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A Slice of Italy
By Kregg P. J. Jorgenson
Posted September 3, 2007


  Driving through Italy you get the impression that posted speed limits are meant to be more suggestive than a binding law, especially after a line of Maseratis, Moto Guzzis, Ducatis, and Fiats fly past you while you’re doing 20 kilometers over the speed limit yourself.

  Parking rules too take on creative interpretations as bicycles, scooters, passenger vehicles, and delivery trucks stick out of parking places in every possible and conceivable angle, like some elaborate puzzle that’s only understood and accepted by the drivers involved and Momma Mia Meter maids.

  However, one law that seems sacrosanct to Italians is their rightfully proud take on what constitutes pizza and what doesn’t. From the top of the historical boot to its well recognized toe and heel you soon learn that in Italy pizza isn’t just pizza; it is an art form and the real moveable feast.

  Walk down almost any street and you’re bound to be hit with a beckoning aroma from the seemingly ubiquitous pizzerias. The smell of roasted garlic, tomato sauce, roasted peppers, green leaf spinach, goat cheese, artichokes, eggplant, olive oil swathed golden brown pizza crust, red onions, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese or other mix of tantalizing toppings will quickly grab the attention of both you and your stomach.

    In Rome Lazio style pizza comes in large tasty squares as well as the more traditional round pies. However, what you won’t find in the nation’s capital or any other reputable pizzeria throughout the country will be anything frozen, machine-stamped or covered in ‘cheese-like’ by-products and chemical artificial flavorings.

  “That is not pizza,” explained a local pizzaioli (pizza chef) when the subject of ‘good’ pizza came up and quickly deteriorated to factory-like brands and frozen products. “Now this, this is real pizza,” he added, handing me an oven-hot Lazio square I had ordered.

  With just one bite the taste and texture of the oven-baked pizza and it’s rich Mozzarella, roasted peppers, garlic, olive oil, and mushrooms easily convinced me he was right. This was pizza!

  He went on to explain how the dough had to be allowed to rise for six hours before being hand-kneaded and shaped into just the right thickness. “Then you must have the right tomato sauce, the right cheeses, and herbs so the flavor draws you in and caresses your senses,” he said, waving a make-believe aroma to his nose as he closed his eyes and momentarily sighed to make his point. “Ahhhhh!” he murmured enjoying the moment while I enjoyed the pizza.

  “So, bene?” he asked already knowing his answer.

  “Si, molto bene,” I said, nodding like a bobble-head as I quickly finished the first square and ordered another. Comparison studies, I reasoned, make for a better article. “And a beer too!” I added all in the name of dedicated pizza science.

  Over the course of several weeks taste-testing pizza you soon discover the pride that goes into making it as you learn something of it’s history and more.

  Pizza, or at least something akin to it, has been around since the days of the ancient Greeks but it wasn’t until the 16th Century when the Spanish brought tomatoes from the New World and they found their way to Naples that pizza as we now know it came into being.

  Also, you learn that Naples isn’t just the birth place of modern pizza it is its holy grail as well setting more than just the proverbial standard. “The Margherita pizza was invented in Napoli,” said the Roman Pizzaioli. “And named for Queen Margherita who loved them,” quickly adding that, “Queen Margherita was the wife of King Umberto.”

  “Ah!” I said nodding although I didn’t know who exactly they were.

  “And the Marinara pizza was named for the sailors who sailed into Naples and feasted on them so many times it gave it their name.”

  “And the Extra Margherita?” I asked.

  The Pizzaioli shrugged. “Perhaps the Queen ate too many.” 

  She wasn’t alone. Pizza sales run into the billions of dollars worldwide which is why in 2004 Italy passed a pizza law regulating the size, shape, ingredients, preparation and baking procedures for three types of traditional Neapolitian pizza; specifically the Marinara, Margherita, and Extra Margherita.

  The pizza law basically sets the standard for those types thus insuring the standards remain high.

  Ethnocentric pride? Maybe? But quality was undoubtedly behind the decision. In a land where food factors heavily into ‘La Dolce Vita’ — the sweet life — the notion of anything less than tasty, delicious, or savory food is an unspeakable offense, even if it is something as simple as pizza.

  Its value is more than just affordability too as one American mother traveling with two young children soon discovered. “If you are traveling with kids in Italy pizza is a life saver!” she said. “On vacation it is always a struggle to get your kids to try something they don’t want to eat. Pizza, especially good pizza like here in Italy, is a reliable fall back.”

 The trouble though is returning home and coming back to factory pizzas that often times don’t quite measure up. What then?

  Simple. Get picky. Seek out the authentic pizzerias. They are there to be found. You just have to search them out.

  In West Seattle, in an appropriate wedge shaped store at the southern end of Westwood Village, Giannoni’s Pizzeria, serves up traditional Italian pizza by the slice or whole and is freshly made and baked to Old World perfection.

  Owned and operated by Donna and Quentin Burns, the pizzeria uses only fresh quality ingredients and hand-tossed dough under the skillful direction of popular local Chef Franco Troiano, who just also happens to be a third generation Pizza chef from Naples, Italy.

  Burns and Troiano know good pizza, whether it is Old World family recipes or newly inspired ones that draw the customers in and brings them back for repeat business.

  While we can’t always get to Rome, Naples, or Venice we can sometimes find a nice pizzeria like Gianonni’s closer to home and enjoy a small slice of Italy one delicious bite at a time.



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