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All About Pizza

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Video Transcript:

Hey there, I’m Yvonne and you’re watching Color and Chill, the show that soothes your eyes, your ears, and your soul. In this episode of Facts to Relax we’re going to be learning all about pizza. We’ll talk about the history of pizza, starting with pizza-like ancestors and moving on to Naples and the first pizza as we know it, and have a quick lesson in linguistics to discuss where the word pizza may have come from. We’ll take a detour to investigate the sordid history of tomatoes, which are such an important ingredient in pizza. Then, we’ll travel to the United States and see how it evolved into a favorite meal through the 20th century. We’ll look at some of the different styles of pizza, toppings of pizzas, learn about why the Hawaiian pizza isn’t actually from Hawaii, and finish with some cool pizza trivia and a recipe for a simple pizza dough. I’ll add timecodes in the description below in case you want to skip around. Otherwise, let’s sit back and relax while I paint on the screen and share some of the exciting new knowledge I’ve gained about pizza in researching this episode. To get started, let’s settle down into a comfy spot and take a deep breath in now, and let it out slowly again and we can begin.

Pizza, one of the most beautiful and versatile foods in the world, it’s essentially a baked flatbread covered with sauces and toppings. When we think of a “traditional pizza,” of course, we’re probably thinking of a wheat dough, covered in some variety of tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese but really, the possibilities are pretty much endless. 

As always, I think it’s probably best for us to start at the beginning with the history of pizza and then go from there. Though most of us know that pizza hails from Italy, there’s a bit more to the story than that. 

Flatbreads with various toppings have been around since the Neolithic age, which was from about 10,000 to 4,500 BCE. This is the time period when humans were transitioning from being hunters and gatherers to more agriculturally based farmers. They began cultivating plant species, including varieties of wheat, barley, legumes, and flax. At this point there’s no evidence that they’d discovered how to culture yeast, so any breads they made would have probably been simple mixes of ground grains and water and then baked on stones. Then, as I mentioned in my video about doughnuts, ancient Egyptians accidentally discovered and began using yeast in their breads about 5-6,000 years ago. 

Beginning in the 8th century BCE, Ancient Romans would make flours of wheat milled with water, herbs and salt and then form a round disk of flatbread, which they’d cook on stoves, using the heat of hot ashes. This bread was sometimes used to dip into sauces. Likewise, ancient Greeks made flat breads called plakous, which were topped with herbs, onion, cheeses, and garlic. Over history, flatbread-like foods could be found all over the world, such as bing from China, paratha from India, and naan and roti from Central and South Asia.

The first use of the word pizza can be found in a contract between Bernardo, who was the son of Duke Marino II and the Bishop of Gaeta in 997 in Gaeta, Italy. The contract stated that if Bernardo wanted to use the bishop’s mill, he and his heirs would have to pay the bishops twelve pizzas on Christmas and twelve pizzas on Easter. As tomatoes hadn’t arrived in Italy at this time, this version of pizza was likely closer to a focaccia bread, probably laden with oil and herbs, maybe some cheese, and possibly even sweeter toppings like raisins and honey. With what is essentially a contract for the delivery of a dozen pizzas twice a year, this can also be seen as the first “pizza parties” on record.

In the Manuscritto Lucano, published in 1524, comes the first recipe for pizza and in 1570 Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera included several recipes for pizza, none of which are like what we would recognize as pizza today but did use the name. If you’d like to see one of those recipes being prepared in real life, I suggest you watch the episode on pizza by Tasting History with Max Miller, which I’ll link to in the description. 

The first reference to pizza as we know it, however, came in Naples, Italy in the 1600s. Naples at the time was technically an independent kingdom, a waterfront city that was thriving and filled with working poor or “lazzaroni.” The population was dense and housing was tiny, many families living in one-room huts, so much of life took place outside. Flatbread with various toppings was sold in the streets by the slice and could be eaten quickly, while walking. At the time, pizza was strictly known as a dish for peasants, looked down upon by the upper class, and the eating habits of the Neapolitans was described as disgusting by judgmental Italian writers. Peasants obviously didn’t care what others had to say though because pizza stayed a popular food among the poor in Naples for the next few centuries. We don’t know exactly what early Neapolitan pizza was topped with but later records describe toppings such as cheese, bacon, fish, tomatoes, and oils. A 17th Century Italian-English dictionary referred to it as a rugged cake or wafer. Also a kind of sweet pizza.” To this day sweet pizza is common in Northern Italy, especially around Christmastime. This all changed in the late 1800s however, as Italy unified and in 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples. Now if you know your pizzas, the Margherita is probably familiar to you and here’s why. Apparently with all the traveling they were doing, the king and queen were growing quite tired of haute French cuisine by the time they arrived in Naples and they decided to try a meal at the “Pizzeria Brandi,” which was the successor to the “Da Pietro Pizzeria,” which had been founded more than a century earlier. They requested to try an assortment of different pizza and the one Queen Margherita liked the best, was the “pizza mozzarella,” which was topped with fresh mozzarella, red tomatoes, and green basil. Whether it was because she genuinely loved the taste, as I do, or if she just appreciated a pizza that donned the red, white, and green of Italy’s flag, either way, since then it’s been known as the Pizza Margherita. Despite the appreciation of royalty, the pizza remained a little known dish outside of Naples until the 1940s. 

