Jun 232018
 

Today is the birthday (1668) of Giambattista Vico (Giovan Battista – i.e. John the Baptist, because today is the eve of the feast of John the Baptist — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/eve-st-john/ ). Vico is not exactly a name that springs to mind in the popular consciousness when conjuring up names of people who have changed the world, but he was a profoundly influential political philosopher and rhetorician, historian and jurist. He criticized the expansion and development of modern rationalism in the Age of Enlightenment, was an apologist for Classical Antiquity, a precursor of systematic and complex thought (in opposition to Cartesian analysis and other types of reductionism), and was the first major exponent of the fundamentals of modern social science and of semiotics. My professor for the study of the history of anthropology placed Vico in a pivotal position in the founding of anthropology as a rigorous social science. The Latin aphorism Verum esse ipsum factum (“What is true is, itself, made”), coined by Vico, is an early instance of constructivist epistemology (I’ll explain later). He inaugurated the modern field of the philosophy of history. Vico’s intellectual magnum opus is the book Scienza Nuova (1725) which attempts a systematic organization of the humanities as a single science, and also attempts to record and explain the historical cycles by which societies rise and fall.

Vico was the son of a bookseller in Naples. He attended several schools, but ill health and dissatisfaction with the scholasticism of the Jesuits led to his being educated at home by tutors. Evidence from his autobiographical work indicates that Vico was probably largely self-taught under his father’s guidance. His formal education was at the University of Naples where he received a Doctor of Civil and Canon Law in 1694 (aged 26). In 1686, after surviving a bout of typhus, he accepted a job as a tutor, in Vatolla, south of Salerno, which became a 9-year professional engagement that lasted until 1695. In 1699, Vico accepted a chair in rhetoric at the University of Naples, which he held until ill-health caused his retirement in 1741. Throughout his academic career, Vico aspired to, but never attained, the more prestigious chair of jurisprudence. However, in 1734, he was appointed historiographer royal, by Charles III, king of Naples.

The original full title of Scienza Nuova is Principi di Scienza Nuova d’intorno alla Comune Natura delle Nazioni, which may be translated as “Principles of a New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations” although many of the words in the title are ambiguous. The title hints at the broad scope of the work, and should tell you that Vico was on a path that was intellectually revolutionary, and much praised from his time to the present, even though you probably have to be a social scientist to know of Vico’s profound influence.

I have to be simplistic, as ever, in summing up Vico’s contribution to the study of social science.  The aphorism, “What is true is, itself, made” could be stated as “The truth is created,” and is of monumental significance. This idea is at the heart of constructivist epistemology which argues that scientific knowledge is constructed by the scientific community, which seek to measure and construct models of the natural world. Natural science therefore consists of mental constructs that aim to explain sensory experience and measurements. According to constructivists, the world is independent of human minds; knowledge of the world is always a human and social construction. Constructivism opposes the philosophy of objectivism which argues that a human can come to know the truth about the natural world not mediated by scientific approximations with different degrees of validity and accuracy. According to constructivists there is no single valid methodology in science, but rather a diversity of useful methods. Thus, truth is not some absolutely, objective thing, but the product of the way we construct our view of the world. Change worldviews and you change what is true.

Vico believed in a cyclical philosophy of history (where human history is, of course, a human construct). His term for the cyclical nature of history was “corsi e ricorsi” which is difficult to translate – maybe something like “travel and travel again.”  As societies develop, human nature also develops, and both manifest their development in changes in language, religion, folklore, economy, etc. Vico expressed an original organic idea that culture is a system of socially produced and structured elements. Hence, knowledge of any society comes from the social structure of that society, explicable, therefore, only in terms of its own language. As such, one may find a dialectical relationship between language, knowledge, and social structure. Relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti (giants) of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony. In this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione (barbarism of reflection), and civilization eventually descends, only to rise again.Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages – common to every nation – constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna (ideal eternal history). Therefore, it can be said that all history is the history of the rise and fall of civilizations.

You can look up tropes such as metonymy and synecdoche for yourself, as well as delve into the complexity of Vico’s ideas. The notion that empires (civilizations) rise and fall in predictable cycles is a mainstay of historical method and can be debated endlessly. You can, for example, follow any number of historians in arguing that great empires have a beginning period of growth, excitement, invention, and expansion, followed by a golden age, followed by a period of decay, decadence, and decline. Painting in broad strokes, such a theory makes a good deal of sense (with Western civilization being in the third stage at present). I’ll leave all of that to you to think about, and turn to my pots and pans.

