Pizza Napoletanismo

June 19, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 11: Art and Passion)

The Ingredient of “passion”

§1. Passion:
In Part 1, I stipulated that making traditional Neapolitan pizza as a culinary achievement and art requires “passion”. Further, I set forth, in part 10, that artistic creation fundamentally requires artists harmonizing their “passions” with “reason”—mastering their impulses, and that “mastering their passions [is] pertinent to a suffering that breeds strength and depth of soul”.

What is “passion”? And, what is its significance, not just meaning? What does it import? We often hear pizzaiuoli metaphorically referring to passion as a vital “ingredient” in making pizzas. The concept, in the hands of laymen, psychologists, and philosophers, has received diverse treatments throughout the history of Western civilization. And, to make it even more complicated, many of these treatments have been diametrically opposed to one another. Let us briefly explore this nebulous and paradoxical ingredient, passion.

§2. Suffering:
Perhaps, the etymology of the word can provide us with a clue. The English noun “passion” (which is related to the adjective “passive”) is a derivative of the ancient Greek word πάσχειν (páschein), meaning “to suffer”. (Hence, the phrase “passion of Christ” before and during the crucifixion!) What have we suffered in the pursuit of mastering the art of the Neapolitan Pizza! Although I am not a Christian, I believe the image of Jesus of Nazareth can aid us in gaining some insight into this often misunderstood concept. A great many sages throughout history have advised us that, there is a wisdom to be learned in suffering, in taming the dragons of our desires.

§3. The Irrational:
In classical philosophy, passion is often associated with the “irrational”, with lack of discipline and self-direction, with the tendency toward uncontrolled behavior. For instance, according to classical Greek philosopher Plato, one has no freedom of the will when one is a slave to passion. Being mastered by passion, unchecked by reason, makes one less than human, per Plato. Parallel, but not identical, to Plato’s rationalization on this matter, various institutionalized religions have viewed human passions as reprehensible, something to be extirpated.

§4. Animal Drives & Creation:
Yet, for German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, passion has a primary role in human development! For him, “higher humanity” involves “higher spirituality”, which in turn involves sublimating—not annihilating—our basic drives, bringing them under control, and expressing them in more refined and creative ways. Our basic drives are often brutal and destructive in their original forms, but Nietzsche insists that they are the basis of all higher spirituality, culture, and art. Nietzsche wrote:

“Once you suffered passions and called them evil. But now you have only your virtues left: they grew out of your passions. . . . Once you had wild dogs in your cellar, but in the end they turned into birds and lovely singers. Out of your poisons you brewed your balsam. . . . And nothing evil grows out of you henceforth, unless it be the evil that grows out of the fight among your virtues.” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)

“Creation—that is the great redemption from suffering, and life’s growing light. . . . Willing no more and esteeming no more and creating no more—oh, that this great weariness might always remain far from me!” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)

“The greater and more terrible the passions are that an age, a people, and individual can permit themselves as means, the higher stands their culture.” (Will to Power)

“The discipline of suffering, of great suffering—do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far? That tension of the soul in unhappiness which cultivates its strength. . . , and whatever has been [attained] of profundity, secret, mask, spirit, cunning, greatness—was it not [gained] through suffering, thorough the discipline of great suffering? In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but in man there is also creator, form-giver, hammer hardness, spectator divinity, and seventh day: do you understand this contrast?” (Beyond Good and Evil)

Nietzsche even went so far as hypothesizing that, “It does not seem possible to be an artist and not to be sick.” John Keats was consumptive, Lord Byron had a clubfoot, Homer was blind, Beethoven was deaf, and etc. Health as the ability or capacity to overcome disease! The creation of beauty is envisaged as the response of a fundamentally healthy organism to the challenge of disease.

§5. Humanity:
Late 1980s, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose works have been a source of inspiration for many artists of our time. The following is an extract from the interview:

Campbell: “. . . Well, the key word for me is compassion.”

Moyers: “Which means?”

Campbell: “Suffering with. ‘Passion’ is ‘suffering’. . . .”

Moyers: “Don’t many of the heroes in mythology die to the world? They suffer, they’re crucified.”

Campbell: “It happens when you awaken at the level of the heart to compassion, com-passion, shared suffering: experienced participation in the suffering of another person. That’s the beginning of humanity.”

Moyers: “You say that’s the beginning of humanity. . . . That the moment when gods are born. . . .”

