For the Love of Pizza

pizza in box copy

// by Karen Miller

from Taste, Summer/Fall 2014

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And pizza. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface. But God made the pizza round, lit a fire in a brick oven, and then there was light and hot pizza with a perfect crust. And then we ate it and said it was good. And on the seventh day, when God rested, he ate pizza too.

There is no known origin of pizza, and that’s why it is commonly thought to be a divine creation. Since the beginning of time, humans have cooked flatbreads on open fires, and then, bored with their lackluster flavor, added seasonings and toppings to make them more interesting. But the Italians claim that they created the first pizza, and who am I to argue with that, because look at all the other divine creations you’ll find in that country—the statue of David, the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, and of course, The Pope. And you know that he must eat pizza, too. The question I want to ask the Pope, though, is this: does he eat cold pizza? Does he wake after a big night, and grab a cold slice from the fridge on the way to say mass at St. Peter’s? I’m certain he does.

Although we don’t know exactly where the first pizza came from, we do know that Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba in Naples, Italy is widely regarded as the world’s first pizzeria. Peasants have been adding tomatoes to their flatbreads for many years, and that is what was sold in open air markets. But in Campania, Italy, 1889, Raffaele Esposito created what we know as pizza today, in his restaurant Pizzeria di Pietro, for the arriving Italian king and queen, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita. The two varieties he invented were the Marinara and the Margherita, considered to be the pizzas of purists, and the only versions that most Italians eat. Marinara is made with tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and olive oil. Margherita is topped with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes, the colors of the Italian flag.

We Americans, with our shameless and arrogant ways, added other toppings to pizza, and messed around with the original crust recipes. After all, why should we eat a pizza with tomatoes and cheese when we can have it our way, with sausage and peppers, mushrooms and pepperoni? Just for fun, I decided to ask members of my social network what kind of pizza they prefer, trying to get an idea of what is the most popular pizza in America. Out of 60 responses, no two were the same.

It’s as if, since we are all created as individuals, we are genetically and inherently wired to like different pizzas. That means that we could actually be identified by our own pizzas, like our individual, one-of-a-kind fingerprints. For instance, people could identify me as a white pizza, thin crust, extra crispy, with artichoke hearts and garlic and my friend Arturo as his pineapple, ham and jalapeño pizza. And as we are all drawn together for the love of pizza, our differences in pizza will set us apart, like our faith, our culture and the color of our skin.

Nowadays when I question divine matters, searching for the meaning of life and death and all its mysteries, I no longer delve into the Bible or sit patiently in church, stifling yawns, trying to figure out why I was put on this planet. I prefer to read pizza menus, and hang around in pizzerias, watching the pies and the people come and go, in the warmth of the divine light coming from wood-fired pizza ovens.

There are many foods out there that we all enjoy—burgers, fries, mac and cheese, spaghetti and KFC. But none that get us through the good times and the tough times like pizza does—late nights in the dorm, heartbreaking team defeats, the challenge of feeding a family of four on a tight budget. Pizza is always there for us, helping us define who we are. White pizza, please. Artichoke hearts and garlic. Could you make that crust really crispy? And could I have extra cheese? * *