Pizza Cultura: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Dish
Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario/Mansfield Press, 2017
How did a simple street food eaten by Napoli’s poor become beloved around the world as one of our favourite treats?
Food writer Mark Cirillo traces the history of the pizza pie back to Roman times where various areas of Italy had their own version of a flatbread that was baked and sold as a quick snack. It took the discovery of the new world and the importing of tomatoes to Italy (and then the perfection of the San Marzano variety) to start to create what we now know as pizza. The creation of the bread, tomato, and cheese concoction, baked quickly at a very high heat, can be traced to Naples in the mid-1800s. From there it spread across Italy, with regional variations based on dough, tomatoes, and cheese. For instance, even though the ingredients are essentially the same, pizza from Naples is different from pizza made in Rome.
It took until World War 2 and US forces stationed in Italy to truly spread the love of pizza to North America, but once those soldier returned home, their love of pizza grew, with more regional variations and styles popping up in North America.
Cirillo traces all of this, with an emphasis on Ontario and Toronto-area pizzerias, and charts the current trend away from a preference for a more fast-food style, manufactured product to authentic pizzas in the style of Naples or Rome, right down to the inclusion of custom-made ovens by a bespoke artisan from Italy.
This book is fascinating in the way that it delves into the specifics of the products; Cirillo looks at the various pizza-like flatbreads from across Italy, but also explores the different methods and ingredients that so minutely affect the final product such as type of flour and even the day-to-day minutia of how the weather might change the texture of that day’s dough.
He interviews the owners of Canadian pizza chain Pizza Nova; the man considered to be Italy’s best pizza maker; and the artisan who builds the stoves that are so important to a perfect final product.
There’s a section of equipment and what it’s used for, and a really interesting chapter on the various kinds of pizzas based on topping that will cause readers to laugh out loud, likely in confusion — while pizza Napoletana and Pizza Romana are typically used to describe the style of crust (and style of pizza overall), there is a specific set of toppings (tomato, anchovy and oregano) that is called “Napoletana” in most of Italy, except in Naples where it is called “Romana”. No wonder Canadians just order Hawaiian and have done with it.
Pizza Cultura will most definitely make every reader crave pizza, whether it’s their favourite American-style fast food version or a gourmet pizza cooked in a 900°F oven for 90 seconds. This is a must-read for pizza lovers everywhere.