Feb 5, 2013

Where did pizza come from?

It is usually hard to find out where a specific food item was invented because the general concept was adapted in many places.  I think the Asian cha siu bao, the Italian ravoli and the Russian piroshki have a lot in common. They are all stuffed pastry.  When John and I were in Split, Croatia we were told that pizza was invented in Split. We stayed at the Le Meridien Lav where we planned to take a cooking class but it was low season and the classes were not available. But the chef arranged to have one of his helpers, Snježana Matijaš, show us how to make a local favorite, soparnik. It resembles a two-crust pizza filled with Swiss chard. The Chef explained that pizza originated in Split, Croatia, “Pizza was making something out of nothing. It is what poor people did.” 

In AD 305, it seems that Roman Emperor Diocletian became ill so he abdicated and retired to Split where he built a great palace. Today the historic city of Split, much of which was built around the ruins of Diocletian’s palace, has been designated a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO.  With Diocletian came many Romans, soldiers and servants, who enjoyed the local culinary favorite, soparnik, they took the recipe back to Rome where it, over the years, turned into pizza as we know it today.

Another interesting fact we learned was that countries were outsourcing long before the current hullabaloo over the topic. Water for Diocletian’s palace came from the Jadro River where the impressive remains of the original Roman aqueduct can still be seen.  They were restored during the 19th century. We were told by our guide that historians were puzzled by the city’s excellent water system that seemed to supply water that exceeded the needs of the population during the time of Diocletian.  Research showed that they needed the water to facilitate the manufacture of military uniforms which was outsourced from Rome. Why? Because it was less expensive. The more things change the more they stay the same.  The water system is still in use today.

Making soparnik is easy. You can try this recipe that the Le Meridien shared with us.

1 lb Swiss chard (can substitute other greens)
¼ (one-fourth) head of small cabbage
3 tbsp olive oil
Dash sea salt
Dash Sugar
12 oz cold water
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb all-purpose flour
4 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp olive oil

Remove stems from Swiss chard and julienne. Refrigerate it overnight to dry it. It must be really dry for the pie. The next day mix Swiss chard, cabbage, oil, sea salt, and add a bit of sugar. To make the dough, add water, salt and olive oil in the flour and knead until well mixed. Let it set for a 45 minutes. Split the dough in half. Lightly flour the rolling pin and dough. Roll the dough to a size of a baking tin; cover the dough with the Swiss chard. Roll the second half of the dough and cover Swiss chard. Pinch the edges. Bake at 425 for 20 min or until the crust is light brown. Mix the oil and garlic and brush the mixture on the top. Cut the pie into diamond shapes and serve it. Makes a great appetizer or vegetarian dish.