Pizza Napoletanismo

May 11, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 6: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

Having so far made brief appreciation of the Neapolitan pizzas of the modern era (i.e., of year 1889 by Raffaele Esposito, of years 1847 to 1866 by Francesco de Bourcard, and of year 1835 by Alexandre Dumas) in the previous articles, now let us take a look at the pre-modern (i.e., the Renaissance) pizzas of Naples—or what was known as Neapolitan pizza (“da Napoli detta pizza”)—in year 1570.

In his Lectures on Philosophy of History, German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) argues that history does not move directly or straightforwardly toward progress or a goal, but develops dialectically or in a roundabout way that is not clear to consciousness and is filled with paradoxes, ironies, contradictions, and unconscious desires that lead to unintended consequences. Likewise, it seems that what we generally know as Neapolitan pizza today did not follow a straight path in its evolution. A case in point might be the Opera dell’arte del cucinare (Works of Art of Cooking), which is a recipe book, or even a culinary treatise, written by Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577). He was an eminent Renaissance chef, and not just a chef—but the papal chef in charge of the Vatican kitchen in Rome. According to Wikipedia:

“He [Scappi] acquired fame in 1570 when his monumental cookbook Opera dell’arte del cucinare was published. In the book he lists approximately 1000 recipes of the Renaissance cuisine and describes cooking techniques and tools, giving the first known picture of a fork. He declared parmesan to be the best cheese on earth. . . . Scappi revolutionized the kitchen of his time through new preparation methods and the use of ingredients imported from America. Scappi died on April 13, 1577 and was buried in the church of Santi Vincenzo and Anastasio alla Regola, dedicated to cooks and bakers.”

Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577), the Reneissance Chef

Bartolomeo Scappi’s recipe book “Opera dell’arte del cucinare” (1570)

The Vatican Kitchen, from Scappi’s “Opera dell’arte del cucinare” (1570)

In the book, Scappi provides several pizza recipes. Let us take a look at only three of the recipes:

“[Recipe] 128. To prepare flaky pizza, popularly called a dry napoleon (see footnote #1, below). Get a sheet of dough that is rolled out thin and made as the previous one. [That is, ‘make up a dough of two pounds of fine flour with six egg yolks, four ounces of breadcrumb that has soaked in either goat’s milk or a fat broth, an ounce and a half of leaven moistened with rosewater, three ounces of fine sugar, a suitable amount of salt and four ounces of butter. Knead the dough well for half an hour. Then make a very thin sheet of it. . . .’] Have a tourte pan ready, greased with melted butter, and on that pan put a rather thick sheet of that dough, and on that put ten more thin sheets, greased between each with butter and sprinkled with sugar and elderflower, dry or fresh. Bake it in an oven or braise it. When it is done, serve it hot with sugar and rosewater over it.”

“[Recipe] 121. To prepare a tourte with various ingredients, called pizza by Neapolitans. Get six ounces of shelled Milanese almonds, four ounces of shelled, soaked pinenuts, three ounces of fresh, pitted dates, three ounces of dried figs and three ounces of seeded muscatel raisins; grind all that up in a mortar. Into it add eight fresh raw egg yolks, six ounces of sugar, an ounce of ground cinnamon, an ounce and a half of crumbled musk-flavoured Neapolitan mostaccioli and four ounces of rosewater. When everything is mixed together, get a tourte pan that is greased and lined with a sheet of royal pastry dough (see footnote #2, below); into it put the filling, mixed with four ounces of fresh butter, letting it come up to no more than a finger in depth. Without it being covered, bake it in an oven. Serve it hot or cold, whichever you like. Into that pizza you can put anything that is seasoned.”

