Pizza is a yeasted flatbread typically topped with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in an oven. It is commonly topped with a selection of meats, vegetables and condiments. It is highly regarded as one of the most delicious and popular foods in the world. The most common forms of pizza use cheese and tomato sauce as main ingredients, baked on crust.
The term pizza was first recorded in the 10th century, in a Latin manuscript from the Southern Italian town of Gaeta in Lazio, on the border with Campania. Modern pizza was invented in Naples, and the dish and its variants have since become popular and common in many areas of the world. In 2009, upon Italy's request, Neapolitan pizza was registered with the European Union as a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed dish.
Foods similar to pizza have been made since the neolithic age. Records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavorful can be found throughout ancient history. The ancient Greeks supplemented their bread with oils, herbs, and cheese, and in the 6th century BC, the soldiers in Persian King Darius I's armies baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields. An early reference to a pizza-like food occurs in the Aeneid, when Celaeno, queen of the Harpies, foretells that the Trojans would not find peace until they are forced by hunger to eat their tables (Book III). In Book VII, Aeneas and his men are served a meal that includes round cakes (like pita bread) topped with cooked vegetables. When they eat the bread, they realize that these are the "tables" prophesied by Celaeno.
Modern pizza evolved from similar flatbread dishes in Naples in the 18th or early 19th century. Prior to that time, flatbread was often topped with ingredients such as garlic, salt, lard, cheese, and basil. It is uncertain when tomatoes were first added and there are many conflicting claims. Until about 1830, pizza was sold from open-air stands and out of pizza bakeries, and pizzerias keep this old tradition alive today.
A popular contemporary legend holds that the archetypal pizza, pizza Margherita, was invented in 1889, when the Royal Palace of Capodimonte commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three different pizzas he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pizza swathed in the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). Supposedly, this kind of pizza was then named after the Queen, although recent research casts doubt on this legend.
Pizza was brought to the United States with Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century, and first appeared in areas where Italian immigrants concentrated. The country's first pizzeria, Lombardi's, opened in 1905 in New York City. Following World War II, veterans returning from the Italian Campaign after being introduced to Italy's native cuisine proved a ready market for pizza in particular. Since then, pizza consumption has increased in the U.S., and has expanded throughout the country, with dominance prevailing in the Northeast and Midwest (Chicago) areas. Pizza chains such as Domino's, Pizza Hut, and Papa John's, pizzas from take and bake pizzerias, and chilled or frozen pizzas from supermarkets make pizza readily available nationwide.
Pizza is prepared fresh, frozen, and as portion-size slices or pieces. Methods have been developed to overcome challenges such as preventing the sauce from combining with the dough and producing a crust that can be frozen and reheated without becoming rigid. There are frozen pizzas with raw ingredients and self-rising crusts. Another form of uncooked pizza is available from take and bake pizzerias. This pizza is assembled in the store, then sold to customers to bake in their own ovens. Some grocery stores sell fresh dough along with sauce and basic ingredients, to complete at home before baking in an oven.
In restaurants, pizza can be baked in an oven with stone bricks above the heat source, an electric deck oven, a conveyor belt oven or, in the case of more expensive restaurants, a wood- or coal-fired brick oven. On deck ovens, pizza can be slid into the oven on a long paddle, called a peel, and baked directly on the hot bricks or baked on a screen (a round metal grate, typically aluminum). Prior to use, a peel may be sprinkled with cornmeal to allow pizza to easily slide onto and off of it. When made at home, it can be baked on a pizza stone in a regular oven to reproduce the effect of a brick oven. Another option is grilled pizza, in which the crust is baked directly on a barbecue grill. Greek pizza, similar to Chicago-style pizza, is baked in a pan rather than directly on the bricks of the pizza oven.
Authentic Neapolitan pizza (pizza napoletana) is typically made with San Marzano tomatoes, grown on the volcanic plains south of Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella di bufala Campana, made with milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio. This mozzarella is protected with its own European protected designation of origin. Other traditional pizzas include pizza alla marinara, which is topped with marinara sauce and is allegedly the most ancient tomato-topped pizza, pizza capricciosa, which is prepared with mozzarella cheese, baked ham, mushroom, artichoke and tomato, and pizza pugliese, prepared with tomato, mozzarella and onions.
A popular variant of pizza in Italy is Sicilian pizza (locally called sfincione or sfinciuni), a thick-crust or deep-dish pizza originating during the 17th century in Sicily: it is essentially a focaccia that is typically topped with tomato sauce and other ingredients. Until the 1860s, sfincione was the type of pizza usually consumed in Sicily, especially in the Western portion of the island. Other variations of pizzas are also found in other regions of Italy, for example pizza al padellino or pizza al tegamino, a small-sized, thick-crust and deep-dish pizza typically served in Turin, Piedmont.
Common toppings for pizza in the United States include ground beef, mushrooms, onions, pepperoni, pineapple, garlic, olives, peppers, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, anchovies, chicken, bacon, ham and sausage. Distinct regional types developed in the 20th century, including California, Chicago, Greek, New Haven, Detroit, St. Louis, and New York styles. The first pizzeria in the U.S. was opened in New York's Little Italy in 1905, and since then regions throughout the U.S. offer variations, including deep-dish, stuffed, pockets, turnovers, rolled and pizza-on-a-stick, each with seemingly limitless combinations of sauce and toppings.
Another variation is grilled pizza, created by taking a fairly thin, round (more typically, irregularly shaped) sheet of yeasted pizza dough, placing it directly over the fire of a grill and then turning it over once the bottom has baked and placing a thin layer of toppings on the baked side. Toppings may be sliced thin to ensure that they heat through, and chunkier toppings such as sausage or peppers may be precooked before being placed on the pizza. Garlic, herbs, or other ingredients are sometimes added to the pizza or the crust to maximize the flavor of the dish.
Grilled pizza was offered in the United States at the Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island by owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon in 1980. Although it was inspired by a misunderstanding that confused a wood-fired brick oven with a grill, grilled pizza did exist prior to 1980, both in Italy, and in Argentina where it is known as pizza a la parrilla. It has become a popular cookout dish, and there are even some pizza restaurants that specialize in the style. The traditional style of grilled pizza employed at Al Forno restaurant uses a dough coated with olive oil, strained tomato sauce, thin slices of fresh mozzarella, and a garnish made from shaved scallions, and is served uncut. The final product can be likened to flatbread with pizza toppings. Another Providence establishment, Bob & Timmy's Grilled Pizza, was featured in a Providence-themed episode of the Travel Channel's Man v. Food Nation in 2011.