Pizza Napoletanismo

May 13, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 7: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza)

This is possibly a Renaissance baker, baking her products in a pan held over open fire. This is probably one way the pre-modern pizzas were baked. (The origin of this image is unknown.)

So far, we have briefly considered the pizzas of Naples of the following historical periods (with the exception of 1700s):

●1889 by Raffaele Esposito,
●1847 to 1866 by Francesco de Bourcard,
●1835 by Alexandre Dumas,
●1700s by Vincenzo Corrado,
●1600s (early period) by Giambattista Basile, and
●1570 by Bartolomeo Scappi

As I mentioned, there is one period of the fragmentary history of Neapolitan pizza (i.e., the 1700s) which I deliberately have omitted to cover to any extent so far, mainly because I have not been able to obtain substantial, primary, historical documents to rely upon. Presumably, major developments occurred within that period, which marks the beginning of modernity. Although the pre-modern origins of pizza during the antiquity, Middle Ages, and Renaissance are shrouded in mystery, it seems that Neapolitan pizza, as we know it in the modern and post-modern eras, is a divergent development that began in early 1700s. Apparently, with the advent of modernity, a paradigm shift took place in the early 1700s in the way pizzas of Naples were perceived, prepared, and baked. We conspicuously noticed that the pre-modern pizzas described by Scappi in 1570 and by Giambattista Basile in early 1600s do not have much in common with the modern pizzas described by Dumas in 1835, with the pizzas described by Bourcard from 1847 to 1866, with the pizzas prepared by Esposito in 1889, and with what is deemed as the traditional Neapolitan pizza today in the post-modern Naples. It appears that pizzas of Naples in 1700s underwent major transformations—in terms of their logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools), orchestration (the way of production), and gastronomy (physical and gustatory/organoleptic attributes of the end product). In addition, with the decline of Medieval feudalism and advent of industrialism and capitalism, the early pizzerias gradually began to emerge in this period. So, we would like to inquire into the changes that took place in 1700s—when dressing pizzas with tomatoes (pomodoro or pomo di oro in Italian, literally meaning “golden apple”) and baking them predominantly in wood-fired ovens (nowadays known as forno napoletano) presumably began to become culinary norms in Naples.

Depiction of a Neapolitan Pizzaiolo (19th century)

As a plant of the New World, tomatoes arrived in Naples, via Spain, in mid-1500s. (Year 1492 is referred to as the “Discovery of the Americas” by Christopher Columbus, who was from the Republic of Genoa. And, from 1503 to 1714, Naples was under occupation by the Spanish Empire.) In his cookbook titled Lo scalco alla moderna (“The Modern Steward”, published in Naples in 1692 and 1694), Antonio Latini (1642–1692) reflected what is said to be the oldest known recipes for tomato sauce. The book, however, does not contain any mentions of tomato sauce being used either on pizza or pasta. Later, a book authored by Vincenzo Corrado (Oria, 1736 – Naples, 1836) is said to report on the uses of tomatoes on both pizza and pasta in Naples. So far, I have not figured out which book by Corrado makes the reference. It might be his classic work Il cuoco galante (Gallant Cooking, published in 1773, which does not seem to have been translated to English yet) or some other book by him.

Vincenzo Corrado (Oria, 1736 – Naples, 1836)

Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture has issued a legal document, in association with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (a Neapolitan pizza association, established in 1984 in Naples, which claims its function is to protect, preserve, and promote the traditional Neapolitan pizza), in order to have the European Union (EU) officially recognize and protect the true Neapolitan pizza as a Specialità tradizionale garantita (STG) or Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) product. The document is titled Disciplinare di Produzione della Specialità Tradizionale Garantita “pizza napoletana” (“Disciplinary Production Specifications of Traditional Speciality Guaranteed Pizza Napoletana”). Article 4 of the document (which appears, translated into English, in section “3.8” of the EU Commission Regulation) states:

“The first appearance of the ‘Pizza Napoletana’ may be dated back to the period between 1715 and 1725. Vincenzo Corrado, a native of the town of Oria, and chief cook for Prince Emanuele di Francavilla, in a treatise on the foodstuffs most commonly used in Naples, stated that the tomato was used to season pizza and macaroni, thereby associating two products which have been the source of the fame of the city of Naples and the reason for its inclusion in the history of gastronomy. This quotation [i.e., ‘the tomato was used to season pizza’] marks the official birth of the ‘Pizza Napoletana’, a disc of dough seasoned with tomato.” (The italics are added for emphasis.)