Campbell: “And do you know who that god is? It’s you. All of these symbols in mythology refer to you. You can get stuck out there, and think it’s all out there. So you’re thinking about Jesus with all the sentiments relevant to how he suffered—out there. But that suffering is what ought to be going on in you. Have you been spiritually reborn? Have you died to your animal nature and come to life as a human incarnation of compassion?”

(The Power of Myth)

§6. Strength:
What is the alchemy of a great soul? In other words, how can one turn one’s passions (lust, greed, selfishness, and all the so-called sinful impulses) into gold? Passion, viewed from one perspective, is expressive of profound suffering that needs to discharge (or recreate) itself in order to find relief! A great artist knows how to turn her suffering into strength, not pity. Michelangelo’s “Pietà”, as shown hereunder, is a direct result of such alchemical transformation. As eloquently expressed by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “Existence, if one becomes conscious of it, involves passion.”

“Pietà” (by Michelangelo)

Next Article: Part 12: Imagery, Imagination, and The Art of Ciro Salvo

Previous article: Part 10: A Philosophy of Art

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June 16, 2012

A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo (Part 10: A Philosophy of Art)

Craft, Art, & Philosophy!
Neapolitan Oven at Pizzeria Kesté, New York (Photo: Hannah Whitaker, New York Magazine)

So far, we have succinctly and phenomenologically explored the “ontogenic”, “ontological”, “culinary”, and “artistic” manifestations of traditional Neapolitan pizza. let us have a brief review, with emphasis on the culinary and artistic dimensions. As I previously stated in Part 1:

“From a phenomenological standpoint, the Neapolitan pizza manifests itself as a (1) historical and cultural ontogeny, (2) culinary tradition, (3) artand (4) ontology or a way of being:

1) As an ‘ontogeny’, it involves the historical and cultural circumstances that have shaped this phenomenon into its present form, which has evolved throughout its saga.

2) As a ‘culinary tradition’ (which is an oral tradition), it involves specific methodologies, techniques, rituals, ingredients, and tools in preparing and baking pizzas in accordance with the gastronomical sensibility of the Neapolitan people.

3) As an ‘art’, it involves a creative process, which entails, in a cyclical fashion, (1) experimenting with the spatiotemporal mediums of this art (2) examining their objectifications or end results, and (3) evaluating the creative process used in this endeavor. Also, above all, it imperatively involves self-reflection and self-direction in order to recreate oneself (to build ‘character’), besides creating the edible artwork! The interplay and interdependence between the creator and that which she or he creates is of vital importance in this art. In short, it is a process of creative and reflective thinking, and evaluation of the thinking, that finds practical and aesthetic expressions in this art.

4) As an ‘ontology’ or ‘way of being’, the Neapolitan pizza, in a very subtle manner, serves as a symbol or metaphor which profoundly expresses a sentiment that is not even immediately or consciously fathomed by average Neapolitans, yet they participate in it whether they know it or not! . . . Indeed, when we engage in the ritual of making Neapolitan pizza, we are engaged in something more than a culinary tradition that needs to be approached with reverence and care! . . . [The pizza is symbolic of the cultural and historical identity of people of Naples.] La maschera di napoli (‘The mask of Naples’)—i.e., ‘Pulcinella’—is also another integral aspect of the Neapolitan culture and identity. . . .”

Further, in respect to the culinary aspect of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I asserted, in Part 7, that it entails specific:

1) “Logistics (employment of specific ingredients and tools)”,
2) “Orchestration (the way of production)”, and
3) “Gastronomy (physical and gustatory/organoleptic attributes of the end product)”

In this regard, I also maintained in Part 1:

“A Neapolitan pizzeria can possess all the right ingredients and culinary tools, yet if the dough they produce is not properly prepared and diligently cared for—the pizzas produced by the pizzeria will be gastronomically unmerited (by the conservative estimation) of the title “Neapolitan pizza”, does not matter how mouthwatering, flavorful, scrumptious, and good-looking they are, and does not matter how people rave about them! Conversely, it does not matter how negatively people may feel about them! What seems to matter, per the conservatives, are the types of ingredients, tools (specifically the mixer and oven), methodology, techniques, the way they are executed in making pizzas, and the traditional gastronomical qualities of the end products in terms of texture, flavor, representation, size, and the quantitative balance between the toppings and the pizza base.”

Moreover, I stipulated in Part 1:

“In the context of dough production, the terms ‘methodology’ and ‘technique’ are defined as follows:

●Methodology: The systematic organization of knowledge of the principles and processes which cause and regulate dough formation, fermentation, and maturation.