Bartolomeo Scappi’s Recipe #121 from the “Opera dell’arte del cucinare” (1570)

“[Recipe] 73. [The book editors specifically referred to this recipe as ‘Neapolitan pizza’.] To prepare a royal tourte with dove flesh, which Neapolitans call “Lady’s lips pizza” (see footnote #3, below). Get the flesh of three doves half roasted on a spit, with the skin, bones and gristle removed, along with the flesh of three boiled doves. Grind it all up in a mortar with four ounces of peeled dates, eight ounces of marzipan paste and four ounces of ground beef marrow—grind it all so finely that it can go through a colander. If you do not have any marzipan paste, use six ounces of Milanese almonds shelled in cold water and four ounces of fine sugar. Into all that add six fresh cream tops—if you do not have cream tops, a pound of fresh curds of ewe’s milk. When everything is put through the colander, put ten fresh uncooked egg yolks into it and four more ounces of fine sugar along with an ounce of cinnamon and half an ounce of cloves and nutmeg together. Have a tourte pan ready, lined with a sheet of somewhat thick dough. and with its flaky-pastry twist around it, made with fine flour, egg yolks, sugar, butter, rosewater and a suitable amount of salt. Put the filling into the pan in such a way that it does not come up too high. It is optional if you wish to bake it with an upper shell made like a shutter’s louvres, although it looks better open-faced and with only a glazing made of melted sugar and rosewater. Bake it in an oven as marzipan is done. When it is baked, serve it hot or cold as you like.”

Footnotes:                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
1. “. . . The earliest appearance of a preparation called a pizza is in the so-called Manoscritto Lucano, ed. Michael Süthold, written in southern Italy at the beginning of Scappi’s century; a colophon makes its origin definite: in Nerula, 3 August 1524. The manuscript contains four sorts of pizza: Picza figliata (Recipe 57), Picza biancha (Recipe 77), Una altar picza (Recipe 78), and Picza riale (Recipe 86; see Scappi’s Recipe 73 above). None of those recipes seems to have made it into Scappi’s collection unchanged; most have some sort of upper crust whether plain or ornamental, like a tourte. See Riley’s comments about the genre in The Oxford Companion to Italian Food, 410.”

2. “Recipe 84 indicates that “royal dough” is a mixture of fine flour, rosewater, sugar and butter.”

3. “Pizza di bocca di Dama [‘Lady’s lips pizza’]. A distinction of most of the so-called royal tourtes (generally Recipes 73-80) is to contain thick cream (or fresh cheese curds or fresh ricotta) instead of, or as well as, ordinary cheese: these are richer custards. In its use of various cheeses, eggs and cream, this pizza of Scappi resembles the four pizzas found in Lucano manuscript (1524) in a general way; see the note in Recipe 128, below. In the edition of the manuscript by Süthold, Recipe 86 for Picza reale, the final recipe in that collection, calls for five varieties of fresh cheese, three of ricotta cheese, eggs, almonds, rosewater and sugar. The 1524 pizza has no meat, however, but may optionally include musk. (The modern boco di dame is described by Riley in the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, 57.) In a dialogue dating from the beginning of the 1600s, Vincenzo Giustiniani [an aristocratic Italian banker, art collector and intellectual of the late 16th and early 17th centuries] had a chauvinistic Neapolitan exclaim, ‘Our monks make things that  . . . give pleasure throughout the world’. . . . It is perhaps no coincidence that Sicily was recognized as the foremost producer of hard wheat at the time, even shipping it far beyond the Mediterranean world. . . .” (End of quote)

Bartolomeo Scappi’s “lady’s lips pizza” may had looked as shown in the picture hereunder. The pizza was prepared by Clifford A. Wright, following Scappi’s recipe.

Lady’s Lips Pizza by Clifford A. Wright

In early 1600s, Neapolitan author Giambattista Basile aka Giovanni Battista Basile (1575-1632) wrote a collection of Neapolitan fairy tales titled Lo cunto de li cunti, overo lo trattenimiento de peccerille (“The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones”, written in the Neapolitan dialect and posthumously published in 1634 and 1636). Sometimes the book is titled as Al Pentameròn, which influenced the fairy tales authored by Charles Perrault and the brothers Grimm. Folk tales such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and etc. are amongst the collection of tales in the book.

