I was in the fourth grade and chatting over a couple of bagel pizzas in our school cafeteria, when one of my friends proudly proclaimed that what we were eating was really not Italian at all, but rather a product of American ingenuity. Most of our friends countered with, “What are you talking about?” but there was a certain glow about his face that exuded a confidence that made me unable to question this little tidbit he had just given us. As a result, I must have lived for another five years all the while convinced that pizza was our national dish: imagine my surprise upon learning that I could not have been further from the truth!
Don’t believe the hype: pizza is completely Italian. Period. In fact, we owe the first pizza recipe to the great 18th century Italian chef Francesco Leonardi. This primordial pizza was essentially a thin tomato focaccia with all of the characteristics of today’s pizza. Though a peasant dish inspired the original pizza recipe, Leonardi’s creation quickly became very popular among the nobility. In fact, the king and queen of Naples had special pizza ovens built in their summer palace, Capodimonte, so they could serve this new delicacy to their many guests all season long.
In those days, however, pizza came in only two versions: cheese or tomato. According to legend, the first to make the very sensible and intuitive move of combining both ingredients was the chef Raffaele Esposito who, in 1889, did so in honor of Italy’s King Umberto and Queen Margherita di Savoia who were visiting Naples. This clever and patriotic pizza maker thought it would be most appropriate to make a pizza that was a reflection of the Italian flag: red tomatoes, white mozzarella and green basil. He named it pizza alla Margherita in honor of the queen, and it still goes by this name today! – By Christopher O’Leary
To make this recipe faster we used pre-made pizza dough. If you can’t find any at your local market, ask to buy some from your local pizzeria, or use a pre-made pizza crust.
2 packages Campari tomatoes, cut in 1⁄2 and seeded
3⁄4 c. breadcrumbs
flour for dusting
1 package pre-made pizza dough
extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 lb. mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. oregano
freshly ground pepper
basil leaves for garnish
1 Preheat the oven to 425°. Sprinkle the inside of the tomato halves with salt. Set aside, cut side down, on paper towels to drain for 10 minutes, then sprinkle the insides with breadcrumbs. 2 Meanwhile, on a floured surface, roll the dough to a 1⁄4-inch thickness. Transfer to an oiled baking sheet. 3 Drizzle the dough with olive oil, and leaving a 1-inch border, top with mozzarella and the tomatoes, cut side down. 4 Sprinkle the pizza with oregano and drizzle with more olive oil. 5 Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and transfer to the oven for about 20 minutes. Top with basil leaves and allow to cool slightly before serving.
Replace: Campari tomatoes with small to medium-sized tomatoes
Wine suggestion: A sparkling red wine, such as Lambrusco
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