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.
These are the translated words of Virgil (70-19 b.C) in the “The Aeneid”, describing the legendary origin of the Roman nation and their cakes or circles of bread, probably the first written record of this amazing culinary creation, the pizza.
After “It’s not a pizza! Or is it?“, I just can’t go on for too long without writing about the real pizza. At least if you define pizza as a “shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings such as sausage or olive (take a look at “Pizza, History and Legends“).
Although of uncertain origin, the standards of what became known today as pizzas were probably set in 1889 by Raffaele Esposito in Naples. In that year he prepared tree kinds of pizzas: one with pork fat, cheese and basil; one with garlic, olive oil and tomatoes; and another with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (in the colors of the Italian flag – yellow, green and red) which were offered to the Queen Margherita di Savoia. The Queen really enjoyed them, particularly the third type, which than became known as “Pizza Margherita” and is today considered the most basic and traditional type of pizza.
Travelling around Italy you will certainly find thousands of pizzerias, offering pizzas that range from heaven to complete hell. In my last trip to Italy, the third one I had the pleasure of making, my son Thiago, who just loves pizza, decided to try them in almost every meal. We travelled around Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Marche, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, thus, from the center to northern regions. I’d like to highlight two of them:
1. “Tonno e cipolla” (Tuna and onions) from the restaurant “Il Vecchio Dado” in Pisa/Tuscany – The city of Pisa has for quite a long time been known for one single thing, its Leaning Tower, which in fact became a symbol of Italy itself. Although an impressive building, the Leaning Tower is just one component of the beautiful “Campo dei Miracoli” (Field of Miracles) which also includes an amazing church, a baptistery and a cemetery.
Pisa flourished mainly around the XIth to the XIIIth century, declining after it was defeated by the Genoese in 1284. It was also governed by the Medice, from Florence, who re-established the famous University of Pisa were Galileo Galilei served as a teacher.
When looking for a meal please, run away from the restaurants around the “Campo dei Miracoli”. They are expensive and usually of low quality – real tourist traps. Take your time and walk towards south, in the direction of the Arno river. It should not take more than 5-10 min (a little more if you stop for pictures and to admire the nice architecture along the way). Then just walk along the river and look for “Il Vecchio Dado”, at Lungarno Antonio Paccinoti, 22 (if you came through Via Santa Maria, which starts at the “Campo”, just turn left and walk a couple of blocks).
“Il Vecchio Dado” is a 200 years old establishment serving good quality pizzas right on the waterfront. It also has a good selection of fish and seafood dishes.
2. “Tartufo Nero” (Black truffles) from the restaurant “I Monaci” in Assisi/Umbria – Assisi is well known as the birthplace of St. Francis, the first Italian saint and the founder of the Franciscan Order. It’s a beautiful medieval town, filled with tourists and pilgrims during most of the year, but worth of visiting for at least a couple of days.
We had an amazing pizza at “Il Monaci”, whose entrance is in a stepped alley (Scaletti del Metastasio) off the north side of Via Fontebella, a few steps down from Piazzetta in downtown Assisi. I had never had truffles before, but will not comment on that now, as it believe it deserves a special blog entry.
These two pizzas had a few things in common: (a) first quality ingredients, specially the tomatoes, the mozzarella cheese and the olive oil; (b) they were baked in wooden ovens, acquiring a natural and unique smokiness; (c) a crunchy and delicate crust and (d) abundant toppings.
Have you had a similar experience? Wanna share your favorite pizzas with us? Get in touch.