Since February 5, 2010, the EU has officially recognized la pizza napoletana as a STG (TSG) product.

In his fascinating book Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy (published in 2010), David Gentilcore, a professor of modern early history, wrote about two Neapolitan physicians Achille Spatuzzi and Luigi Somma who researched on and wrote about the state of dietary health of the vast poor class of the Neapolitan society in mid-1800s. Gentilcore writes:

“. . . The Neapolitan doctors offer us invaluable evidence of two local uses of tomatoes. . . . They refer to the poor’s subsistence on something called pizza (and they italicized the word, for the particularly Neapolitan form they had in mind had not yet entered the Italian or any other language). They explained for the benefit of their readers that the pizza was seasoned on the top with an abundance of oil or pork fat, with cheese, oregano, garlic, parsley, mint leaves, with tomato especially in summer, and finally sometimes even with small fresh fish. Tomato was not a yet a basic element of pizza, but only one possibility among several. For those who could afford it, tomatoes appeared in another new guise: ‘They form the customary seasoning for macaroni, and not a day goes by when they don’t appear on the tables of the middle class. This is perhaps the earliest reference to pasta as a staple food, accompanied by a tomato sauce.” (The italic and bold letters are added for emphasis.)

The quoted passages from the doctors themselves are attributed to their work titled Saggi igienici e medici sull’alimentazione del popolo minuto di Napoli (“Food Hygiene and Medical Essays on the Common People of Naples”, published in 1863)

According to the Italian website “Taccuini Storici” (which offers a historical approach toward Italian cuisine):

“The pizza has ancient origins, some suggest even in the era of the Etruscans [about 500 BC]. Of course it was something that vaguely had the shape and appearance of the pizza today . . . The word [pizza] was voiced before the year one thousand, as in ‘pizza de pane’, and it was cited by 16th-century authors as a focaccia [a flat oven-baked Italian bread which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients] that accompanied meat and other comestibles, may be seasoned with mostacciuoli . . . Since about mid-18th century, pizza has been cooked in wood-fired ovens of the shops (which were often the dwellings of the shop owners) and sold in open-air stalls along the narrow streets and alleys of the city [Naples]. Balanced on his head, a boy would carry a ‘stufa’ [literally a ‘stove’; otherwise a cylindrical, copper, pizza box that maintained, up to a point, the temperature and moisture therein] to deliver warm pizzas to clients at their homes or to sell them in the streets while announcing himself with loud and sonorous calls.” (The italics are added for emphasis.)

Stufa boy (Naples, Italy, Mid-1900s)

Stufa boy delivering pizzas (Naples, Italy, Mid-1900s)

Stufa of Pizzeria da Michele (not L’antica Pizzeria da Michele)

Demonstrating how pizzas are placed inside stufa

Demonstrating how pizzas are placed inside stufa

According to section “3.8” of the EU Commission Regulation:

“There is no doubt that the first ‘pizzerie’ (pizzerias) appeared in Naples where, until the middle of the twentieth century, this product was exclusive to the city and its pizzerias. In the eighteenth century, the city already had several shops known as ‘pizzerias’. The King of Naples, Ferdinand of Bourbon [1751-1825], heard of their reputation and, in order to taste this dish in the typical Neapolitan tradition, breached court etiquette and visited one of the most renowned pizzerias. Since then the ‘pizzeria’ has become a fashionable location, a place devoted to the exclusive preparation of the ‘pizza’. The most popular and famous pizzas from Naples were the ‘Marinara’, created in 1734, and the ‘Margherita’, which dates from 1796-1810. The latter was presented to the Queen of Italy [i.e., Queen Margherita of Savoy] upon her visit to Naples in 1889, specifically on account of the colour of its seasoning (tomato, mozzarella and basil) which are reminiscent of the colours of the Italian flag.

Over time pizzerias appeared in every town in Italy and even abroad. However each of them, despite being located in a town other than Naples, has always linked its existence with the words “pizzeria napoletana”, or used a term which in some way evokes its link with Naples, where for more than 300 years this product has retained its authenticity.”

