Note to Self:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Anatomy of a Pizza

(The following text and recipes originally appeared in Buffalo Spree; for additional recipes and pictures click here or here.)

One of the aspects of food that I have always found interesting—besides cooking and eating it—is its history, and to study food history is in a certain way studying civilization itself. Even common everyday foods have a history…someone had to be the first to make it. Case in point: Pizza.

While pizza is so common in America it may as well be an American product, but of course it is not. Nor—some may be dismayed to learn—are its origins Italian, at least not exclusively. Pizza, or simple versions of it, most likely began east of Italy; Greece maybe, or possibly Egypt or the Levant. Some speculate that the ancient Phoenicians first developed a seasoned flatbread that was pizza’s precursor and brought it on their nautical travels. The etymological origins of pizza are said to come from the Greek word pita (or pitta), which means pie or a sort of flat cake. The Eastern Mediterranean is the area where bread, and specifically flatbread, first came into existence. In many Middle Eastern countries today, where bread is still baked flat, it is not only a foodstuff, it is also a utensil. It was surely only a matter of time before food was baked onto the bread.

What I find truly interesting is that while more toppings were added as pizza evolved, there were originally no tomatoes to be had; they didn’t arrive in Italy (from the “New World”) until the 16th century and weren't considered edible until the early 1700's. One of the first recorded pizzas to resemble those that we know today is the still-famous Pizza Martguerita. It was first baked (or at least first served) on June 11, 1889 by a cook named Raffaele Esposito. He was catering an event for Queen Margherita di Savoia and paid homage to the colors of Italy's flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). I can’t help but wonder what the cook’s outcome would have been should the Queen not have liked the new fangled food.

Pizza as a recipe is exceedingly easy to prepare. Most people are afraid of homemade dough but it is very simple and will get easier the more you make it. There are plenty of pre-made and often frozen doughs available, but with the aid of an electric mixer you can make good quality dough in the time it takes to thaw one out. A couple key things to remember are to preheat your oven and don’t overload the pizza with too many or soggy ingredients otherwise the pizza itself will be soggy. And remember, also, that the next time you bite into a slice of steaming hot pizza, whether you made it or purchased it, what you have in your hand is not only food…it’s a veritable (and edible) slice of history.

Basic Pizza Dough
Yield: 4 (12 inch) pizza crusts
2 1/3 cups water
2 packages yeast
6 cups bread flour, divided
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon salt

Combine the water, yeast, and 2 cups of flour in the bowl of an upright mixer; stir, cover, and allow to ferment 30 minutes. Add the remaining 4 cups flour along with the olive oil and yeast. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and begin mixing on low speed. Once it forms a ball turn the speed to medium and knead about 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap; allow the dough to ferment and rise for 1 hour, or until it doubles in size. At this point it may be rolled out for pizza, used to make bread, or refrigerated for a few days; it can also frozen for up to 6 months.

Pizza Margherita
Yield: 2 (12 inch) pizzas
1/2 recipe pizza dough
2 tablespoon cornmeal
2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
8 large leaves fresh basil, very coarsely chopped
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat an oven to 475 F. Lightly oil 2 (12 inch) pizza pans (or square baking pans). Divide the dough and roll out and transfer it to the pans. Distribute the ingredients across the dough with the cheese being last. Bake the pizzas for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are crisp and the cheese is golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Traditional Pizza
Yield: 2 (12 inch) pizzas
1 ounce olive oil
1/2 recipe pizza dough
1/2 recipe pizza sauce
6 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
2 ounces grated Romano cheese

Preheat an oven to 475 F. Lightly oil (2) 12 inch pizza pans (or square baking pans). Divide the dough and roll out and transfer it to the pans. Distribute the ingredients across the dough with the cheese being last. Bake the pizzas for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are crisp and the cheese is golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Pizza Sauce
Yield: 1-1/2 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small diced onion (approximately 4 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 cup tomato puree

Heat the olive oil in a small sauce pot then add the diced onion. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat, until it begins to caramelize. Add the garlic and sauté a minute longer. Add the oregano, basil, salt, pepper and tomato puree. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat to a very lower simmer and cook the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring often to avoid scorching.