Naples is famous for numerous dishes, not least of which is pizza. There are also a great many pasta dishes which can be found widely in Italy but with a Neapolitan twist, such as spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti alla puttanesca, pasta e patate, timballo, and pasta e fagioli (pasta e fasule in local dialect, leading to pasta fazool in Italian-American). I am going to go with the Neapolitan version of timballo, a puff pastry “drum” filled with pasta, sauces, and vegetables. The pasta used varies. You can use spaghetti, bucatini, macaroni, ziti . . . whatever. The dish will be different, but what makes this timballo Neapolitan is the sauce. Remember, Italian besciamella is similar to, but not the same as French béchamel.

Timballo di pasta alla napoletana

Ingredients

500  gm ground beef
1 onion, peeled and diced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup cooked peas
500 gm bucatini (or pasta of your choice)
200 ml besciamella sauce
200 gm grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 sheets puff pastry
1 egg yolk, beaten
extra virgin olive oil
white wine
butter
salt and pepper

Instructions

Make the sauce first. Heat a deep skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté the onions until soft and translucent. Add the ground beef and brown in thoroughly. Add a few tablespoons of white wine and the tomatoes, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, letting the ingredients all combine by stirring from to time, and letting the liquid reduce (but not dry out). Stir the peas into the sauce.

While the sauce is cooking, boil water in a large pot for the pasta. Cook the pasta until almost al dente. Drain the pasta, and keep it in the pot. Add the besciamella sauce and mix well. Add half the grated cheese, and stir to mix well. Ladle the tomato sauce into the pot slowly, stirring each time you add a ladleful.

Preheat the oven to 180° C.

Brush the pastry sheets with egg yolk.

Grease a large springform pan with butter, and line the pan with one of the pastry sheets. Fill the pastry with the pasta and sauce mixture, and sprinkle the other half of the grated cheese on top. Grind some black pepper to taste on top.

Cover the pan with the second puff pastry sheet, then trim the edges, and pinch them together so that the sauce is completely encased in pastry. Brush the top with egg yolk.

Lightly cover the top with baking parchment paper, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove the paper and bake of about 10 minutes more, or until the crust is golden.

Remove from the oven and let sit 15 to 20 minutes. Open up the springform and very carefully remove the timaballo. Slice and serve immediately.

Next time that Naples is my theme I’ll give you a recipe for a classic Neapolitan dessert.

Nov 042017
 

On this date in 1737 the Real Teatro di San Carlo in Naples began performances with Domenico Sarro’s Achille in Sciro. San Carlo is the oldest continuously active venue for public opera in the world. Nowadays the opera season runs from late January to May, with a ballet season from April to early June. The house once had a seating capacity of 3,285, but has now been reduced to 1386 seats. San Carlo became the model for numerous theaters throughout Europe. The theater was commissioned by the Bourbon king Charles III of Naples because he wanted to endow Naples with a new and larger theatre to replace the old, dilapidated, and too-small Teatro San Bartolomeo of 1621, which had served the city well, especially after Scarlatti had moved there in 1682 and had begun to make Naples one of the major opera centers in Europe.

The new opera house was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano, a military architect, and Angelo Carasale, the former director of the San Bartolomeo. The horseshoe-shaped auditorium is the oldest in the world. It was built at a cost of 75,000 ducats. The hall was 28.6 meters long and 22.5 meters wide, with 184 boxes, including those of proscenium, arranged in six orders, plus a royal box capable of accommodating ten people, for a total of 1,379 seats. Including standing room, the theatre could hold over 3,000 people. The fastidious composer and violinist Louis Spohr reviewed the size and acoustic properties of this opera house very thoroughly on 15 February 1817 and concluded that:

There is no better place for ballet and pantomime. Military movements of infantry and cavalry, battles, and storms at sea can be represented here without falling into the ludicrous. But for opera, itself, the house is too large. Although the singers, Signora Isabella Colbran, [Prima Donna of the Teatro San Carlo opera company and Rossini’s future wife], and the Signori Nozzari, Benedetti, etc., have very strong voices, only their highest and most stentorian tones could be heard. Any kind of tender utterance was lost.

