In Chapter 3 of my new book, Anthony and the Magic Picture Frame, my real-life son, twelve-year-old Anthony, time-travels to 1907 and meets his immigrant great-grandfather at Ellis Island. Together they explore turn-of-the-century New York City. At one point in the story, Anthony and his teenage great-grandfather take time out to sit on the curb of a cobblestone street in the Little Italy section of New York, and lunch on pizza.
Anthony makes the following comment:
"The pizza, by the way, was the best I have ever tasted. It was not at all like the pizza in my own time, which is mostly a saucy mess of cheese and toppings, piled sky-high on doughy, tasteless bread. No, the pizza back then was much simpler, and yet, far better! I'll never forget the wonderful flavors of fresh tomatoes, fragrant basil, pungent garlic, golden olive oil, and bubbling-hot buffalo mozzarella cheese. Put all that on charcoal-oven crisped bread and it's like heaven in your mouth! The pizza alone was worth the trip through ninety-seven years!"
What kind of pizza was Anthony describing?
Anthony is describing Pizza Margherita, prepared in the classic Neapolitan style. In 1889, Queen Margherita of Italy asked Raffaele Esposito, the owner of a restaurant near the palace in Naples, to cook a pizza dinner for the royal family. Raffaele prepared three pizzas: Pizza alla Mastunicola, a pungent cheese and lard pizza; Pizza alla Marinara, a seafood pizza with anchovies; and Pizza alla Mozzarella, a cheese pizza. On a patriotic impulse, Raffaele placed bright green leaves of basil on top of the cheese pizza to match the colors of the Italian flag - red, white, and green. Raffaele named the new pizza, Pizza Margherita, in honor of the Queen.
Where did Anthony sample this very special pizza?
Anthony bought his pizza at Gennaro Lombardi's store on Spring Street in Little Italy. Gennaro Lombardi emigrated from Naples, Italy, in 1895, when he was twenty years old. In 1897, Lombardi opened a grocery store at 53 Spring Street, where he made pizzas for hungry Italian immigrant workers. Lombardi's store was officially established as the first pizzeria in America when it obtained a New York City mercantile license in 1905.
Where can you find the very best pizza in the United States today?
Lombardi's still turns out some of the best pizza in America, using a coal-fired, 900 degree (F) brick oven. It's still located in the Little Italy section of New York City, now at 32 Spring Street between Mulberry Street and Mott Street. Visit the Web site, www.lombardispizza.com, and then go sample the pizza!
If you can't make it to Lombardi's, and you want to eat a pizza that is similar to the pizza Anthony ate in 1907, look for a pizza restaurant that displays the sign: "Vera Pizza Napoletana," meaning "Certified True Neapolitan Pizza." You see, in 1984, Antonio Pace, the owner of one of the oldest Pizza restaurants in Naples, Italy, founded the Association for True Neapolitan Pizza. The Association published specifications for True Neapolitan Pizza and began a formal program of training pizza chefs and certifying pizza restaurants in the United States and around the world.
The specifications for True Neapolitan Pizza include: Pizza dough must consist of only flour, natural yeast, and water; the dough must be kneaded by hand or with an approved mixer; the dough must be formed by hand without the help of a rolling pin or any other mechanical device; the pizza must be round, no more than 14 inches in diameter, no thicker than 0.1 inches in the middle and with a crust of about 0.8 inches; toppings for the pizza must be sparing, but should include imported Italian tomatoes, olive oil, and buffalo mozzarella cheese; the pizza must be cooked in a bell shaped, wood-fired, stone oven; the oven temperature must be 800 - 900 degrees (F).
Now, where do YOU think you can find the very best pizza in the United States?
Lombardi's Pizzeria, Little Italy, New York
Totonno's Pizzeria, Second Avenue, New York
Original Pizzeria Uno, Chicago
Pizzeria Duo, Chicago
Antica Pizzeria, Port'Alba, Naples, Italy (Since 1738)
Lou Monte Sings Songs for Pizza Lovers (Album)
That's Amore (Song, Dean Martin, 1954)
(All of the information above can be found in the new book: Anthony and the Magic Picture Frame, by Michael S. Class. Read the book. Remember the truth. Share it with your children.)
Michael S. Class
Web Site: www.MagicPictureFrame.com
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