In regard to King Ferdinand of Bourbon (1751-1825), Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber reported in their enchanting cookbook In Late Winter We Ate Pears (published in 2009):

“A man named Antonio Testa [also known as ‘Ntuono’ or ‘Ntuono’] was baking in his small shop [said to be at ‘Salita S. Teresa’ near ‘Chiesa di Santa Teresa a Chiaia‘ or ‘Chiesa di Santa Teresa deli Scalzi‘] in Naples, plying the citizens with pizza and calzone, and causing a sensation, so much so that even the crowned head of Napoli could not resist the temptation. It is said with certainty that the Bourbon King Ferdinand I [1751-1825], defying all the rules of protocol, paid a visit to the bakery of Antonio Testa; he acquired a taste for the savory treat. But his wife the queen [Maria Carolina of Austria] detested the rustic simplicity of a single-plate meal. In the late-night hours . . . the king would disguise himself as a regular Neapolitan and dine at the city’s pizzeria and hope to never be caught by his wife.

It wasn’t until the next Bourbon monarch ruled that this round delicacy became acceptable in the aristocratic salons of Naples. Ferdinand II [1810-1859] commissioned another famous pizzaiolo, Don Domenico Testa, to offer his art in honor of the ladies of the court at the magnificent garden of the royal Capodimonte estate [known as Reggia di Capodimonte in Naples]. Brought to the king and queen by four horses in a royal carriage painted blue and gold, he served forth at the king and queen’s table, and this time the new queen [Maria Cristina of Savoy or Maria Theresa of Austria] gave no debate. Don Domenico’s pizza sent the king into such ecstasy that he bestowed the pizza maker with the title of Monzu, an honorable designation and a corruption of the French monsieur, which was reserved for only the French chefs de cuisine who worked in wealthy Neapolitan households. Ferdinand II is said to have been so enamored of such dishes from Campania, especially the pizza, that he had wood-fired ovens built into the palace so that he and his guests could delight in this fancy whenever he chose.”

I should point out that the book provides no citations for the historical information presented in the above-quoted passages. However, I have been informed that the history book titled La fine di un regno (“The End of a Kingdom”, published in 1895) by Italian historian Raffaele De Cesare (1845-1918) may partially or entirely support the historical information in the passages.

Per Virgil’s Golden Egg and Other Neapolitan Miraclesauthored by Michael Arthur Ledeen (published in 2011):

“. . . The pizza we know and love is distinctly modern. The ‘margherita’ was created in 1889, and named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I. By that time, pizza had acquired considerable fame—it made its first literary appearance in 1866—and had already been served at court. King Ferdinand II [1810-1859], perhaps the most beloved Neapolitan monarch, loved food to excess, and spent hours in the kitchen preparing lavish meals. In the mid-1830s he invited the city’s leading pizzaiolo, Domenico Testa, to the summer palace, Capodimonte (now a marvelous museum), where Testa prepared some twenty pizzas for the king and his guests.

This single dinner made Testa’s fame and fortune, because when Ferdinand asked him what he would like in payment for the meal, Testa said he wanted a title. Not a title of nobility, mind you, but he wanted to be able to call himself Monzù, a corruption of “Monsieur,” which was restricted to the personal chefs of Neapolitan aristocrats. The king readily agreed, and a few years later Testa opened a pizzeria in via Purgatorio, ‘Pizzeria di Monzù Testa.’ It was a huge success, led to other restaurants, and finally to immortality, when a famous popular actor wrote a smashingly successful comedy set in Testa’s pizzeria.

The Margherita, long since the most popular version, is patriotic pizza. It was created in 1889 by Raffaele Esposito, whose pizzeria was (and is) in via Sant’Anna di Palazzo. In a replay of Testa’s triumphal dinner half a century earlier, Esposito was invited to Capodimonte, where he prepared a pizza with the colors of the Italian national flag . . . for Queen Margherita.”

I should point out that the book provides no citations for the historical information contained in the above-quoted passages. However, I have been informed that the history book titled La fine di un regno (“The End of a Kingdom”, published in 1895) by the Italian historian Raffaele De Cesare (1845-1918) may partially or entirely support the historical information in the passages.

Palace of Capodimonte (now a museum) in Naples, Italy

In respect to the oven, the website for the oven brand “Forno Napoletano” states:

“The authentic Neapolitan oven, produced according to centuries-old tradition handed down from generation to generation, . . . is a key element for the production of Neapolitan pizza. The particular method of construction and special materials (such as the Neapolitan yellow tuff stones, Vesuvius volcanic sand, and oven hearth made out of biscotto di Sorrento) have been known since the birth of Neapolitan pizza in Naples in early 1700s. First the famous Ntuono, and later his son Domenico, were known for their knowledge of the secrets of crafting Neapolitan ovens in 1700s and 1800s, so that Domenico was called to the court in 1832 by King Ferdinand II to build a pizza oven in the garden of Palace of Capodimonte.”