Pizza Quattro Formaggi
(Pizza with Four Cheeses)
Yield: 2 (12 inch) pizzas
1/2 recipe pizza dough
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
8 large leaves fresh basil, very coarsely chopped
3 ounces Mozzarella cheese, grated
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
3 ounces Asiago cheese, grated
3 ounces Provolone cheese, grated

Preheat an oven to 475 F. Lightly oil (2) 12 inch pizza pans (or square baking pans). Divide the dough and roll out and transfer it to the pans. Distribute the ingredients across the dough with the cheese being last. Bake the pizzas for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are crisp and the cheese is golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Pizza Crudo
(Grilled Pizza Topped with Raw Salad)
Yield: 2 (12 inch) pizzas
1/2 recipe pizza dough
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bunches arugula, washed
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
2 plum tomatoes, diced small
2 slices prosciutto, julienned
2 ounces Asiago cheese, shredded
Preheat a grill, having one side prepared with indirect heat. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil on each side of the dough. Place the dough on the grill (not over the direct flame) and close the lid. Cook for a couple of minutes, then turn it over and close the lid. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Combine the remaining 4 tablespoons oil with the vinegar, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk together. Add the arugula, onion, tomatoes, prosciutto, and Asiago. Toss the salad in the dressing and transfer it to the cooked dough.

Grilled Focaccia
Yield: 2 (12 inch) Focacci
1/2 recipe pizza dough, rolled thin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoon minced rosemary
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat a grill, having one side prepared with indirect heat. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil on each side of the dough with the garlic. Place the dough on the grill (not over the direct flame) and close the lid. Cook it for a couple minutes then turn it over. Quickly sprinkle it with the salt, rosemary, and cheese. Close the lid and cook it for a couple of minutes longer.

Spinach-Feta Pizza with Honey-Brown Rice Crust
Makes 2 Pizzas
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh spinach, washed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 brown rice dough recipe
4 ounces feta, crumbled
4 ounces mozzarella, shredded

Preheat an oven to 450F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onion and sauté for a minute or two. Then add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the spinach and salt to the pan, turning and stirring it to coat it in oil. Cook the spinach just a minute or two, or until it wilts; transfer it to a plate to cool slightly while you roll out the dough. Lightly oil (2) 12 inch pizza pans (or square baking pans). Divide the dough and roll out and transfer it to the pans. Distribute the ingredients across the dough with the cheese being last. Bake the pizzas for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the bottoms are crisp and the cheese is golden. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Honey-Brown Rice Dough
Makes 5 (1 lb.) loaves
1 cup brown rice
3 quarts water
____________

cooked rice
2 cups cooking liquid
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
____________

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon instant yeast
4-5 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Combine the rice and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil; lower the heat to simmer and cook the rice for about 45 minutes or until very soft. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to cool in the cooking liquid. Strain the rice, squeezing out excess moisture and reserving 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Make a pre-ferment by combining the cooked rice and 2 cups of cooking liquid with 2 cups whole wheat flour and a tablespoon yeast. Allow the pre-ferment to ferment for 1-12 hours. Transfer the pre-ferment to an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Stir in the honey, olive oil, additional tablespoon of yeast, 4 cups of the bread flour, and kosher salt. Mix on low speed until it begins to form a dough. If it seems too sticky add the remaining cup of flour. Mix on medium speed for 8-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer to dough to a lightly oiled bowl or bucket and allow to rise for about 90 minutes, or until doubled in size. At this point it may be rolled out for pizza, used to make bread, or refrigerated for a few days; it can also frozen for up to 6 months.

4 comments:

Debor said...

I wasn't hungry til I read this post. Yum!

DanT said...

Yum. Another excellent post.

the_big_smile said...

I L-O-V-E pizza!
And every now and then, we make pizza at home. The dough is easy to make, indead.
And the children like to put the vegetables and everything else on their corner of the pizza.
It is fun for the whole family!

Think I should try the Pizza Crudo. I didn't know, a pizza can be made like this.

Thanks!

Joe said...

Thanks All! The pizza was as delicious as it looks (my teenage son liked it too)...and it's easy to make.