When it was opened, the opera house was much admired for its architecture, its gold decorations, and the sumptuous blue upholstery (blue and gold being the official colors of the Bourbons), and was, at the time, the biggest opera house in the world. In 1809 Domenico Barbaia was appointed manager of the royal opera houses in Naples and remained in charge until 1841. He soon established a reputation for innovative and dazzling productions, which attracted leading singers to the opera house. On 13 February 1816 a fire broke out during a dress-rehearsal for a ballet performance and quickly spread to destroy a part of building. On the orders of Ferdinand IV, of Charles III, Barbaia was able to rebuild the opera house within ten months. It was rebuilt as a traditional horseshoe-shaped auditorium with 1,444 seats, and a proscenium, 33.5m wide and 30m high. The stage was 34.5m deep.

On 12 January 1817, the rebuilt theatre was inaugurated with Johann Simon Mayr’s Il sogno di Partenope. Stendhal attended the second night of the inauguration and wrote: “There is nothing in all Europe, I won’t say comparable to this theatre, but which gives the slightest idea of what it is like…, it dazzles the eyes, it enraptures the soul…”

In 1844 the opera house was re-decorated, changing the appearance of the interior to the now-traditional red and gold. Apart from the creation of the orchestra pit, suggested by Verdi in 1872, the installation of electricity in 1890, the subsequent abolition of the central chandelier, and the construction of the new foyer and a new wing for dressing rooms, the theatre underwent no substantial changes until repair of the bombing damage in 1943.

When San Carlo was built, the Neapolitan School of opera enjoyed great success all over Europe, not only in the field of opera buffa but also in that of opera seria. Naples became the capital of European music and even foreign composers considered the performance of their compositions at the San Carlo theater as the pinnacle of their careers. Likewise, the most prominent singers performed and consolidated their fame at the San Carlo.

From 1815 to 1822, Gioachino Rossini was house composer and artistic director of the royal opera houses, including the San Carlo. During this period he wrote ten operas: Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (1815), La gazzetta, Otello, ossia il Moro di Venezia (1816), Armida (1817), Mosè in Egitto, Ricciardo e Zoraide (1818), Ermione, Bianca e Falliero, Eduardo e Cristina, La donna del lago (1819), Maometto II (1820), and Zelmira (1822). After the composition of Zelmira, Rossini left Naples.

To replace Rossini, Barbaja first signed up Giovanni Pacini and then another rising star of Italian opera, Gaetano Donizetti. As artistic director of the royal opera houses, Donizetti remained in Naples from 1822 until 1838, composing sixteen operas for the theatre, among which Maria Stuarda (1834), Roberto Devereux (1837), Poliuto (1838) and the famous Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), written for soprano Tacchinardi-Persiani and for tenor Duprez.

Giuseppe Verdi was also associated with the theater. In 1841, his Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio was performed there and in 1845 he wrote his first opera for the theater, Alzira; a second, Luisa Miller, followed in 1849. His third should have been Gustavo III, but the censor made such significant changes that it was never performed in that version nor under that title (until a re-created version was given in 2004). It was later performed in Rome with significant revisions to the plot and its location, while the title became Un ballo in maschera.

The unification of Italy in 1861 lead to Naples losing its status as the musical center of Italy and the home of the country’s leading opera house to La Scala as power and wealth moved northwards. By 1874 the fall in income from performances led to the closing of the opera house for a year. Its fortunes were able to recover due to the continued support in the later half of the 19th century and into the 20th century by Giacomo Puccini and other composers of verismo operas, such as Pietro Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano, and Cilea, who staged their works here.

In the late 19th century, the house created its own in-house orchestra under Giuseppe Martucci, which helped attract a number of respected conductors including Arturo Toscanini, Pietro Mascagni and composer Richard Strauss, whose influence expanded the opera house’s repertoire.

One performer who did not appear in Naples from 1901 onward was Naples-born Enrico Caruso, who after being booed by a section of the audience during a performance of L’elisir d’amore, vowed never to return.

Here’s a small taste:

Speaking of taste, one of the most beloved Neapolitan dishes, perhaps as part of a pre-opera dinner is spaghetti alle vongole napolitano. It’s very simple to make and is one of my favorites.  You must use very small clams, but you can use linguine in place of spaghetti.

Spaghetti Alle Vongole Napolitano

Ingredients

500 gm fresh small clams in their shells
200 gm cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
500 gm spaghetti

Instructions

Wash the clams thoroughly and keep them in salt water for half an hour before cooking.

Cook the spaghetti in abundant boiling water.  Check every few minutes once it is soft to make sure it is cooked al dente and no more.

Sauté the garlic gently over medium heat in oil in a deep skillet (with a lid) for about 2 minutes. Do not let it take on any color. Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and half of the parsley. Stir slowly and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Drain the clams and add them to the skillet. Stir and cover until the clams are open (3-4 minutes). If the sauce is too dry add a small amount of boiling water from the pasta pan.