Reportedly, until about 1830, pizza was sold out of street stalls and by street vendors. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, located in Naples, is a case in point. According to Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletano, the pizzeria initially produced pizzas for the street vendors in 1738, the year the pizzeria was established. About a century later, in 1830, it became a full-fledged pizzeria-osteria with tables and chairs. Thereafter, the pizzeria took on the name Port’Alba.

One possible explanation for the emergence of the early pizzerias might be found in the decline of the Feudal Age (roughly, 9th-17th century). When the European feudalism and manorialism gradually subsided, serfs were no longer under obligation (bondage) to their feudal lords. (In addition, the French Revolution of 1789–1799 and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars of 1803–1815 further dismantled the feudal and manorial institutions of Naples and reshaped its economy and life.) Consequently, the Neapolitan serfs needed a new mode of subsistence, which meant that in the ensuing age (i.e., the age of modernity), they needed jobs or professions in order to make wages and support themselves. Hence, it seems logical that people (such as, perhaps, the lazzaroni, as an outcast social class) were compelled to migrate to metropolitan centers of Naples and take on professions. If this is what indeed happened to the lazzaroni (who reportedly had a reputation for being excellent cooks), perhaps we can hypothesize that they brought with them a revolutionary way of preparing pizzas in 1700s! As I mentioned before, in part 5, “One should wonder to what extent the lazzaroni participated in the development of Neapolitan pizza [and even the Neapolitan oven and early pizzerias] as known today in Naples.” Perchance, poverty and necessity impelled them to consume tomatoes (which were reportedly deemed to be poisonously inedible) and use them to season their pizzas—maybe even prior to 1700’s—rather than using sugar and almonds which seem to be the customary pizza ingredients of the pre-modern era as implied by Scappi and Basile. Might it be the case that, under the new societal and economic circumstances of post-feudal Naples, the influx of the lazzaroni (who reportedly were an isolated social class) to the metropolitan centers of Naples ushered in the advent of a novel culinary tradition of preparing Neapolitan pizza—a practice that may had already existed amongst the lazzaroni? Having researched history of Neapolitan pizza, I tentatively feel that the art of Neapolitan pizza, on one hand, and the arts of flamenco and tango, on the other hand, were developed in parallel, meaning that I see, in principle, certain developmental similarities between the two. Flamenco and tango were originally the art forms of the impoverished outcasts of Spain and Argentina respectively; nonetheless, nowadays these art forms—akin to the art of Neapolitan pizza—are considered national treasures of their respective nations and are enjoyed by all social classes, both poor and rich.

Here’s an English-translated version of Vittorio De Sica’s film “L’oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”), which discloses a bit of the history of Neapolitan pizza. The movie, which was debuted in 1954, is a remarkable bouquet of six short stories as a homage to the people of Naples—la città delle contraddizioni (“the city of contradictions”), as the Neapolitans say! One of the stories features Sofia Loren as a lusty pizzaiola who allegedly loses her wedding ring while stretching a dough ball (for making fried pizza) as her husband mans the pan of hot oil and keeps records of the pizza credits/loans he extends to his patrons. As the saying goes (written on the sign behind the characters in the first two pictures below), “Mangiate oggi e pagate fra 8 giorni” (“Eat today and pay in eight days”). Pizza loan was a Neapolitan custom at the time. Obviously, pizza—besides having a humble origin—was a street food for the poor class of Neapolitans, who bought them on credit! As revealed in the movie, this is how early pizzerias were before the rise of the full-fledged pizzerias in Naples: modest houses consisting of tiny rooms that directly open to the streets. In such humble houses, the pizzaioli and their families both lived and made pizzas for sale. Today, Pizzeria Starita, established in 1901, still stands at the very site where Sofia Loren made the pizzas in the movie. According to the website “Luciano Pignataro” (a prominent Italian website dedicated to pizza and other Italian foodstuffs): “Antonio Starita [the current proprietor of the pizzeria] was 12 years old when the staff of the film ‘L’Oro di Napoli’, directed by Vittorio de Sica, spent a week in the pizzeria which was the location of the scene.”