●Technique: The term (derived from the ancient Greek word tekhnē, meaning ‘skill’ or ‘art’) denotes a systematic procedure by which dough formation, fermentation, and maturation are accomplished by deliberation, skill, and command—not chance—in handling the fundamentals of dough production. Hence, this requires practical knowledge and special skills arising from extensive experience. It is the accumulation and organization of such knowledge and skills over a long period of time by the Neapolitan pizzaiuoli that eventually crystalized into an art as part of the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan pizza.”

With respect to the artistic facet of the traditional Neapolitan pizza, I posited in Part 1:

“Making Neapolitan pizza is an ‘art’, perhaps in the fullest sense of the term: creatively sculpting from raw materials a symbolic artifact (arte factum, ‘something made with skill’) that aesthetically feeds the eyes and the soul, besides feeding the stomach. This process is akin to a sculptor transforming a pure piece of marble into a beatific work of art that seduces her or him to life! (Yes, art has the power to ‘seduce one to life’.) A pizzaiolo’s marble is the dough, and her or his hands are the chisels! By imposing form upon the formless mass of dough, a pizzaiolo creates a work of art that, unlike a sculpture or painting, can be intimately felt through the senses of smell, taste, and oral tactility.

. . . My philosophy is that recipes do not create pizzas, that what are more fundamental in making Neapolitan pizzas are the underlying principles and, above all, the character of the pizza-artisan. Consider Michelangelo’s statue ‘David’, which is a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Was it a recipe (a set of instructions) that essentially breathed life into the block of marble out of which ‘David’ was born, or was it Michelangelo’s artistic ‘character’ and following a set of ‘principles’—in accordance with the sensitivity, temperament, temperance, style, and virtues of his cultivated character—that begot this magnificent work of art? It is said that when Michelangelo carved ‘David’, he simply chiseled away whatever that was not human in the block of marble, and at last the creator set “David” free from the mass of marble! In his own words, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Our task is to do the same with our marble—which is both our ‘characters’ and the ‘dough’!

Whatever pizza recipe a pizzaiolo devises and the way he executes the recipe in crafting pizzas will directly correlate with his character and the principles he apprehends and follows. In essence, it is one’s cultivated artistic character and the way one employs the principles of dough production that should dictate and animate a dough recipe.

Often I envisage that the quality and worth of a pizza is principally contingent upon the ethos or character of the pizzaiolo who gave birth to the pizza. Perhaps what is more decisive in preparing pizza is character (derived from the Greek word kharaktēr, meaning literally ‘a stamping tool’) rather than technical skills of a pizzaiolo. Besides, the right attitude fosters the right aptitude. According to Friedrich Nietzsche,

‘Giving style to one’s character—a great and rare art! It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own nature and then comprehend them in an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason . . . under a law of their own.’ (Gay Science, book 4: 290)

The pizza you make reflects your character!

As an art, learning how to create Neapolitan pizza fundamentally appears to be an inside-out process, involving psychological transformation, meaning that one needs to overcome internal (psychological) obstacles in order to overcome external (physical) obstacles in this artistic pursuit. One learns to create an artwork by recreating oneself, bringing one’s own impulses under control and sublimating them into new channels of activity. This carries the implication that, again, recipes and techniques do not make pizzas; they are merely instrumental in the act of creating. Something deeper or primordial seems to be at work here. Handcrafting pizza napoletana, as an artistic expression, involves self-actualization and self-expression, not devoid of devotion for the rich Neapolitan tradition—which is, figuratively speaking, the shoulders of a giant upon which a devotee stands!

As evident above, the culinary aspect of the Neapolitan pizza is more than a mere craft; it is an art. Just as other fine arts, the artifacts created by the art of traditional Neapolitan pizza are of symbolic and aesthetic values. And, unlike the fine arts, such artifacts are also of utilitarian (i.e., nourishment) value. These artworks are intended for both beauty and utility, besides their symbolism (i.e., the historical and cultural identity of the Neapolitan people).

What transpires here is that, one way to fundamentally commit oneself to becoming a pizzaiolo is, at an initial stage, to ideologically equip oneself: to understand the underlying principles, ideology, phenomenon, Napoletanità. This is not “idealism v. materialism”, but materialism sublimated or refined ideologically—it is a sublime symphony! It is important and decisive to foster a right frame of mind from the outset when one aspires to excel oneself in this culinary tradition as an artistic pursuit.

