Medieval Pizza – The Origin of Pizza


Tantummoduo persolvere debeatis omni anno salutes in dies natali domini sive vos sive vestris heredes in suprascripto episcopio tam nobis quam a nostris posteris successores duodecim pizze et una spatula de porco; et unum lumbulum; simul et in die sanctum pascha resurrectionis domini annualiter duodecim pizze et unum parium de pulli .
“And in the same way, you have to give, you in person or your heirs, in the Day of the Nativity of our Lord, to us or our successors, twelve pizze and a pork shoulder, and a [pork] loin; and then, in the day of the holy Day of the Resurrection of our Lord, every year, twelve pizze and a couple of chickens.”

We find this passage in an entry dated year 997, in the Codex Diplomaticus Cajenatus, a medieval text which shows the first record of the word pizza. This source is a collection of official and notarial acts of the city of Gaeta, in this case, a contract with the local bishop for the rent of a water mill and the lands around it. Among the other payments, the contract includes this clause: each Christmas and Easter, the tenant will provide twelve pizze to the bishop, and other foods.
We do not know how this 10th-century pizza was made, but we have some information from later sources, De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine by Platina, written in the 15th century, and L’Economia del Cittadino in Villa by Vincenzo Tanara, written in the 17th century. Platina’s book was written originally in Latin, but here we are using the translation into Italian, in which the Latin word placenta is correctly translated as piza or fugaza (in the various texts, we also find the spelling variants pitta or pinza, two words that still today are used to refer to traditional kinds of focaccia as well as sweets). Pizza, Tanara confirms, is a kind of pie, called in many ways, depending on the city and Italian region: placenta is one of them.
There are many ways to make pizza, both savory and sweet. The most simple consist in mixing flour, warm water, and cured pork fatback, with the addition of fennel seeds, Platina writes. But pizza, adds Tanara, is made in many ways: with cured pork fatback, oil, or butter; with almonds and walnuts; with sugar or honey; with vegetables, fruit, or meat mixed into the dough.
Today, we are preparing a pizza from Platina’s book, very different from modern pizza (which we find only in later sources, not before the 19th century) but incredibly good.
Below, you will find the original text with our translation, the method, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian. Enjoy!

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Ingredients (for 3 pizze)
400 gr white wheat flour
3 quails
120 gr firm cheese

Knead the flour with a couple of spoons of sourdough, salt, and warm water. Let the dough rest overnight.
Grease the quails with lard or oil and place them in the oven or spit-roast them, collecting their fat during the cooking. Cut the cheese into cubes.
Knead the dough with the deboned meat, the cheese, and the fat. Divide the dough into three parts and arrange each one of them in a round cooking vessel. Let them rest for at least half an hour.
Bake the pizza in the oven for about 20 minutes and serve it still hot.

Note about the ingredients
Platina suggests using bread dough. In this source, he writes to use flour sifted to remove the bran. As common in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the bread has to be well salted and leavened. You find here more about bread in the Middle Ages.
The author does not specify which little birds to use for this recipe. We chose quails, but you can use other kinds of meat. Though they are not what the author intended, with chicken or duck you will obtain an excellent pizza anyway.
We used scamorza, similar to provatura (very popular in this period and made in the same way as one kind of cheese used by ancient Romans described by Columella), but you can use any kind of firm cheese, not excessively soft for a good outcome of the recipe.

Original text
Piza o fugaza […] Sono etiam et alcuni li quali poneno gli oceletti inel pane cum caxo fresco et grasso daperse de li ucelli; et in forno insieme si cuoceno.

There are some who place the little birds in the bread dough with fresh cheese and the fat collected from the [previously roasted] birds; and they bake them together [the author intends “this dough”] in the oven.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

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