Sofia Loren in “L’oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”)

Sofia Loren in “L’oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”)

Pizzeria Starita (Naples, Italy)

As I stated in my initial article in this blog, “The genesis of this phenomenon [of la pizza napoletana] can be arguably traced back to the ancient Romans.” The supposed pizza references of antiquity (such as found in the epic poem Aeneid, authored by the ancient Roman poet Virgil¹) may serve as zygotes of this phenomenon, which eventually developed into what we know as the traditional Neapolitan pizza of today.

“Beneath a shady tree, the hero spread
His table on the turf, with cakes of bread;
And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed.
They sate; and, (not without the god’s command,)
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.’”

Aeneid, Book VII, translated by John Dryden (The italics are added for emphasis.)

A bust of Publius Vergilius Maro (aka Virgil) in Naples, Italy

Considering the complex history of Naples, its origins, and its way of life, it is important to understand the distinction between the Italians and the Neapolitans. In an interview, when Barbara Walter referred to Sofia Loren as an “Italian”, Sofia remarked: “But I’m not Italian, I am Neapolitan! It’s another [thing]!” Likewise, it is essential to discern and comprehend that the traditional Neapolitan pizza of the modern/post-modern era differs significantly from other styles of pizza outside of Naples. The logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools), orchestration (the way of production), and gastronomy (physical and gustatory attributes of the end product) of the traditional Neapolitan pizza markedly distinguish it from the rest.

Footnote:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
¹ Publius Vergilius Maro (aka Virgil) plays a significant role in the history of Naples. He was schooled in Epicurean philosophy in Naples, per Catalepton, and buried there. According to Wikipedia:

“When Virgil died at Brindisi in 19 BCE, he asked that his ashes be taken back to his villa just outside of Naples. There a shrine was created for him, and sacred rites were held every year on his birthday. He was given the rites of a heros or hero, at whose tomb the devout may find protection and counsel (as from Orpheus’ oracular head). Virgil’s tomb became a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, and Petrarch and Boccaccio found their way to the shrine. It is said that the nearby Chiesa della Santa Maria di Piedigrotta was erected by the Church authorities to neutralise this pagan adoration and ‘Christianise’ the site. The tomb however, is a tourist attraction, and still sports a tripod burner originally dedicated to Apollo.

 It is said that Virgil’s Bones protected Naples for many years, and attackers usually suffered from plagues of flies. (It is interesting that one of the legends of Virgil has him constructing a Magic Fly to control the Neapolitan flies. Like the hero Heracles, he appealed to Zeus Muiagros, or Fly Catcher. Gervase of Tilbury knew of two churches that used Virgil’s spell to control flies.) Eventually, in 1194 Emperor Henry VI, who was well-schooled in classical lore, was able to conquer Naples, for it had been discovered that there was a minute crack in the ampule. Thus the Hermetic seal was broken, and Naples fell by force of arms for the first time in a thousand years.

 It is said that a certain English scholar Ludowicus, acting secretly for the Norman king Roger II (c.1136 CE), who was trying to conquer Naples, came looking for Virgil’s bones and his book of magic. Using secret arts Ludowicus found them. The people of Naples prevented him from taking the bones because they protected the city, but he was allowed to take the book, the Ars Notaria. John of Naples showed parts of this book to Gervase of Tilbury around the year 1200. The bones were placed in an ampule (ampulla) in the Castel dell’Ovo, where they guarded the city. (Many cities were similarly protected by heroes; for example Aristotle’s bones guarded Palermo, and other cities were protected by Orpheus, Hesiod, Alcmene, Plato and others.) Other sources say that it was Robert of Anjou who placed Virgil’s bones there.”

The poem inscribed at Virgil’s tomb, ascribed to the poet himself, reads, “Mantua bore me, the Calabrians snatched me away, now Naples holds me. . . .” It has been said that without the literary works of Virgil—and those of immortal Dante’s—the Italian literature would receive an indefensible blow! There are those who view Naples as “the armpit of the world”!—they know not, alas, of its rich history and cultural importance. Fortunately, there are still those who make offerings of Pizza at Virgil’s tomb!

The Piedigrotta entrance to the tunnel reputed to be Virgil’s tomb in Naples, Italy

Next article: Part 8: The Mask of Naples

Previous article: Part 6: Fragments of History of Neapolitan Pizza

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