  Now before I go any further with the spread of the worldwide pizza craze, I want to address the history of tomatoes, which is a very important ingredient in most pizzas. However, there was a time when tomatoes were considered poisonous and they certainly didn’t make the cut as a flatbread topping in some Northern European countries or the United States. The tomato can be traced back to around 700 A.D., cultivated by the early Aztecs and the word tomato actually comes from their word “xitomatl” which is spelled x-i-t-o-m-a-t-l. When Europeans began traveling to the Americas in the 16th century, they were introduced to the fruit and brought it back to Southern Europe where it was embraced. The French called it the “pomme d’amour” or “love apple” and the Italians called it the “pomo d’oro” or “golden apple.” As it moved north, however, the tomato met some resistance. In England and Germany, for example, tomatoes were at first seen as ornamental but highly poisonous plants. This could be because of the bright red color which many believed indicated poison, or because it was closely related to the actually poisonous deadly nightshade plants. It also probably didn’t help that the tomato was originally given the Latin name of “Lycopersicon” which translates to “wolf peach,” possibly deterring people even more from wanting to give it a try. Sadly, it appeared that skeptics were correct in their assumptions of it being deadly, as people would sometimes become terribly ill after eating tomatoes, though this wasn’t actually the fruit’s fault. At the time, pewter dishes were popular among the wealthy and those dishes had a very high lead content. Though normally this wouldn’t be a problem, when the tomato’s acidic juices touched the pewter, it leached the lead from the dishes, which invertedly caused people to experience lead poisoning and they were convinced that it was the tomatoes themselves that were the issue. This is a lot like the time I didn’t eat ice cream for a year because when I started having frequent stomach pains, Doctor Google told me my symptoms were possibly caused by dairy and I ran with it. It my particular case, it turns out it wasn’t the dairy’s fault. And it wasn’t the tomato’s fault in Europe either. However, this didn’t stop the vicious smear campaign against tomatoes from spreading all the way back to the United States and then, to make matters worse, large green caterpillars with horns on their backsides began appearing on tomato plants. Called hornworms, these insect monstrosities were also considered poisonous and it was thought that any fruit or vegetable they crawled on would also be immediately rendered deadly. Sidenote, I just looked up pictures of tomato hornworms and honestly, they’re kind of cute and their butthorns aren’t really that freakish, but though they won’t make your tomatoes poisonous, you still really don’t want them hanging out on your plants because they will remove foliage and chew holes in the fruit and eventually tomato plants can be greatly weakened and susceptible to sunscald thanks to these hungry little caterpillars, so it’s best to try your to keep them away from your tomatoes.

Eventually, Robert Gibbon Johnson, a horticulturist in Salem, New Jersey decided to stick up for the plant in 1820 when, standing on the courthouse steps, he held a tomato up to his mouth and declared “to help dispel the tall tale, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing…and to prove to you that it is not poisonous, I am going to eat one right now.” And, as the crowd looked on, he took a bite of the tomato and luckily, lived. Word began to spread throughout the United States that the fruit was fine to eat, and in Europe as well, they began to realize that the pewter-less working class was eating tomatoes just fine so maybe it wasn’t the plant that was the problem at all.

Needless to say, Italians, and especially poor Neapolitans were entirely unconcerned by the tomato’s reputation and happily used it atop their pizzas. 

But where did the word “pizza” come from? Some think the origin is the Greek word “pitta” but others believe it came from an ancient German language used in northern Italy called Langobardic, in which the word “bizzo” meant “bite.” Either way, in Naples it became pizza and when the Neapolitans began emigrating to the United States, along with millions of other Europeans, they brought this glorious dish with them and it began to really take off.

