Hello again everyone! Agostino here and I hope you all had a good week. In my previous post, we discussed how certain elements of pizza-making have changed through the ages. Today we will talk about an ingredient that has remained its identity through the ages. I am talking of course about oregano.
Oregano is a popular herb that originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe, including countries such as Greece, the Middle-East, and naturally my home country of Italy. It’s name came from the Greek words “oros” (meaning “mountain”) and “ganos” (meaning “joy”). Put them together, and oregano simply means “joy of the mountains”.
It is a perennial type of plant, growing between 20 to 80 centimetres tall. It’s distinctive feature is its small pink or purple flowers which have a somewhat sharp, spiky arrangement. Though these flowers are also edible, oregano tastes best when it is harvested before it gets a chance to produce flowers.
Oregano’s popularity in the world of pizza rose significantly after World War II. US soldiers, coming back from the war, brought back with them samples of what they called the “pizza herb”. Through the years, with the help of globalization, the taste of oregano (together with basil) has come to be known worldwide as a mainstay in Italian-American cuisine, helping shape its distinct characteristic and taste.
Oregano’s Role in the Creation of Pizza
In a previous post, we discussed the history of pizza in Naples. It started out as a means for the poor citizens of the city to enjoy a relatively cheap, simple meal created with affordable ingredients such as dough and tomatoes.
According to Italian legend, oregano found its way into pizza Neapoletana when King Umberto I, together with his wife Queen Margherita di Savoia, would spend a summer holiday in Naples and order a pizza to be created for them, to sample this famous peasant dish made by local pizzaoli.
To honor the queen, a special pizza was created for the royal couple. Instead of the usual dough and tomato sauce combination, white mozzarella and fresh oregano was added – in order to create an image of the Italian flag. The queen was delighted with the dish and thereafter it came to become what we now recognize as Pizza Margherita.
(Eagle-eyed loyal subscribers to my blog will note of a similar legend in a previous post: that of the origin of basil in the creation of pizza Neapoletana.)
Eventually, the use of oregano in pizza Neapoletana spread throughout the country, thus establishing its cultural and culinary significance in Italian cuisine. Clearly, it has earned it’s nickname as the mother of pizza spices.
Today, oregano is used in a variety of Italian dishes. From the previously mentioned pizza, to pasta, to salads, to meats and fishes, oregano’s versatility cannot be overlooked. Some would even use oregano in making tea, to maximize its many health benefits. Truly an amazing herb!
Oregano remains as one of the links in the preservation of the original, authentic taste of pizza. Its rich history, coupled with its versatility, has firmly established its legacy as the mother of pizza spices. I am happy that in our world today, there is enough oregano to satisfy the palate of every genuine connoisseur of authentic Neapolitan pizza. Until next time, this is your friend Agostino Vitiello saying “Ciao!”