As implied above, the artistic pursuit of the culinary tradition of Neapolitan pizza involves a philosophy of art. In this regard, I would like to relate an illuminating, yet baffling, pizza dream I had on Jan. 13, 2012! In doing so, I need to somewhat rephrase the account in order to make it intelligible without falsifying it. In the dream, I encountered four philosophers: Patrick Pidgeon (a philosophy professor under whom I studied for a number of years), Martin Heidegger (known for his ontological studies on “being” and “time”), Friedrich Nietzsche (who wrote extensively on the theme of “art” and the psychological “transformations” associated with it), and Søren Kierkegaard (for whom lack of “passion” in the modern age was a central theme in his writings). As I was in a dark room sitting before the philosophers, the first one began to speak:

The Philosophers (from left to right): Patrick Pidgeon, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, & Søren Kierkegaard

1. Patrick Pidgeon:
“Since the role of language is tremendous, you need better formulation of the concepts ‘point of pasta’, ‘fermentation’, ‘levitation’, ‘maturation’, and ‘time’. They need to be precisely articulated without losing the ground on which they stand. Without them, you are not making pizzas, but accidents. Keep asking yourself what are the questions or problems to which these concepts are the answers. Formulate your questions carefully, as wrong questions will beg for wrong answers!”

2. Next, Heidegger took the floor:
“‘time’ is not merely a quantity of something, but a quality that is begot through its passage. A burden of the Western societies has been their misconception of time . . . always finding something to count . . . the number of wrinkles on one’s face, the number of calories one consumes, one’s weight, the number of hours to ferment dough, the maximum number of pizzas prepared in minimum amount of time . . . never thinking that time is expressive of ‘significations’, of ‘potentials’, of ‘possibilities’ [posse (“to exist”) + habilitās (“being capable”) = “capable of existing”] of being-in-the-world. [Heidegger often viewed “being” as a modality, as opposed to a corporeal entity or thing.]

3. Next, Nietzsche made himself heard by reading a well-known passage, which I quote verbatim below, from one of his books:
“What? Do we really want to permit existence to be degraded for us like this—reduced to a mere exercise for a calculator and an indoor diversion for mathematicians? Above all, one should not wish to divest existence of its rich ambiguity. . . . That the only justifiable interpretation of the world should be one in which you are justified because one can continue to work and do research scientifically in your sense (you really mean, mechanistically?)—an interpretation that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, and touching, and nothing more—that is a crudity and naïveté. . . . A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world, as you understand it, might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. . . . An essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. [Suppose] that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a ‘scientific’ estimation of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is ‘music’ in it!” (Gay Science, book 5: 373)

Nietzsche continued, “Creation of a work of art, such as the Neapolitan pizza, fundamentally involves re-creating your self and co-evolving with that which you create. That which you create re-creates you as much as you create it! After all, what is the meaning of art? What is it good for? To what purpose? What is the problem to which art offers to be a solution? What is the human impulse which turns against itself, against life, without art?

Consider artists such as Michelangelo, Mozart, Goethe, even Einstein who was a scientist, and ask yourself what all these great souls had in common in their acts of creating? They were able to overcome—not depreciate—their impulses. They were able to harmonize their passions and reason; they were able to organize the disarray of their impulses, giving style to their own characters; they were masters of their impulses; they were able to overcome—not kill—their animal nature; they were able to sacrifice [make sacred], spiritualize, and sublimate their own impulses to new heights where they could see the world from new perspectives. They knew that mastering their passions was pertinent to a suffering that breeds strength and depth of soul. They were able to be tolerant not out of weakness, but out of self-cultivated strength. They gave to others not out of pity or impoverished needs, but out of the richness of their characters. Where they found their well-being, others often find their own ruination! They suffered from the overfullness, not impoverishment, of their lives so much that they had to redeem themselves by recreating themselves and the world in which they found themselves. They were creators. A recipe does not make pizza; human character does!”

4. At last, Kierkegaard voiced himself:
“Any artistic creation, such as making a Neapolitan pizza, is at roots a matter of ‘ethics’ [i.e., being able] and ‘morals’ [i.e., ‘how’ and ‘what’ you do with your ‘ability’]. Your ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ determine what you can create.”

Next, Kierkegaard pulled out one of his works, from which he read aloud (and I am quoting it, below, right from the book): “Our age is essentially one of understanding and reflection, without passion. . . . In fact, one is tempted to ask whether there is a single man left ready, for once, to commit an outrageous folly. Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation.” (The Present Age)

Next article: Part 11: Art and Passion

Previous article: Part 9: Being and Time

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

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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