Giambattista Basile (1575-1632)

In one of the tales, Basile reflected two pizza ingredients—”sugar” and “almonds”—which are also used in all the above-referenced recipes by Scappi. According to the tale “Two Little Pizzas”:

“Now it happened that Luceta needed to warm up a few carrots . . . and she said to her daughter, ‘My dear Marziella, go, darling, to the fountain, and fetch me a pitcher of water.’ ‘With pleasure, dear mother,’ answered her daughter, ‘but if you care for me give me a little pizza, which I’d like to eat with some of that fresh water.’ ‘Gladly,’ said her mother, and she went to a bread sack that was hanging on a hook and took from it a lovely little pizza—the day before she had baked bread—and gave it to the girl. Marziella put the pitcher on a head ring and went off to the fountain. . . .”

As Marziella stood filling the pitcher, there arrived an old woman. . . . Noticing that lovely pizza right when Marziella was about to take a bite out of it, she said, ‘My lovely girl, may the heavens bless you with good fortune if you give me a little of that pizza.’ Marziella, who had a stink of a queen about her, said, ‘Here, you can have the whole thing, my noble woman, and I’m sorry it’s not made of sugar and almonds, in which case I’d still give it to you with all of my heart.'”

[Later in the book, the author remarked], “The tale of the two little pizzas was truly a stuffed pizza, which everyone savored so much that they’re still licking their fingers.” (The italics are added for emphasis.)

It appears that “sugar” and “almonds” were among the primary ingredients of the pre-modern pizzas of the time, as “tomatoes” and “cheese” are the principal pizza toppings of the modern and post-modern eras.

Today, Scappi’s book is considered one of the invaluable sources on the history of Neapolitan cuisine of the Renaissance period. However, after glancing a bit at the above recipes, one can not help asking: Is Scappi referring to the same Neapolitan pizza extant today? Or, is he dealing with something of a different class of comestibles that has only the name “pizza” in common with what we reckon as Neapolitan pizza today? Might it be the case that different Neapolitan epochs have their own peculiar construals of pizza of Naples? What Scappi interpreted as pizza—within his specific cultural milieu—does not fit the standards of the cultural milieux within which Dumas, Bouchard, Esposito, and Antonio Pace (founder of Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) found themselves. Take the eternal music of J.S. Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, which are part of the classical tradition that is well-documented for the most part: almost every generation of musicologists and conductors keep coming up with slightly or substantially different interpretations of their music. Who knows?—a millennium from present, Neapolitan pizza may not be the same! As Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic philosopher, figuratively stated in an aphorism that has been ascribed to him: “No man ever steps twice in the same river”, meaning that “flux” or “change” is a fundamental law of nature.

Lady’s Lips Pizza (left) by Lupetta & Margherita Pizza (right) by L’antica Pizzeria da Michele

Making interpretations and speculations about the tradition of Neapolitan pizza—an oral tradition that did not inscribe itself, for the most part, within the pages of history, and what literature has survived is scanty—can be a tricky business. In interpreting the surviving texts, it is difficult not to impose our own modes of thinking and thoughts upon them. In other words, it is easy to fall in the trap of wishful, prejudicial, or out-of-cultural-context thinking and construe these works in our own terms, without regarding the cultural frameworks that set the tradition in motion. Given the fragmentary nature of the original or doxographical texts that have survived, it seems to me that we can only make educated conjectures for the most part.

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) insists that we are interpretive beings, that interpretation is fundamental to human condition, and even operative in formation of the human self. We are always interpreting others’ or our own mental and physical states. Am I sad or cheerful, displeased or pleased, chubby or skinny? When we stop at a red traffic light, we are already engaged in an act of interpreting the color red. The color red can have many other meanings: danger, communist, sexy, and etc. This demonstrates the ubiquity of interpretation—and diversification—in human societies. Perchance, the New York style pizza is an example! History appears, as Hegel puts forth, to be pregnant with paradoxes, ironies, contradictions, and unintended consequences—with “change”, however gradual and undetected, being the principle underlying them all.

Next article: Part 7: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

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

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