Mamma Mia! It was the Greeks — not the Italians — who first used bread as a pizza-style plate. They baked large, round, flat breads which they topped with various items such as olive oils, spices and potatoes.
Baker Raffaele Esposito of Naples is often credited as the inventor of ‘modern’ pizza. In 1889 he baked pizzas to celebrate a visit by King Umberto I, and his Queen, Margherita. One of the dishes was topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil — the colours of the Italian flag. He called the pizza Margherita, in honour of his royal guest.
Pizza migrated to America with Italian workers in the second half of the 19th century. The first real pizzeria opened in 1905 in New York City, but the real demand for pizza was sparked by GIs returning from Italy after World War II.
The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana or ‘The Association of True Neapolitan Pizza’ maintains strict guidelines its members must follow. The pizza dough must be made only with flour, natural yeast or brewer's yeast, salt and water and it must be kneaded by hand or using mixers which don’t cause the dough to overheat - high temperatures can make the dough rise too quickly and affect the taste and texture. The oven also has to be the traditional bell shape with a floor made of volcanic stone.
Many a home-delivery pizza has been spoiled by the soggy bottom syndrome. The combination of toppings with a high water content, and bases that are undercooked and much thicker than the traditional Italian versions, make crispness hard to maintain. Add steam from the hot pizza getting trapped in the cardboard delivery box, and you have a recipe for disaster. One company has tried a carton with legs, to allow more air to circulate. A higher-tech solution is a breathable bag to stop the pizza getting sweaty, combined with a heated disk to keep the pizza hot.
When storing your hard cheese in the fridge, it’s worth wrapping it up to help keep flavour. More cheese is spoiled by drying out in cold, airless fridges than by mould. Use waxed paper, or wrap it in foil that you’ve pierced in several places, to allow the cheese to breathe a little.