I always thought pizza was an American invention, even though I knew it had roots in Italy, like the hamburger had roots in Germany, and chop suey had roots in…well, maybe that last one truly is an American invention, with apologies to the Chinese.
Researching the origins of pizza, it’s likely the Italians learned the technique from the Greeks, who may have learned from their arch-enemy, the Etruscans.
Early versions of pizza had neither cheese nor tomatoes. Kind of makes you wonder why they even bothered, but every culture has some type of flatbread that’s topped with available ingredients. Fortunately for us, the Italian version evolved into something splendid.
After the tomato was discovered in the New World, it still took a couple hundred years before the Italians decided that the fruit wasn’t poisonous and that it tasted pretty good on top of their pizza.
Two hundred years after that, cheese was added to the tomato and basil pie, to replicate the colors of the Italian flag in honor of Queen Margherita, hence the most famous pizza of all, the Margherita, was born.
It’s true, until I traveled to Italy recently, I had not tasted a finer pie than the Wiseguy at Bianco’s.
But pizza-hopping through Italy, I realized that the reason Bianco’s pizza is so worthy of its accolades is because it embodies its Italian predecessor — simple ingredients and artisan dough.
That’s not to say that all pizzas in Italy are created equal. They’re not.
I tasted plank pizzas with thin, cracker-like crusts in Rome.
And round, wood-fired pies in Florence, Bologna and Venice.
I ate pizzas topped with eggs and spinach.
And thin crusted pizzas baked in deck ovens, with only a smear of tomato and onions.
And pizzas topped with fresh mozzarella only after leaving flame-licked ovens.
The thing that struck me the most — and this is true of all my dining adventures in Italy — is that I never ran across a bad pizza.
Not even a mediocre one.
It’s far too easy to get a bad pizza in the States.
I can think of a number of franchised chains that turn out a pie they should be ashamed to serve. Why is that?
Of course we do have great pizza here, too, and Bianco’s certainly tops that list.
If you stop and think about where the best pizza in the States comes from, I bet you’ll find that it’s from a small, independent pizzeria, with some sort of Italian connection.
Favorite Italian Pizzerias
Florence: Yellow Bar, Via Del Proconsolo N 39R
Bologna: Nicola’s Pizzeria Ristorante, 9 Piazza San Martino
Venice: Aciugheta, Campo San Filippo, 4357 E Giacomo Castello