The first licensed pizzeria in the United States was opened in an Italian-American neighborhood on Spring Street in Manhattan in 1905 by an immigrant named Gennaro Lombardi. He first owned a small grocery store where an employee, Antonio Totonno Pero made and sold pizza, which became so popular that Lombardi decided to open a dedicated pizzeria. Though adaptations had to be made for the United States, including using mozzarella cheese from cows instead of buffalos and coal powered ovens instead of wood-fired stoves, they weren’t deterred. The restaurant, conveniently named “Lombardi’s” was immediately successful and more and more pizza restaurants began popping up throughout the city, including Totonno’s which Lombardi’s original pizza chef opened himself in 1924. Through the early 20th century and especially after World War II, pizza’s popularity spread through the Northeast like wildfire into New Jersey, Connecticut, and even up to Boston, though many people, especially my Bronx-born husband, will argue ad-nauseam that the best pizza can still be found only in New York City. According to him, the worst New York City pizza is inherently better than the best pizza found anywhere else in the world and I encourage you fully to leave comments below about why he’s wrong and I will happily share them with him for you. 

Excitingly enough, both Lombardis and Totonnos are still open today and both still use coal-ovens, imparting their pizzas with a distinctive taste that can’t be found with other baking methods. Since coal ovens don’t pass current environmental laws in New York, there are very few coal-fired brick ovens left in existence, only ones grandfathered in are allowed to continue using them as long as the business remains open.

Now, as pizza spread, like pretty much everything else, it began to evolve and change to satisfy local tastes. In Chicago you can find deep dish pizza, in California, gourmet pizzas topped with smoked salmon and other fancy items. Saint Louis gave us the thin-crust, Washington D.C. offered the jumbo slice, and apparently, according to my sister who lives in Vermont, that state’s specialty is called “Dominos.” Hawaiian pizza, however, which is topped with ham and pineapple, is not actually from the state of Hawaii, instead originating in Ontario, Canada in the 1960s, created by Greek immigrant Sam Panopoulos shortly after returning from a trip to Detroit where he tried pizza for the first time. He owned a restaurant in Chatham called Satellite, which is still open today by the way, and he bought a small oven and began serving pizzas with toppings like bacon, pepperoni, and more. It wasn’t until 1962 when he decided to try putting pineapple on pizza, just for the fun of it. At first it wasn’t much of a success but continued taste tests showed that the contrast between the sweet pineapple and savory ham was a hit and the combination can be found on many pizza menus today. The name “Hawaiian Pizza” came from the brand of canned pineapple that Panopoulos used, unfortunately putting the blame for one of the most controversial arguments in food history on a state that was in no way actually involved. Well, I suppose they were probably responsible for the canned pineapple as in the 1960s apparently 80% of the fruit was grown in and exported from Hawaii but really, they can’t be held responsible for what people would do with it. Hawaiian pizza is such a debated subject that in 2017, Iceland’s President, Guoni Johannesson told schoolchildren that he would ban pineapple pizza if he had the power, which led to Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau to tweet a rebuttal statement saying “I have pineapple. I have a pizza. And I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation. #TeamPineapple” which caused Johannesson to release a Facebook statement saying “I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapple on their pizza. I am glad that I do not hold such power. Presidents should not have unlimited power. I would not want to hold this position if I could pass laws forbidding that which I don’t like. I would not want to live in such a country. For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”

When interviewed about the matter, Panopoulos, who has since passed away, said “Well, I don’t know the guy. He should know better.” And honestly, this debate seems like it could represent everything right and wrong with the internet, all at once.

Now, though pizza originated in Italy, it wasn’t until it reached the United States and then went back to Italy post-World War II, that it really became popular there, which is crazy to imagine but before that it had remained a pretty regional dish centered in Naples, but by then, pizza was seen as an American food, and at that time, anything American was considered “cool” by the allies. 