When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, drain and put it back into the same pot. Pour over it the juices from the cooked clams.  Stir for 1 minute over low heat.

Empty the spaghetti on to a serving dish and serve with the clams and tomatoes garnished with the remaining parsley.

Serves 4

Sep 192016
 

sg4

Today is the feast of San Gennaro, Neapolitan dialect for Saint Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, a celebration both in Naples and in Little Italy in New York city where many Neapolitan immigrants settled in the early 20th century. It was first celebrated in New York in September 1926 when immigrants from Naples congregated along Mulberry Street to continue the tradition they had followed in Italy. Naples actually has over 50 patrons, but Gennaro is the principal one, where he is the patron of the cathedral.

sg5

Little is known of the life of Januarius, and what gets repeated is mostly derived from later Christian sources, such as the Acta Bononensia (BHL 4132, not earlier than 6th century) and the Acta Vaticana (BHL 4115, 9th century), and from later folk tradition. According to these dubious sources (from no earlier than 300 years after his death), Januarius was born in Benevento to a rich patrician family that traced its descent to the Caudini tribe of the Samnites. At the age of 15, he became local priest of his parish in Benevento, which at the time was relatively pagan. When Januarius was 20, he became Bishop of Naples and befriended Juliana of Nicomedia and Saint Sossius whom he met during his priestly studies. During the infamous persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, he hid his fellow Christians and prevented them from being caught. Unfortunately, while visiting Sossius in jail, he too was arrested. He and his colleagues were condemned to be thrown to wild bears in the Flavian Amphitheater at Pozzuoli, but the sentence was changed due to fear of public disturbances, and they were instead beheaded at the Solfatara crater near Pozzuoli. Other legends state either that the wild beasts refused to eat them, or that he was thrown into a furnace but came out unscathed.

Saint Januarius is famous for the alleged miracle of the annual liquefaction of his blood, which, according to legend, was saved by a woman called Eusebia just after the saint’s death. A chronicle of Naples written in 1382 describes the cult of Saint Januarius in detail, but mentions neither the relic nor the miracle. The first certain date is 1389, when it was found to have melted. Then, over the following two and a half centuries official reports began to appear declaring that the blood spontaneously melted, at first once a year, then twice, and finally three times a year. While the report of the very first incidence of liquefaction did not make any explicit reference to the skull of the saint, soon afterwards assertions began to appear that this relic was activating the melting process, as if the blood, recognizing a part of the body to which it belonged, “were impatient while waiting for its resurrection.” This explanation was definitively abandoned only in the 18th century.

sg6

Thousands of people assemble to witness this event in Naples Cathedral three times a year: on September 19, on December 16 (celebrating his patronage of Naples and its archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (commemorating the reunification of his relics). The blood is also said to spontaneously liquefy at certain other times, such as papal visits. It liquefied in the presence of Pope Pius IX in 1848, but not that of John Paul II in 1979 or Benedict XVI in 2007. On March 21, 2015, Pope Francis venerated the dried blood during a visit to Naples Cathedral, saying the Lord’s Prayer over it and kissing it. Archbishop Sepe then declared that “The blood has half liquefied, which shows that Saint Januarius loves our pope and Naples.” Francis replied, “The bishop just announced that the blood half liquefied. We can see the saint only half loves us. We must all spread the Word, so that he loves us more!”

Italy Pope

The blood is stored in two hermetically sealed small ampoules, held since the 17th century in a silver reliquary between two round glass plates about 12 cm wide. The smaller ampoule (of cylindrical shape) contains only a few reddish spots on its walls, the bulk having allegedly been removed and taken to Spain by Charles III. The larger ampoule, with capacity of about 60 ml and almond-shaped, is about 60% filled with a dark reddish substance. Separate reliquaries hold bone fragments believed to belong to Saint Januarius. For most of the time, the ampoules are kept in a bank vault, whose keys are held by a commission of local notables, including the Mayor of Naples; while the bones are kept in a crypt under the main altar of Naples Cathedral. On feast days, all these relics are taken in procession from the cathedral to the Monastery of Santa Chiara, where the archbishop holds the reliquary up and tilts it to show that the contents are solid, and places it on the high altar next to the saint’s other relics. After intense prayers by the faithful, including the so-called “relatives of Saint Januarius” (parenti di San Gennaro), the content of the larger vial typically liquefies. The archbishop then holds up the vial and tilts it again to demonstrate that liquefaction has taken place. The announcement of the liquefaction is greeted with a 21-gun salute at the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. The ampoules remain exposed on the altar for eight days, while the priests move or turn them periodically to show that the contents remain liquid.

