The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Campania: Part III
In Naples it is said that the tomato is "almost a religion", and certainly, the quality of the local tomato is excellent and thus the local citizens have put it into very frequent use. The food industry that brought the world the famous "peeled" and the "concentrated" tomato is based in Naples, and the quality of the special San Marzano tomato is unequalled. Naples will continue to maintain a stranglehold on the international production of San Marzano, as although many attempts have been made to grow this type of tomato elsewhere, it never has the clearly identifiable taste or dense, toothsome texture of the ones grown exclusively on the extraordinarily rich volcanic soil of the sides of Mount Vesuvius.
Many are the ways to process that miraculous vegetable (which is actually scientifically classifed as a fruit) from the prototypical tomatoes in a bottle, jar or can, either whole or cut up into diced pieces; to the ground up passata, or the famous "conserva" in which the tomato is slowly cooked for many hours into a dark and velvety cream. Juicy fresh tomatoes find their perfect match when spread on a pizza as their taste will exquisitely compliment that of the mozzarella and any other toppings you might want to add, from mushrooms, to salami, to anchovies.
The most famous delicacy of all Neapolitan cuisine, the pizza is an invention whose invention preceded the era of the tomato by a couple of millenia. Indeed, pizza is among the most ancient known food preparations. A first type of pizza it created in Roman times and was a kind of a flat wheat bread. Today's focaccia is somewhat similar to this Roman recipe, but a closer variation would be the pizza bianca which is still sold on every street corner within a hundred miles of Rome. However, the pizza par excellence, the dish which can clearly be stated to be the most widespread on the entire planet, is little more than two hundred years old. Soon after its creation, it swiftly became extremely popular with the citizens of Naples, but also with barons and princes. Pizza soon dominated the reception banquets of the ruling Bourbons, who simply couldn't get enough of the Neapolitan flatbread, and King Ferdinand IV ordered that the ovens of Capodimonte, from which issue the precious artistic ceramics, were to make room for baking pizza.
A visit to Naples by Queen Margherita di Savoia in 1889 was the inspiration that the pizza maker Raffaele Esposito used to create a pizza in the form of a patriotic "flag" in which the Italian white, red and green were made of mozzarella, tomato and basil. He then proceeded to call his creation the "pizza Margherita" and to this day, it is considered the original, pure, and ultimate form of pizza to be found anywyere. (See my Hubs: Settling It Forever: Where Is The World's Best Pizza? and Learn How To Make Pizza From The World's Best .)
Although Neapolitans tend to be extremely xenophobic when it comes to foreigners "messing up" what they consider their sacred creation with bizarre toppings and fixings (I dare you to find a Neapolitan who would look at a typical "Hawaiian" pizza and not retch), there are many varieties of pizza which are allowed in the Neapolitan inner sanctum: four cheese, seafood, olives, marinara, but the central and inescapable point in Naples is the presence of tomato. Therefore, the next time you order a grilled chicken goat cheese pizza, please realize that you are eating toppings on baked dough, but it has absolutely no right to be called a pizza!
Continued in Campania Part IV
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