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November 8 , 2000


Pizza jubilee gives rise to slice of Italian life

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) - According to an Italian government report, confirmed by an unscientific poll in St. Peter's Square, "pizza" is the most universally understood Italian word.

Italy's pizza makers, called "pizzaioli," served 50,000 portions of the popular Italian food Oct. 25 as part of the Jubilee for Pizza-Makers. The previous night, they made and served pizza at Catholic-run soup kitchens.

Pope John Paul II honored the disc of baked dough, topped with tomato sauce and cheese, at his general audience Oct. 25, the last day of the jubilee.

He thanked the 2,000 jubilee participants and said, "I assure you of my prayers for your families and for your professional activity, which is so appreciated."

The pizzaioli gave the pope an antique Neapolitan pizza oven, a brass pizza platter and a decorated pizza slicer.

Like many of the Holy Year events, the Oct. 24-25 pizza-makers' jubilee was overwhelmingly Italian. Several young Japanese men participating came with the pizza masters they are studying under in Naples, and one of the few U.S. pizzeria-owners present was an Italian who moved to Pittsburgh two years ago.

As dough was rising in tents near the Vatican, the audience gave rise to a surprising amount of controversy.

First of all, the Oct. 25 audience also marked the jubilee pilgrimage of the Lucca provincial chapter of the Association of Italian Chefs.

"Chefs can also make pizza, but our profession is different. We are not snobs, but being a chef requires more preparation and more learning," said Franco Mariani, president of the Lucca group.

"Pizza is the Italian dish par excellence, but to make a good plate of pasta and a tasty second course is a completely different thing," said Mariani, sporting his tall white chef's hat.

"The pizza here is just tomato sauce, cheese and crust," said Zenaida Chua, a pilgrim from the Philippines. "I like ours better."

Franciscan Father Bonaventure Valles, leader of the Filipino group, said at-home pizza "has a lot of ingredients and a lot of spices; it's very hot."

Pedro Gonzalez, a Puerto Rican living in Florida, said pizza crust in Rome is much thinner than pizza crust at home.

"It's almost like a tortilla.

"Here, one person eats a whole pizza," Gonzalez said.

Alberto Corsaro, president of Pizz'Abruzzo, a regional group of pizza-makers, said the Egyptians started things off by cooking dough on a hot stone.

"We added the topping and made it better," he said. "And the Americans, who are rich, just kept adding more."

Like many of the pizzaioli on pilgrimage, Corsaro can wax poetic about the most famous slice of Italian life, but he also sees it as an important source of jobs for young people in a country where youth unemployment is high.

Gennaro Giustiniani has been making pizzas for 50 years. Three of his four sons are among the thousands of boys he has trained to make, roll, top and bake the simple dough of flour, yeast, olive oil and salt.

"Making pizza - I've done it a million times. Now teaching others is what I like," he said. "Pizza gave me a life and it continues to give me satisfaction."

One of his former students, Roberto Caporuscio, owns and operates the very traditional Pizzeria Regina Margherita in Pittsburgh.

Caporuscio said the Jubilee for Pizza-Makers is a reflection of the fact that "pizza is part of life in Italy and it has spread throughout the world."

And at Caporuscio's pizzeria, tradition dictates a very limited menu: the classic Margherita - tomato, mozzarella and basil - and four variations.

Yoshi Otsubo, a 28-year-old Japanese studying pizza-making in Naples, said when he opens his own pizzeria at home, he'll stick with the semi-thick Neapolitan crust, but he'll have to adapt the toppings.

"In Japan we eat a lot of fish and seafood. As long as it is fresh, I will put it on my pizza," Otsubo said.

Giancarlo Sanchini, a Rome vendor of pizza, will celebrate his jubilee Nov. 12 - the Jubilee for Bread-Bakers.

"All bakeries in Italy sell more pizza than bread now," he said. "Life has changed. Most people no longer go home for a long lunch; they grab a slice of pizza."

In the Eternal City, Sanchini does not mind the change in lunching habits, as long as some traditions remain sacred.

"We're losing the real taste of pizza with all this frozen stuff," he said. "Pizza is pizza when it is made with fresh dough and eaten hot out of the oven."


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