Flatbread has existed for as long as humans have been grinding grains, mixing the resulting
flour with water, and baking over hot coals. And for almost just as long, people have made
these flatbreads more interesting by covering them with other assorted ingredients.
It is the oldest variety of prepared food – one that appears all over the globe, but that
takes on different shapes and textures from region to region, depending on which basic
ingredients are available in that part of the world. Ancient Greeks called theirs “plakuntos”
and covered them with blends of herbs, garlic, and onion. The Aztecs called theirs “tlaxcalli”
and made them with maize, which had first been soaked in water mixed with lime to help
remove the husks and soften the grain. Many flatbread recipes have survived through the
ages and remain close to those original culinary discoveries. They feature flours made from
one or more grains – wheat, millet, rye, maize, rice, and buckwheat, to name but a few.
They may also be made from grated tubers or root vegetables, such as potatoes, cassava,
beetroots and turnips. With the advent of the global food market, those living in urban areas
and even those removed from the city – with access to the Internet and home delivery – can
taste flavours from far-off countries and evoke memories of ancient civilizations in
their own home kitchens.
Flatbreads fall into two main categories – those leavened with yeast or another
leavening agent, and those that are unleavened. In the category of leavened flatbread, pizza
is the one that has become a truly international phenomenon over the past 60 years,
although focaccias, pittas, naans, and others have been gaining more widespread popularity.
What sets pizza apart from other flatbreads is the use of tomato as the main topping
ingredient. This became common practice around Naples in the eighteenth century and
rapidly grew in fame throughout Italy. One hundred years later, pizza was brought to the United
States by Italian immigrants and began another metamorphosis. Pizzerias began appearing in
cities throughout the country and soon different trends in pizza-making started to emerge, with
such delicious results as the Chicago deep-dish pizza, thin base pizzas and pan pizzas.
In response to these developments, Neapolitan pizza makers formed an association in
1984 to protect the characteristics of the original Neapolitan pizza, imposing specific rules
to be obeyed in order for a pizza to qualify as authentically Neapolitan. The association
accepts only Marinara and Margherita Pizzas made entirely by hand – no mixers or rolling
pins allowed. They must measure no more than 30 cm (12 in) across and be baked in a
wood-fired oven for no more than a minute and a half. Fortunately, the “True Neapolitan
Pizza Association” will not be inspecting your kitchen, so have fun and experiment with
your favorite topping combinations. Whichever recipe you try first, when you take part
in this time-honored process, you are sure to enjoy the results.