sg7

At the 19th September mass in Naples the cathedral is typically packed to overflowing. The Cardinal presides and after mass takes out the reliquary from a side altar. He then moves to the front of the church whilst the congregation waves white handkerchiefs. He walks with the liquefied blood down the middle aisle for all to see. He continues his procession outside and announces to the city that the liquefaction has occurred, then he returns the blood to the altar. The reliquary is left there for the next eight days.

sg9

After mass the streets of Naples are closed off for religious processions and there is a general carnival atmosphere throughout the city with vendors everywhere. It is no wonder that Neapolitan immigrants to New York continued the tradition – minus the blood, of course. There is a mass and a procession of the saint, with bystanders pinning money to ribbons trailing from the saint’s bier. All the streets of Little Italy are closed, and mobbed by visitors and stalls. It’s not particularly Neapolitan any more – more of an Italian-American celebration in general. I went one year eons ago. That was before I lost my taste for giant crowds.

sg10

For a recipe I’m stuck with several quandaries. I have my usual one which is to say, if you want authentic Neapolitan food, go to Naples. But then there’s also the question of whether to highlight Naples or New York. Festival street food in New York tends towards the generic end of the Italian-American spectrum, which is to say products based on Sicilian cuisine.

sg2

The main thing I’ve learned about Italian cooking since living here is that specialties are highly localized – often centered on a single town. There’s a sort of overarching sense that pasta and pizza are universal, but scratch the surface and you find that this is an overgeneralization, mostly perpetuated by foreigners. For example, where I live in the north, pasta is normal at every meal, but you’ll rarely find it sauced with anything involving tomatoes. That’s southern style. Likewise pizzas come in all different shapes, sizes, thicknesses, toppings, etc, with each region claiming that theirs is the best. You’ll find my modest rant on pizza – especially Neapolitan pizza – here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/pizza/ Talking about styles of pasta and their sauces would fill volumes.

sg12 Feast of San Gennaro, Little Italy, New York City

There’s a host of great street food in Naples for festivals which is much more to my taste than a sausage and meatball sub or some cannoli found in New York street booths. Give me frittatine any day, or pizzette fritte. Fried rice balls might fit the bill. A common type, usually called arancini, are said to have originated in 10th-century Sicily at a time when the island was under Arab rule. The most common type of arancino sold in Sicilian cafés are arancini con ragù, which typically consist of rice stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Many cafés also offer arancini con burro (with butter or béchamel sauce) or specialty arancini, such as arancini con funghi (mushrooms), con pistacchi (pistachios), or con melanzane (aubergine). In Roman cuisine, supplì are similar but are commonly filled with cheese. In Naples, rice balls are called pall’e riso or palle di riso. They are not like the Sicilian arancini, although they may be called arancini. Neapolitan rice balls typically do not have a filling but are simply mixtures of rice, eggs, and Parmigiano cheese. However they are stuffed or mixed, arancini are coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

sg14

For Neapolitan rice balls use the ratio of 1 egg to 1 ¼ cups of uncooked Arborio rice to ⅓ cup  grated Parmigiano.  Cook the rice until tender, drain, and let cool to room temperature. Beat the egg(s) and mix together with the rice and cheese. Form into small balls and roll them in breadcrumbs so that they are completely coated. Place on baking trays and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Some cooks shallow fry the rice balls, but I prefer deep frying. Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 350°F/175°C. Fry the rice balls in small batches so that they are golden all over. Drain on wire racks and serve warm.

May 202016
 

pizza3

The third Friday in May is designated as National Pizza Party Day in the United States. I don’t know how this came about; sounds like a marketing ploy to me, although I’m not sure why pizzerias would need that.  No matter.  It’s as good a day as any to talk about pizza.

