Pizza is probably the most popular fast food in America. It’s estimated that 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year, about 46 slices per person! While it wasn’t until 1905 that the first pizzeria opened in New York, people have been eating some form of pizza for centuries.
Throughout ancient history there are records of people eating flatbreads with a variety of toppings. In the sixth century BC, Persian soldiers used their battle shields to bake flat bread with cheese and dates on top. Ancient Greeks would cover their flat bread with oil, herbs and cheese. It is written that the Trojans used round wheaten cakes as plates and topped them with mushrooms and herbs found in the woods.
Naples, Italy is the birthplace of pizza as we know it today. In the early 1700’s Naples was a rapidly growing city. As the economy struggled to keep pace, tens of thousands of people lived in poverty. The lower class people had to hustle about to find work and needed food that was easy to eat and cheap. Street purveyors created a flatbread topped with garlic, lard and salt and carried boxes of them on the streets to sell by the piece.
Throughout the 1700’s and into the early 1800’s the pizza evolved as toppings changed to include slices of tomato, small fish and cheese. While looked down upon by the upper class, pizza continued to gain popularity and soon pizzeria bakeries began to open.
Considered by many to be the father of the modern pizza, pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito was commissioned to create a pizza in honor of the visiting French Queen Margherita in 1889. Among others, he created a pizza in the colors of the Italian flag with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. She loved it and the pizza was named Pizza Margherita in her honor. Since then, pizza has been considered a true Italian dish and has grown in popularity.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Italian immigrants brought their love of pizza – and their recipes – to the U.S. Pizza was soon popular across the country and recipes were adapted to local tastes and ingredients. From the 1950’s onward, as disposable incomes grew and appliances were common in homes, convenience food became popular.
Pizza recipes changed to allow people to take a pizza home to bake or freeze. This meant that fresh tomatoes were replaced by tomato sauce so the dough wouldn’t dry during baking and the cheese had to hold up to freezing. The affordability of the car meant that pizza shops could deliver hot, fresh pizza to homes. Chain pizza shops soon spread across the U.S. and abroad into almost every city in the world.
Today, pizza and toppings are as varied as the imagination. Experiment with your favorite vegetables, cheese and herbs to create your own personalized pizza!
Grilled Eggplant Pizza
1 round of frozen pizza dough, thawed (or make your own)
2 eggplant, thickly sliced (peel if desired)
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons pesto
1 cup feta cheese
1 cup spinach or arugula
Salt the sliced eggplant and place in a colander in the sink to drain for 30 minutes.
Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a microwave safe bowl with about ¼ cup water, cover bowl and microwave for about 2 minutes. Leave the cover on the bowl until the sun-dried tomatoes are soft. Mix sun-dried tomatoes with garlic and pesto.
Prepare pizza dough according to package directions. Either bake the dough in the oven or on the grill.
After the dough is baked, rinse and dry the eggplant, brush with olive oil and grill, about 4 minutes on each side, until soft.
Spread the sun-dried tomato mixture onto the pizza dough, then top with grilled eggplant. Quickly top the hot eggplant with spinach or arugula and the feta cheese. Sprinkle parmesan cheese or shredded mozzarella on top if desired.
Have fun in the kitchen!