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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Pitta Pizzulata!

Pitta in the Oven

Pizza may have come from almost anywhere in the Old World, it appears. Many cultures have had flat breads for centuries, and putting other food on a flat, edible surface is a natural step to take. The first documented pizza seems to be from about 1889, although it was made in a place called Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples, which was started in 1738! What they sold in the 160 years before they finally invented pizza is a mystery. It’s cool to hear how they heated their ovens: Using lava from Mount Vesuvius. Talk about green energy!

Tomatoes weren’t always part of the mix, though. They’re definitely from the New World, so they couldn’t have been introduced to Italians before the sixteenth century. Once they made it over, though, they became popular with the lower classes. The upper classes somehow thought they were poisonous (the leaves definitely are), because of their relationship to the mandrake and deadly nightshade plants. This belief was in stark contrast to the evidence; poor people were thriving on tomatoes rather than dropping dead by the thousands after every meal. But why ruin a good belief with any facts? (We even have our modern versions.)

Tomatoes and Basil

So, what did Italians eat before 1889 that looked like pizza? How about Pitta Pizzulata. Pitta means flatbread in Italian, and sounds suspiciously like Pita found in Greece. Pizzulata means, well, I haven’t a clue. Nor do any online translation programs, apparently. So I’m going to make a stab at it and say it means “stuff on top of flatbread to make it like a pizza, but before pizza was invented.” Or something like that. Here’s a simple way to make Pitta Pizzulata:

If you can’t get good jalapeño chiles, then use something like Anaheims or even Serranos. Just don’t overpower the thing with chiles, or you’ll lose the great taste of the fresh tomatoes. You can use yellow cherry tomatoes too, for a more colorful presentation. Yellow tomatoes don’t have quite the acidity of most reds, but they have enough flavor to take on the chiles. I find if I want this stuff to have more bite to it I use more red pepper flakes rather than more chiles; the fresh chiles can add a grassy taste if there are too many of them.

Don’t let the funny name put your guests off when you serve this wonderful food at your next Spicy Italian Dinner Party. (You DO have one scheduled soon, right? RIGHT?? Hey, pay attention here, it’s Spicy Italian Month!) And whatever you do, don’t tell them it’s a tart. (I don’t know where Ms. Kremezi came up with that one, exactly.) You’ll either get an argument, or you’ll get lots of embarrassed sniggering. Just tell them it’s fresh pizza, and then stand back as they grab and go.

Trust me, once they get it into their mouth they’ll forget they ever doubted you…

Enjoy the (Pizzulata) Heat!


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