In 1958, brothers Dan and Frank Carney, borrowed $600 from their mother and opened the first Pizza Hut in Witchita, Kansas. The brothers had no idea how to make pizza and the name “Pizza Hut” was used because their sign only had room for eight letters but despite all of this, within a year, they had six restaurants and began franchising in 1959. Likewise, in 1960, brothers Tom and James Monaghan borrowed $900 and purchased an already established pizza restaurant in Ypsilanti, Michigan named DomiNick’s. In 1961, James traded his half of the business to Tom for a Volkswagen Beetle and in 1965, Tom renamed it Domino’s Pizza and started franchising a few years later. Meanwhile, in 1959, Mike and Marian Ilitch open a pizza store in Garden City, Michigan, which is a suburb of Detroit, using their life savings. This was the first Little Caesars and the franchise grew quickly through the 1960s and beyond. Late to the game, Papa John’s was founded in 1984 in Jeffersonville, Indiana. It’s interesting, to say the least, to consider that the four largest pizza chains today were all created in Midwestern states, far from either Naples or the original pizza restaurants in New York City. 

Nowadays, pizza is one of the most popular food in the United States, with 13% of the population eating pizza every single day, making it a $37 billion industry in just the US alone. There are many varieties of pizza throughout the country. New York-style is thin crusted and flexible, and generally cut into large slices that can be folded inward and eaten while walking, though you might want to watch out for the oil dripping off the top. New Haven-style, often called “apizza” is similar but has a signature charred, crisp crust. Pan pizza is cooked in dishes with sides and deep-dish Chicago-style and Detroit-style pizzas are variations of the pan pizza, with Chicago resembling an actual pie with tons of fillings, and Detroit often putting the cheese on the dough and then layering the tomato sauce on top of the cheese. Greek pizza and Sicilian pizzas also generally have thicker crusts but without the assistance of being baked in a pan with sides. 

Outside of the United States, other countries have their own pizza traditions. In Georgia (the country, not the state), you can find pizza dough stuffed with cheese and then topped with an egg. In Japan, you can find pizzas covered in cabbage, seafood, and seaweed. In Lebanon, pizza might be eaten at breakfast, and topped with a seasoning made from thyme, oregano, and sesame seeds. In Hungary, you can find Langos, a pizza-like bread that’s deep fried and covered with sour cream or yogurt, cheese, garlic, and butter. German pizza may use cream cheese, and in Iceland, bananas and blue cheese are a topping combination option that really makes me wonder how Iceland’s president could have had much to say about pineapple on pizza at all.

Mozzarella is the most popular cheese used on pizza, followed by provolone, cheddar, parmesan, Romano, and ricotta, in that order. In addition to getting pizza from a restaurant, you can make your own at home using homemade or purchased bags of dough, or you can just heat up a frozen pizza, with or without a stuffed crust, with a cauliflower crust, or even a gluten-free crust with vegan cheese on top. Not in the mood for a frozen pizza? Well why not try one of the other pizza-style treats available at the grocery story such as pizza rolls, bagel pizzas, build your own pizza Lunchables, pizza themed pasta, and pizza-flavored seasonings. 

If you want to go even further, let’s dive into some of the crazy pizza-related records that have been set. In 2012, the largest pizza in the world was made in Rome, with an area of 1261.65 square meters or over 13,580 square feet and weighing in at 51,257 pounds. It was made with 19,800 pounds of gluten-free flour, 10,000 pounds of sauce, 8,800 pounds of mozzarella, and was named “Ottavia,” a Roman word meaning “eighth son,” as an homage to Octavian Augustus who was the first Roman emperor. The pizza was baked by five chefs over 48 hours, making the dough in over 5,000 batches. This is not the only pizza-related world record however, as records for the largest dessert pizza, longest pizza, heaviest pizza, largest commercially available pizza, largest pizza delivery, most pizzas made in an hour, most toppings on one pizza, most pizza boxes held at once, largest collection of pizza-related items, highest pizza toss, most pizzas baked in 23 hours by a team, and many more have been established.

For something that’s essentially just a disc of dough covered in a few toppings, pizza sure has made its mark on human history. It’s a staple at birthday parties, a reward for children who meet their school’s reading goals, and a frequently used incentive for getting friends to help you move. As we close out this episode of Facts to Relax, I’m going to share a very simple pizza crust recipe. I’ll also write out the instructions in the description below. Before that though, I want to thank you for color and chilling with me today as we learned something new and I invite you to subscribe to this channel and comment below if you have any other topics you’d like me to make videos about. 

 

Simple Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

1 package of active dry yeast

1 teaspoon of white sugar

1 cup of warm water

2.5 cups of bread flour or, if you don’t have any of that, all purpose flour

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt

In a medium sized mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar and yeast in warm water. Let this mixture stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and beat or knead until smooth. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes before turning it onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a round disc. Transfer the crust onto a pan and cover with toppings of your choice. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven, cool slightly, and enjoy!

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