There’s a certain amount of doubt about the history and evolution of pizza, down to the etymology of the name. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples is generally credited as the world’s first pizzeria. It was opened in 1830 in the town center at Via Port’Alba 18. The restaurant replaced street vendors who made pizza in wood-fired ovens (starting around 1738) and brought it to the street for sale, keeping it warm in small tin stoves they balanced on their head. The pizzeria soon became a prominent meeting place for men. Most patrons were artists, students, or others with very little money, so the pizzas were generally simple. A payment system, called pizza a otto, was developed that allowed customers to pay up to eight days after their meal. A resulting local joke was that a meal from Port’Alba might be someone’s last free meal, if they died before they paid. Additionally, patrons created poetry to honor the pizzas. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is still in business today.

pizza5

Ever since its establishment in 1830, the pizzeria’s ovens have been lined with lava rocks from nearby Mount Vesuvius. At the time of its creation, one popular pizza was the Mastunicola, topped with lard, sheep milk, cheese, and basil. Basil and oregano were the most common herbs, while other toppings included seafood, mozzarella di bufala, cured meats, and cecinielli (whitebait).

The word pizza was first documented in 997 CE in Gaeta and successively in different parts of Central and Southern Italy. The precursor of pizza was probably focaccia, a flat bread known to the Romans as panis focacius, to which toppings were then added. In this case, though, the bread is made first, then the toppings are added and cooked. With classic (modern) pizza the bread dough is spread out uncooked, toppings added, and then the whole is baked as one.

In 16th century Naples, a Galette flatbread was referred to as a pizza. It was known as the dish for poor people, sold in the street and not considered a kitchen recipe for a long time. This was later replaced by oil, tomatoes (after Europeans came into contact with the Americas) or fish.  An often recounted story holds that on 11 June 1889, to honor the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita”, a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, to represent the national colors of Italy as on the Italian flag. It’s a good story, but probably not true. Nonetheless, Margherita and Marinara (tomato sauce and cheese) are still considered the classic types of Neapolitan pizzas.

pizza1

“Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana” (“True Neapolitan Pizza Association”), which was founded in 1984, has set very specific rules that must be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. These include that the pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven; that the base must be hand-kneaded and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means (i pizzaioli — the pizza makers — make the pizza by rolling it with their fingers) and that the pizza must not exceed 35 cm in diameter or be more than one-third of a centimeter thick at the centre. Pizzerias in Naples sometimes go even further than the specified rules by, for example, only using San Marzano tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and only drizzling the olive oil and adding tomato topping in a clockwise direction.

pizza2

The pizza bases in Naples are soft and pliable. In Rome they prefer a thin and crispy base. Another popular form of pizza in Italy is “pizza al taglio” which is pizza baked in rectangular trays with a wide variety of toppings and sold by weight. In December 2009, the pizza napoletana was granted Traditional Speciality Guaranteed status by the European Union.

All right – what’s the best pizza in the world? Really ??? Do you think I’m so stupid that I would answer that question? I live in Italy and I like a peaceful life. I’ve eaten pizza since I was a small boy, and since then have had it all over the world. There used to be a little mom and pop stall in the Adelaide market in the 1950s run by Italians that made pizzas, and my papa would take us there on occasion. That was the first pizza I ate (I believe). We were in Naples in 1957 and I may have had it there, but I don’t remember. The stall in Adelaide sold small pies that were deep, filled with tomato sauce and cheese, and topped with your choice. My papa usually had his own (they were small) topped with anchovies and olives, but he bought a plain one for the family to share. They were amazing.

Pizza was not popular in England when I lived there in the 1960s, but when I moved to the U.S. in 1974 you could find pizzerias but I did not frequent them. This was North Carolina, after all. The South was not pizza heaven there in the 1970s. In the 1980s I moved to New York, however, and pizza became a staple. My wife and I frequented a couple of local pizzerias (run by Italian immigrants) when we were first dating, and a longstanding custom developed over time. We each had our favorite toppings, but often experimented. My wife and I also made pizzas at home when we wanted to experiment.

pizza4

Wherever Italians have migrated you’ll find pizza – all different, all enjoyable. Besides Adelaide and New York I’ve had them in Santa Fe, Croatia, Salerno, Naples, Sicily, Kunming, Buenos Aires . . . you name it. I’ve not had one in Mantua yet, because I don’t eat out, but my first lunch in Verona when I arrived this time was pizza. Pretty good one too. Seemed fitting after a long haul from Beijing.

You can make pizza at home but I wouldn’t recommend it. The whole point of Pizza Party Day is to go out with friends to a local pizzeria. Besides, pizzerias have special ovens and expert cooks. Even if you make it at home I suggest buying the dough from a pizzeria (they’re good at making it). I also recommend using a pizza stone in the oven to bake it on.  I always used to keep one in the oven in New York. Preheat the oven as hot as you can, spread out the dough on a floured paddle, add a layer of tomato sauce, then cheese and your toppings of choice, a sprinkle of oregano, and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes until the crust is golden on the sides and bottom.