Pizza Napoletanismo

May 9, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 4: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

In an interview, Sen. Ciro Leone (the proprietor of Trianon da Ciro, a prominent Neapolitan pizzeria in Naples, Italy) stated: “But there is no ‘evolution’ of the pizza. Its tradition remains.” This is a puzzling statement made by Sen. Leone; I am not sure how to interpret it. Does he mean that the Neapolitan pizza never underwent any development and diversification from its earlier forms—that it fell as a complete package from the womb of time? Surely, every time-honored tradition has a beginning, however uncertain, and undergoes a developmental phase until it is cultivated and well-rooted in the culture which nourishes it. Or, does he imply that the evolution of the Neapolitan pizza has already reached the summit of its development and perfection, that there is no more room for change? Whatever the case might be, the history of Neapolitan pizza, however scanty and fragmented, should shed some light on this issue.

Sen. Ciro Leone, the proprietor of Trianon da Ciro in Naples, Italy

Having made a very brief appreciation of history of Naples in a previous article, let us now briefly and selectively consider, in this article and other future articles, certain pivitol points in the history of Neapolitan pizza, not in a chronological order but in a backward fashion, starting before the historic visit of Queen Margherita of the Kingdom of Italy to Naples in 1889. Bear in mind that Naples became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. In 1866, Francesco de Bourcard, a writer who had great passion and admiration for the Neapolitan culture, completed a two-volume book on the lives of people of Naples. The book, titled Usi e Costumi di Napoli (Traditions and Customs of Naples), has been instrumental in understanding certain aspects of daily lives of the Neapolitans within a timespan from 1847 to 1866. According to the online version of “Libreria Neapolis” (Neapolis Library, located in Naples, Italy):

“Vent’anni impiegò, dal 1847 al 1866, Francesco de Bourcard per realizzare i due grossi volumi dedicati agli ‘Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti’. Un’opera preziosa, sia per l’accurata descrizione di usanze del tempo, di personaggi popolari, feste, cerimonie, culti, che per i cento disegni acquerellati che ‘dipingono’ le descrizioni. Il libro è un’altra testimonianza dell’interesse che avvinse a Napoli scrittori di vari paesi: il De Bourcard era oriundo svizzero, nipote del Maresciallo De Bourcard capitano generale del Regno di Napoli, distintosi nella guerra dei sette anni e nella presa di Roma nel 1789-99. Il nipote si napoletanizzò perfettamente, studiò le cose di Napoli, volle offrire un atto di amore alla terra in cui era nato, dedicandosi alla non lieve fatica di mettere insieme scrittori e artisti in un’opera che – anche per la parte grafica – può dirsi monumentale per quei tempi.”

“It took twenty years, from 1847 to 1866, for Francis de Bourcard to build the two large volumes Traditions and Customs of Naples and Described and Painted Surroundings. It is valuable both for the accurate description of the customs of the time, popular characters, festivals, ceremonies, rituals, and for one hundred watercolor drawings that ‘paint’ the descriptions. The book is another testimony of the interest that gripped Naples writers of various countries: De Bourcard was a native of Switzerland, the grandson of Maresciallo De Bourcard, who was the Captain General of the Kingdom of Naples, and who distinguished himself in the Seven Years War and Capture of Rome in 1789-99. The grandson perfectly Neapolitanized, studied the affairs of Naples, desiring to offer an act of love for the land where he was born, dedicating himself, to no small effort, to bring together writers and artists in a work—even for the graphics—that is deemed monumental for its time.”

The Book “Usi e Costumi di Napoli” by Francesco de Bourcard

Il Pizzaiuolo (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Oil Peddler (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Eggs Vendor (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Coffee Peddler (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Zeppole Vendor (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

The Sorbet Peddler (watercolor drawing from Francesco de Bouchard’s “Usi e Costumi di Napoli”)

In his illuminating book, Bourcard revealed some valuable information about the pizzas of Naples:

“Le pizze più ordinarie, dette coll’aglio e l’oglio, han per condimento l’olio, e sopra vi si sparge, oltre il sale, l’origano e spicchi d’aglio trinciati minutamente. Altre sono coperte di formaggio grattugiato e condite collo strutto, e allora vi si pone disopra qualche foglia di basilico. Alle prime spesso si aggiunge del pesce minuto; alle seconde delle sottili fette di muzzarella. Talora si fa uso di prosciutto affettato, di pomidoro, di arselle, ec. Talora ripiegando la pasta su se stessa se ne forma quel che chiamasi calzone.”

“The more ordinary pizzas, such as coll’aglio e l’oglio (“with garlic and oil”), have the oil for seasoning, and over it spreads, besides the salt, oregano and finely chopped garlic. Others are covered with formaggio grattugiato e condite collo strutto (grated cheese and seasoned neck lard), and then topped with a few leaves of basil. To the first one is often added tiny fish, to the second one thin slices of muzzarella. Sometimes you are using prosciutto slices, tomatoes, clams, and etc. Sometimes folding the dough over itself as what is called calzone.”

So, in the above-quoted passage, Bourcard basically describes two types of pizzas if I am not mistaken:

The 1st Pizza:
The first pizza contains oil, finely chopped garlic, oregano, and salt as toppings. Tiny fish are often added to the preceding toppings. Perhaps, the picture below exemplifies the described pizza.

Antichissima (“ancient”) pizza by Ciro Salvo: oil, garlic, oregano, & cecenielli (whitebait)

The 2nd Pizza:
The second pizza seems to bear formaggio grattugiato (“grated cheese”), seasoned lard, and basil leaves as toppings. Thin slices of mozzarella (spelled “muzzarella”) are often added to the preceding toppings. And, sometimes prosciutto, tomatoes, clams, and etc. Perchance, the picture below can serve as an example for the described pizza.

Pizza Mastunicola by Franco Pepe: pork lard, Romano, oregano, pepper, & basil

Some are of the belief that garnishing a pizza with tomatoes became customary only after Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples in 1889. Nontheless, the above-quoted passage seems to bear witness to the usage of tomatoes as a pizza topping prior to Raffaele Esposito preparing the Pizza Margherita for the Queen in 1889.

Pizza Margherita by L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples, Italy

Next article: Part 5: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

Previous article: Part 3: The Mediterranean Phenomenon

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