Celebrity cousins Sal Basille and Francis Garcia are linked by blood, body-type and a mutual love of the crust. In Food Network's latest culinary treat - Pizza Masters - the boys set off across the USA to sample various versions of the perfect slice.
Sal and Francis are from the New York style of pizza making, and Americans are so obsessed with the dish that a good dozen states boast their own signature style. They opt to cook their pies at slow temperatures in less brutal (and hence, less impressive) ovens, so that the topping fuses to the bread and allows the eater to fold it in half prior to taking a bite
As the Italian-American chefs would attest, locating pizza to one origin point is impossible, and the further we travel back through time, the looser our definition of the meal becomes.
NOTE: Due to the multiple claims and conflicting accounts of history, we can only offer a high degree of uncertainty.
The flatbread era
The initial section of pizza’s timeline is also its least cooked. The Mediterranean island of Sicily was an early home of pizza - archaeologists found 3000-year-old flatbread and tools used to make it there - as was the city of Pompeii, buried under lava.
But if flatbread equals pizza, then Ancient Greece’s plakous and the Balkans’ lepinja are also pizza. In fact, topping bread with tastier ingredients has been a thing since the neolithic age.
Random writers maybe mention pizza
Most evidence of Pizza from last few hundred years suffixed with BC comes from mentions of a dish in the general gladiatorial arena of pizza.
Cato the Elder, in the first history of Rome, wrote of “flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked on stones” and a century or so later some poet named Virgil described “cakes of flour” and an observer noting “we devour the plates on which we fed”. Even then, leaving a slice was beyond the means of most people.
Still no cheese. Still no tomato.
Still no pizza.
Panis Focacius Maximus
If focaccia were pizza, then once again, we’d be celebrating the Roman Empire as its origin point. Unfortunately, the last time we checked, the only thing one has to do with the other is the fact that they’re both from the bread family.
And not even from the same immediate family. If anything they’d be cousins. Like Sal and Francis, but… way older.
The word "focaccia" was given to any “flatbread cooked in the ashes” on a concentrated heat source rather fittingly called "the focus".
Again, ‘"panis focacius" was the Latin term for "flatbread".
Roughly 1500 years later... Il Rinascimento di Pomodoro (The Tomato Renaissance)
Those with an aversion to the spread of American culture should skip to the next stage, as if it wasn’t for Christopher Columbus and his crazy adventurers, pizza may never have met tomato - and the creation of the modern dish.
Columbus introduced the neglected fruit to Europe, where it was considered an inedible growth, and even by some as poisonous.
Italians of means wouldn’t be caught dead grasping a tomato, let alone tucking into a lowly pizza, and it wasn’t until the poverty-stricken people of Naples thought to combine the two that history was made.
Pizza becomes cool
By 1889, not long after Queen Margherita of Savoy hit the throne, pizza was the toast of the Mediterranean.
Pizza became so cool that the legend of the first Margherita pizza spoke of baker Raffaele Esposito baking three separate pizzas, one of which had ingredients resembling the Italian flag, as a welcome meal for the visiting Queen. And that was the one she loved - so with tomato, basil and mozzarella, the Margherita was borne.Or not, as questions have been raised over this account. Regardless, though - pizza!
Some guy creates traditional Italian pizza rules in the 1980s
If we’ve learnt anything so far is that the concept of pizza is open to interpretation, which perhaps speaks to its strangely universal appeal. Heck, some claim that up until the early twentieth century, pizzas were sweet, not savoury.
The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana or True Neapolitan Pizza Association, obviously understood this confusion, and saw 1989 as the perfect time to cast traditional Neapolitan pizza recipes in stone.
This code of cooking required a hand-kneaded base; a domed, wood-fired oven; and strict adherence to size (maximum diameter of 35cm and a thickness of 0.4cm in the middle).
In other words, if your Margherita wasn’t thoroughly thumbed by its baker, you’re not eating an authentic Italian pizza.
Season 2 of Pizza Masters airs Thursdays at 8pm (AEST) on Food Network.
Missed the last episode? Watch it right here: