ITALY TOUR: NAPLES IN A DAY
Can you visit Naples on an Italy Tour in a single day? Yes, but you are required by law to eat pizza while there.
I went to Naples by mistake (see my funny story here), but while there, I had some pizza; it was invented there.
Very popular there is the Pizza Margherita, named after Queen Margherita of Savoy (France) during her visit to Naples. According to a popular tradition, Margherita, wife of King Umberto I, came to Naples in 1889, some twenty-eight years after the unification of Italy, and met Chef Raffaele Esposito and his wife. They created it at the restaurant Pizzeria Brandi, which is still there. They named the pizza dish in honor of Queen Margherita.
It’s made with white cheese, red marinara sauce, and green basil, like the three colors of the Italian flag.
This dish, made with naturally leavened dough, is stretched and spun into a disk, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and baked in a wood-burning, dome-shaped oven.
History of Pizza
Pizza goes back to the time of the Etruscans, who settled in northern Italy and later down to Campania in the 8th century B.C. Think of them as the Iron Age precursors to the Romans, with whom they later fought in the 4th century B.C.
Skipping forward a few millennia, on December 6, 2017, the culinary art of Neapolitan “Pizzaiuolo” was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Google Doodle commemorated it.
The world pizza market is $120 billion; almost a third is from 76,000 US pizzerias.
For an authentic Pizza Margherita, look for:
Pizza Margherita: San Marzano Tomatoes
Authentic San Marzano Tomatoes are grown in Agro Sarnese Nocerino found between Naples and Salerno. They have a protected DOP designation. DOP is the Italian abbreviation for Protected Designation of Origin, similar to the protected status of foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar.
There are many variations of this plum tomato, as the seeds have been shipped worldwide. But the authentic ones were famed for their balanced flavor, combining sweetness, tomatoey intensity, and just the right amount of acid.
Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Pomo means “apple” and d’Oro means “of gold.” The word’s etymology is complicated to trace, but the 6th-century invading Lombards brought to Italy the word pizzo, meaning “mouthful.”
Pizza Margherita: Buffalo Mozzarella
The term mozzarella derives from the procedure called mozzare, which means “cutting by hand,” separating the curd into small balls.
Mozzarella di bufala is made from the milk of water buffalos. Some believe these buffalo were brought to this region by Goths during early medieval migrations. The actor Stanley Tucci claims that they came from Africa in 1000 A.D. Likely, they were first brought from northern Africa to Sicily and then to Naples.
The real deal is “mozzarella di bufala campana,” ask for it by name.
Pizza Margherita: Basil
The green component of pizza is of a variety known as sweet basil or Genovese basil. It’s native to central Africa and southeast Asia (especially in Thailand).
The name comes from the Greek basilikon phuton meaning “royal or kingly plant.” The French call it l’herbe royale (the royal herb). On pizza, it is added as leaves.
But one of my favorite Italian dishes is called Spaghetti al Pesto. It uses the magic ingredients of garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts (pignoli), and finally, Basil which has been “crushed” with a mortar and pestle, hence the name.
Pizza: Extra Virgin Olive Oil
You may ask, isn’t extra redundant to virgin? Regular olive oil involves both cold-pressed and processed oils. But extra virgin is the highest quality and refers to the oil that comes from grinding olives into a paste, then cold-pressing them to extract the oil.
Naples in Myth and History
It is the Latinization of the Greek word Neapolis, meaning “new city,” and was a Greek colony in the first millennium B.C., making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited urban areas in the world. It was initially settled in the 8th-century B.C. with the name Parthenope (“maiden voiced,” one of the Sirens of the Odyssey, resisted by Odysseus) on the Pizzofalcone Hill.
The Greek myth recounts that Parthenope tried vainly to bewitch Odysseus (Ulysses) with her singing. When his ship, the Argo, met the sheet of water placed halfway between Positano and the Bay of Ieranto, she tried to bewitch Odysseus. However, he succeeded in resisting, and Parthenope, desperate because of this refusal, chose to throw herself in the sea. As she died, her crying filled the bay with tears. George Frederick Handel memorialized the name Parthenope in an opera by the same name.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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