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Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a spicy, Mediterranean, perennial herb, particularly common in Greek and Italian cuisines. It is the leaves that are used in cooking, and the dried herb is often more flavourful than the fresh.
Oregano is a conditio sine qua non in Italian cuisine, where it is used for tomato sauces, fried vegetables and grilled meat. Together with basil, it makes up for the character of Italian dishes; see parsley on Italian variants of bouquet garni.
Oregano can effectively combined with pickled olives and capers or lovage leaves; other than most Italian herbs, oregano harmonizes even with hot and spicy food, as is popular in Southern Italy. The cuisines of other Mediterranean countries make less use of it, but it is of some importance for Spanish, French and Greek cooking.
The dish most associated with oregano is pizza, a kind of open pie: Bread dough topped with tasty stuff and baked. Bread of this kind was probably eaten in Southern Italy for centuries; according to the legend, pizza came into existence in 1889, when King Umberto and his wife Margherita sojourned in Napoli (Naples). Pizza, at this time not more than white bread flavoured with tomato paste, was then a popular food for the poor masses. To honour the Queen, a local baker devised a richer kind of pizza: In addition to the red tomato paste, white mozzarella cheese and green basil leaves were employed, thus reflecting the colours of the Italian flag. This invention became known as pizza Margherita and spread all over Italy and, with some delay, over the rest of the world.
Today's pizza relies more on oregano than on basil, and use a multitude of further ingredients: Ham, sausage, fish, shellfish, mushrooms, artichokes, onion, garlic, olives, capers, anchovies and more make pizza a sophisticated delicacy, although it had once been the poor man's sandwich.
The very similar, but stronger, taste of Mexican oregano (see above) is popular not only in its native country México, but also in the south of the US, where it is frequently used to flavour chili con carne (meat stewed with chiles and sometimes beans) or other México-inspired dishes. For this purpose, it is mostly combined with several varieties of chiles and paprika, dried garlic or onion and cumin).
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