Photo: Mitzi Akaha
By Tori Ritchie
On a freezing night in January 1979, a group of students from the Stanford villa in Florence trooped over the hill to the main piazza in Fiesole. A tiny restaurant there served one thing: pizza. We looked in the window and saw the room glowing amber from the wood-fired brick oven. Hunched around small tables, each person had a pizza the size of an LP record on a plate in front of them. They were eating with knives and forks. No wedges. No pies the diameter of Hula Hoops. No pizza boxes stacked in the corner. No sharing.
We sat down and I pointed at the menu. “Quattro stagioni,” I mumbled to the waiter, having no idea what it meant. Our pizzas were set before us, each blistered on the rim. They smelled of fresh bread and toasted cheese, of roasted vegetables and oregano. None had tomato sauce. Mine had four parts: artichokes for spring, olives for summer, mushrooms for fall, prosciutto for winter. I took a bite with my fork. The crust was crisp and yeasty; I could taste each ingredient on top and the cheese underneath, but amplified 100 times by the oven’s heat.
It ruined me forever for American-style pizza, but I wasn’t the only one. Within a year, wood-fired pizza places were opening all over California. Someone even started a pizzeria at Casa Italiana on campus. Although they didn’t have a wood-burning oven, they did have quattro stagioni. I ate there every Saturday night.
Tori Ritchie, ’81, is a food writer and cooking teacher whose website is tuesdayrecipe.com.
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