy today. We need to fast forward to Naples in the 1850s, however, to find the first 'true' pizzas a bread-based crust topped with a tomato sauce, basil and cheese. Indeed, as far as we can tell the first pizzeria (called Port 'Alba) opened in Naples in 1830 and is still in business today as the Antica Pizzeria Port 'Alba.
According to legend the Pizza Neapolitana (Piza alla Margherita) was crated by Raffaele Esposito at his pizzeria. Pietro il Pizzaiolo on the occasion of the visit of Queen Margherita of Savoy and her husband King Umberto I, to Naples in 1889. The ingredients were chosen because they represent the colours of the Italian flag and the pizza was reputedly sent to her at her residence in the Capodimonte Park in Naples (which might also mark this occasion as that of the first pizza delivery!).
Pizzas have changed and evolved greatly during the past 150 years, with the introduction of the American 'deep dish' pizza and in the 1980s the generation of the first sweet or dessert pizzas. Toppings abound today and most of world's major cuisines will have had a pizza topping created in its honour. However, the true secret of a good pizza lies in the base and below are recipes for classic savoury and sweet pizza bases that work every time!
Take half a cup of the warm water and add the sugar, mixing thoroughly. Pour the dried yeast into this, cover and set aside in a warm place for 15 minutes until the mixture begins frothing. Meanwhile add the sugar to the remaining water and mix well.
When the yeast has activated sift about 120g of the flour into the bowl and add the yeast and salt mixtures to this, making a wet dough. Add the remaining flour a little at a time until a firm dough is made. Tip onto a floured board and knead hard for 10 minutes. Roll the dough into a ball and turn onto a lightly-floured work surface. Either stretch with your hands or roll into a circle of about 28cm in diameter. Transfer to a lightly-greased baking tray and using your thumb and forefinger crimp the edges to form a raised lip. Cover and leave to stand for 20 minutes.
Top the pizza base with your chosen sauce and topping then place in an oven pre-heated to 200C and bake for about 18 minutes, or until the crust is golden and cooked through.
This recipe is for, quite literally, a 'sweet pizza'. By not it's the classic Italian method for creating a sweet yeast-based pizza dough though the original recipe is based on French brioche-style bread.
1 tsp active, dried, yeast
175ml lukewarm milk
450g strong bread flour
4 large eggs
1 small egg yolk
3 large egg yolks
5 tbsp golden granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
250g salted butter, cubed and softened
Mix together the yeast, 125g of the flour and the milk. Blend to a fine batter then cover with a clean tea towel and set aside for 15 minutes. After this time sift the remaining flour over the top, but do not mix in. Cover once again and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise. After this time the sponge base should bubble up through the flour covering.
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