By Amy Riolo
PIZZA IN THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Pizza, when done with care, is edible love. Professionally speaking, making pizza has always been one of the most rewarding recipes for me. When I take it out of the oven and set it down and the aroma first hits the air – it brightens my day. After taking the first bite, I am always overcome by an immense sense of satisfaction, it is one of the things which I make, along with bread, that affirms my entire existence.
At that moment I know, for certain, that even if that is the only thing I do right, I will be able to make myself and the others that I share my creation with, happy. Fortunately, I am not the only person who loves making pizza! In my role as Chef Ambassador at the Pizza University & Culinary Arts Center in Beltsville, Maryland, I have learned about the many different styles of pizza from many various masters.
Each maestro has their own signature style which our classes do a great job of interpreting. The amount of innovations going on in this industry right now is unprecedented – everything from new gluten free doughs to new classifications of pizza styles – oven technology and different pizza culture is constantly being reinterpreted. It is a great privilege to be able to learn.
SO WHERE DID PIZZA COME FROM?
Evidence of round bread with toppings from Egypt’s Old Kingdom was presented to the Pharaoh on his birthday. The documents of Darius I from Persia traveling to Europe with flatbread in the 6th century BCE were also among the earliest sources of evidence of “pizza” which was then topped with cheese and dates.
In Italy, the oldest known predecessors of modern pizza hailed from Sicily, where 3,000-year-old flatbread remains and baking tools were found. The ancient Roman philosopher Cato also mentioned “flat rounds of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked on stones” similar to those served by the ancient Egyptians.
It is believed that the ancient Romans and people in all of its territories, including Naples and the modern-day Campania region, ate pizza as an every-day food. The ruins of Pompeii reveal that pizza was made with various tools and many different toppings and was sold at street stands and in bakeries.
The earliest of “modern” pizzas which date to the 17th century was the Mastunicola, – a pizza made with lard, aged cheese, and herbs) in Napoli. In the 18th century, the world of “pizza” took on a new meaning when tomatoes arrived from the new world. Soon came the Marinara pizza which, as its’ name suggests was made by a fisherman’s wife in 1734.
It is believed that in 1889 pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito made three pizzas in honor of King Umberto di Savoia and his wife Queen Margherita. While Raffaele made the Marinara and the earlier Mastunicola recipes, it was his wife who added the mozzarella and basil to make the pizza represent the Italian flag (red, white, and green) colors and it was then that the Pizza Margherita was born. Both the King and Queen approved of the pizza, and Raffaele Esposito’s wife’s famous recipe became emblematic of not only pizza but of Naples itself.
In the 20th century, many Italian emigrants began opening pizzerias in the Americas. In the United States, slices were often warmed in charcoal heated drums. At that point, pizza was still considered a food of immigrants. But when American soldiers returned home from Naples after World War II, they longed for the street food they had grown to love.
According to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), “in June of 1984, a group of Neapolitan people representing some of the oldest and most prestigious pizzerias in Naples, founded an organization called Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, with the purpose of preserving and cultivating the culinary art of making the authentic Neapolitan pizza.” Subsequently, Neapolitan pizza was declared a part of cultural food heritage by the Italian government.
The European Community granted “Pizza Napoletana” STG or Specialty Tradition Guaranteed status to distinguish it from non-authentic pizzas. Nowadays more pizza is eaten per capita in the United States (46-slices per year) than it is in Italy, thanks to delivery “pizza.”
As of December 2017, the art of Neapolitan pizza-making was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. “Pizzaiuoli (pizza-makers) are a living link for the communities concerned,” says UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
CAN PIZZA REALLY BE GOOD FOR YOU?
Following the guidelines of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, you are guaranteed that a single serving of pizza is a complete meal and supplies an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. An Authentic pizza Napoletana weighs about 10 ounces (thanks to special leavening procedures and is made up of approximately 50% carbohydrates, 6% fat, 5.5% protein, and is about 800 calories.
Another important factor to consider is that not all ingredients are created equal. The authentic Neapolitan pizza recipe calls for specific types of water, flour, yeast, salt, extra-virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and mozzarella to be used in addition to the preparation techniques. Each of these ingredients ensure maximum flavor, nutrients, and quality.
For example, the water used must be clean and non-carbonated. It must also be free of microorganisms, parasites or chemical substances that represent a health risk. Water must be fit for human consumption. and have a pH level of 6-7. The 00 Flour used in authentic pizza-making provides carbohydrates for energy, minerals and b vitamins as well as protein.
The Bakers Yeast used in traditional pizza-making is a strain of yeast used in the baking industry of bread production which produces large amounts of carbon dioxide and is made by adding water to molasses. This yeast yields Beta 1 3 Glucans which support immunity. Certified mozzarella cheese (either buffalo or cow’s milk must both be used. While the buffalo milk is richer, and higher in fat, both contain protein and calcium with relatively low levels of cholesterol and sodium.
The fresh tomatoes used must be of the “S.Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-nocerino D.O.P”., “Pomodorini di Corbara (Corbarino)”, or “Pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio” D.O.P.” varieties. These tomatoes are rich lycopene- a precious anti-oxidant that gives the fruit its red color. Only extra-virgin olive oil can be used in authentic pizza-making. Its’ health benefits include:
- Preventing the formation of blood clots
- Lowering total blood cholesterol
- Boosting the immune system against the negative effects of toxins, microorganisms, parasites, and other
- Can improve calcium absorption in the body and prevent osteoporosis
- May prevent memory loss may lead to less risk of rheumatoid arthritis
- Can protect against malignant tumors
- Reduces the risk of breast, colon, and bowel cancer and the incidence of melanoma
It’s important to remember that the Mediterranean Diet is based largely upon plant-based foods, and also animal products (mainly milk and cheese) which are harvested and produced in the traditional method. The authentic ingredients which make up true Neapolitan pizza uphold these standards. It’s also important to note that pizza was often enjoyed communally (especially on Saturday nights in Italy), and eating together is the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet pyramid.
Read more from Amy Riolo in Ikaria Blue Zone