A HISTORY OF NAPOLI AND ITS FOOD
Naples dates back to the 9th century BC when an ancient Greek settlement, Parthenope, was founded on the site where Castel dell’Ovo stands today
In the 6th century BC, Parthenope was abandoned and left with the name Palepolis (Old City). A new city, Neapolis (Napoli), was founded next to it. Under the Roman Empire, the city of Naples enjoyed economic and cultural prosperity. The city and its surrounds became a desirable retreat for politicians and intellectuals, including Cicero and Virgil, partly due to its beautiful coastline and healing thermal spas.
After the fall of the Empire, Naples became an independent Duchy of Byzantium (763 AD). This autonomous state lasted almost four centuries, during which the city of Naples developed economically and culturally. The Byzantines were followed by the Normans, who decreed Naples to be part of the Kingdom of Sicily.
Emperor Frederick II presided over a flourishing period that culminated in the founding of the University of Naples (1224). When the Anjou dynasty took over, the city became a capital once more, and its population, buildings and economy increased. Naples also enjoyed a period of artistic and cultural splendour under Aragon rule; churches and monuments proliferated and the city attracted many foreign artists.
Naples was ruled by Spaniards, who fought off a popular revolt led by ‘Masaniello’ (1647). After a short period of Austrian rule (1707-1734), Naples finally became an autonomous Kingdom, thanks to Charles of Bourbon. In 1806, Napoleon passed the throne of the Kingdom of Naples to his brother, Giuseppe Bonaparte. In 1816, the Bourbons returned to rule the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (the union of the Kingdom of Sicily with the Kingdom of Naples), but their rule ended when Garibaldi entered Naples in 1860. Finally, a peoples’ plebiscite decreed that the city be annexed to the Kingdom of Piedmont — it became the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.
Neapolitan cuisine evolved through centuries of ‘osmosis’. Arabs, Normans, Spanish and French all ruled Naples and influenced the city’s cooking with their culture. What has resulted is a unique half-sophisticated, half-folk cuisine. Many Neapolitan recipes are elaborate, take time to prepare and use indigenously seasonal produce. All 16th century ‘New World’ importations feature — potatoes, peppers, beans, coffee and especially tomatoes. Which brings us to the Neapolitan pizza; the best pizza in the world! Its secret is mostly about fresh ingredients — herbs, garlic and tomatoes — all lovingly nurtured in the rich volcanic ash of Vesuvius. Add sliced mozzarella, morning-made from water buffalo milk; slide into a stone-built wood-fired oven and wait!
While we’re waiting, there’s a little more history to tell: Mount Vesuvius erupted and ash-scorched Pompeii to destruction on August 24, 79 AD.
These were tragic volcanic clouds with few ‘silver linings’, but one of them was preserved evidence of a ‘flat-baked flour cake’. It proved to be a staple of Pompei’s peasants’ diet, and was also found to be eaten in nearby Neapolis — the Greek colony that became Naples.
Donna Margherita flies in many ingredients from Naples, and we handcraft pizzas using Esposito’s cucina method.
Naples is the ‘pizza capital of the world’.
Flattened flour cakes — early pizzas — were made out of wheat flour, olive oil, lard and herbs garnished with cheese. As for a much later ingredient, the tomato: after the Spanish colonisation of the Americas, Spaniards brought them to Europe. In southern Italy tomatoes were easy to cultivate, and by the 1540s they began to catch on. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.
Considered a make-do peasant’s meal in Italy for centuries, modern pizza is attributed to pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito of Campania, Naples. Try to imagine a sun-parched 11th of June 1889. That day, Esposito baked a ‘royal’ pizza in honour of visiting King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. Striking visuals inspired Esposito’s recipe, for it had to resemble the Italian flag in green (basil), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). Christened with splashes of the finest olive oil, it was named ‘Pizza Margherita’ to flatter the Queen, and it set the standard for pizzas to come. Consequently, from 1889 onwards, Naples became the ‘pizza capital of the world’.
Neapolitan pizza is great, partly because of skilled use of fresh ingredients. In keeping with the spirit of Esposito, Donna Margherita flies in many ingredients from Naples, and we handcraft pizzas using Esposito’s cucina method.