At last, an episode on pizza! But that raises a tricky question: what exactly is pizza? As it turns out, the original pizzas from eighteenth-century Naples looked nothing like a standard slice—they were more like a focaccia, topped with oil, herbs, anchovies, or whatever else was on hand. Even after these first pizzas met the tomato, the dish was a local peculiarity—most Italians thought pizza was gross and weird until just a few decades ago. So how did we get from Neapolitan subsistence snack to today's delivery staple? Listen in this episode as we travel with historian Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, and Francisco Migoya, head chef at Modernist Cuisine, from Italy to New York to Brazil and beyond, to tell the story of how pizza conquered the world. All that, plus the tough questions: is Chicago deep dish really pizza? How about bananas on top? What about (gasp) a donut pizza?
Francisco Migoya making an authentic Neapolitan pizza at the Modernist Cuisine lab, while Cynthia tapes. Photo by Nicola Twilley.
Carol Helstosky is associate professor of history at the University of Denver, where she studies food consumption and politics in modern Europe. In addition to Pizza: A Global History, she is also the author of Garlic and Oil: Food and Politics in Modern Italy.
Francisco Migoya is the head chef at Modernist Cuisine, and co-author of Modernist Bread. He was previously the executive pastry chef at The French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery. Migoya is currently at work on the forthcoming Modernist Cuisine pizza book.
For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.
In the episode, Francisco Migoya describes a pizza topped with banana, curry sauce, peanuts, chicken, cheese as a Swedish kebab pizza. This is a mistake, as many disappointed Swedes have since informed us: a Swedish kebab pizza is actually topped with, surprise, döner kebab meat, as well as white sauce, onion, tomato, peppers, and cheese. It's often ranked as the country's most popular pizza! The banana-chicken concoction that shook Migoya to his core was actually a Flygande Jacob, or Flying Jacob pizza, based on a popular Swedish casserole in which rotisserie chicken, heavy cream, and bananas are baked together with chili sauce, cheese, and Italian seasoning, before the whole mess is topped with fried bacon and peanuts. According to The Takeout, the recipe first hit Sweden in 1976, when an air freight worker named Ove Jacobsson submitted it to the magazine Allt Om Mat (All About Food), "as a perfect-for-parties dish that’s 'easy to make and tastes great.'" There's a recipe online here, should you feel the need.