|My favorite pizza: Cream of artichoke with artichokes and buffalo mozzarella cheese|
|NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio|
Recently, I had the honor of spending an evening with New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and his charming family during their stay in Venice, Italy. We talked about many things: his city and ours, his proud Italian-American heritage and the joy he and his family felt visiting and being so warmly welcomed to Italy. When I permitted myself to make a light hearted comment about eating pizza with a fork, he gave me a warm smile and, like any good Italian, gently threw up his hands.
Some readers here may not know that since Mayor De Blasio was elected to office last November magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, have mocked and criticized him for eating pizza with a fork. In the NYTimes article one person went as far as to call eating pizza with a fork “blasphemy” and stated that the Mayor “doesn’t know any better”. (See link to that article below)
For the record, Mayor De Blasio is unaware that our brief, pleasant exchange about pizza encouraged me to write this post.
So, here goes. My question to those who find it difficult to accept the Mayor’s way of eating pizza is: What’s all the fuss about?
You see, the Mayor does know better, and he’s right. When eating pizza IN ITALY—where the word pizza is said to have first appeared in Latin in 997 A.D. in the town of Gaeta near Naples—one uses a fork and, blasphemy of all blasphemies, a knife.
Now, I understand your concerns. I grew up in Los Angeles and spent my childhood summer vacations in the heart of Philadelphia. I remember back in the 60s holding my fast-walking grandfather’s hand on our summer shopping trips to 69th Street where a steam billowing pizza stand sat on the corner—or at least near the public bus stop. Twenty-five cent pizza slices sold out the window on a gritty busy city street were a novelty for this then young suburban Southern Californian. Of course I’d eaten pizza with my hands in Los Angeles, but I’d never eaten it standing on a street corner. Served on a square of paper, those cheese-dripping triangles were the best pizza slices I’d ever sunk my teeth into—until I moved to Italy in the 1980s.
What I quickly learned about eating pizza in Italy is that, in the Bel Paese, it’s rarely served sliced. Instead, it’s served whole on a big round ceramic platter and, therefore, must be eaten with a knife and a fork. Also, when eating pizza in Italy—and in recent years in some pizzerias around the U.S.A.—you order your own individual whole pizza, and choose your favorite topping, too. You won’t find pineapple on pizza in Italy, but believe it or not, a favorite pizza among Italian children is Pizza Patatina—cheese and tomato sauce topped with French fries. (You can imagine the expression on my face when fifteen or so years ago a slightly rude and uninformed young waiter in a pizzeria in Pennsylvania told my Italian born, and then six-year old, daughter that if she wanted French fries on her pizza she’d have to go down the street to McDonald’s) In any event, my favorite pizza is a pizza bianca—no tomato sauce—cream of artichoke with marinated artichoke hearts plus buffalo mozzarella, with KAMUT flour crust. Deliziosa!
Eating an entire pizza might sound like a gastronomical task, but pizza and their crusts in Italy are normally lighter than traditional pizzas in the U.S., and making them is an art form. Whether you’re in New York City, Venice or Naples, a pizzeria is only as good as its pizzaiolo and its oven—preferably wood burning—and the best pizzaioli in Italy are known for preparing their crust thin and crisp.
So, my pizza loving friends, don’t you think it’s time to give Mayor De Blasio a break and lay this how pizza should be eaten conversation to rest? He’s simply eating pizza the traditional Italian way. Whether your pizza is served sliced or whole you, too, might try using a fork and a knife next time. And if it doesn’t seem quite right, no problem, use your hands.
New York Times article January 10,2014: A Fork? De Blasio’s Way of Eating Pizza Is Mocked http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/11/nyregion/de-blasio-skewered-for-eating-pizza-with-utensils.html?_r=0