BY: Ginger Hill
piz’za, n. (It.) – A baked pie of Italian origin consisting of a shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings, such as sausage and hamburger.
Sounds yummy, huh? And, it should, because in America, a whopping 4 billion fresh, made-to-order pizzas were sold last year. Pretty amazing! But, where did the love of pizza come from?
History of Pizza
Over the past 50 years, pizza has become the cuisine of choice of a majority of Americans. And, as colorful as a freshly baked pizza, is the origin and history of pizza itself.
It is commonly believed that Italians created pizza, however, the Italian culture has simply made the popularity of pizza grow in the past few decades. The origin of pizza actually goes back to the ancient times and include the Babylonians, Israelites, Egyptians, and a variety of other Middle Eastern cultures. These people consumed a flat, unleavened bread that had been cooked in mud ovens and topped with olive oil and other native spices. Therefore, Italians got the idea of using a piece of bread as a plate and ornately decorating it with a variety of toppings before consuming it. Thus, the idea of pizza was born!
In 1830, the world’s first pizzeria was opened in Naples, Italy and is still in business today. (If you ever have the chance to visit Italy, it would be wise to dine at Antica Pizzeria Port’ Alba in Naples!) Therefore, the people of Naples, Italy are recognized for creating the pizza in a more familiar fashion and so the legend goes:
In the later 1800‘s, Raffaele Esposito, an Italian baker, created a special dish for visiting royalty; King Umberto and his consort, Queen Margherita. In order for Mr. Esposito to show his pride and patriotism for the country of Italy, Esposito came up with a plan to top the commonly used flat bread with the colors that best represented Italy: red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil. The monarch king and queen were extremely delighted with the cuisine, and the positive word spread quickly. When people began to get word of the exquisite dish, a variety of variations were made as the masses tried to recreate the dish. However, Americans will be forever grateful for the Italian immigrants of the 1900’s for the introduction of pizza to the United States. Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in America in New York, however, pizza did not gain popularity until returning G.I.’s of World War II created a demand for the tasty treat they had eaten while in Italy.
Today, pizza is just as American as apple pie with over 60,000 pizza eateries scattered through out the United States producing a multibillion dollar revenue. I guess the business men who have made their billions in pizza should pause to give thanks to the veterans of World War II!
670 MILLION pounds of cheese is sold every year!
75 ACRES of cheese is eaten every day!
350 MILLION tons of frozen pizza is sold every year!
30 TIMES a year is how often the average family eats pizza at home!
96% of people buy pizza out. Only 4% never go out for pizza!
23 POUNDS of cheese is eaten every year by the average person
1.1 BILLION frozen pizzas were sold last year!
Astonishing! With so much pizza being consumed by Americans, what about those who are health conscious? Does pizza actually provide health benefits? Are the really healthy versions of the beloved pizza? Some research says definitely!
Health Benefits of Pizza
According to the latest research by the American Cancer Association, lycopene, the substance that makes tomatoes red, may prevent Cancer. Dr. Kucuko conducted a small study of 30 men with prostate Cancer who were about to undergo surgery to remove the prostate. For three weeks prior to surgery, 15 randomly assigned participants consumed a 15 milligram capsule of lycopene and the remaining 15 participants had no intervention. Upon removal of the prostates, the glands were analyzed in order to determine any differences in the two groups that were studied. The researchers concluded that the group that had taken the 15 milligram lycopene supplements had smaller tumors compared to the 15 participants that had no intervention. Dr. Kucuko said, “This study represents the first clinical evidence that lycopene supplements may prevent Cancer.”
So, are you thinking what I’m thinking? Pizza sauce…..tomatoes….Cancer prevention….it’s pizza chow time!
How to Make a Pizza
All this talk has made me hungry! Let’s go to “Pizza University” and enroll in Pizza 101 for some helpful preparation suggestions as well as some delectable recipes dedicated to pizza!
Let’s focus first on the base of the pizza…..the crust. To avoid a weak, soggy pizza crust, and achieve a perfectly puffed, crisp-crusted pizza, I suggest that you invest in a pizza stone. The stone, which is usually made of soapstone (a heavy type of talc that is slick to the touch), absorbs moisture from the dough and provides an evenly heated surface for a more thorough baking. The stone must be preheated for an hour before pizza is placed on it to ensure that the stone is at a constant temperature throughout. (Do not, however, put oil onto the soapstone because high temperatures can cause it to ignite!) If a pizza stone doesn’t sound like something that you would enjoy cooking with, you may want to consider a pizza screen. A pizza screen, a round framed screen, is placed beneath the crust to allow air to circulate as the pizza is cooking, thus, providing a perfectly baked pizza bottom.
Pizzeria Style Dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons of honey
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
Prepare the dough by mixing the yeast, 3/4 cup of lukewarm water, 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon of honey together. Dissolve the honey in the water, add and smooth the flour then add the yeast. Stir to mix and let sit for about 20 minutes. The mixture will become light, frothy, and foamy. If your mixture does not, throw out the mix and begin again with fresh yeast.
When the above dough is light and frothy, mix 1/2 of the remaining flour, the remaining water with the remaining honey dissolved in it, the olive oil and the salt all together in a large bowl. Add in the frothy sponge mixture and stir. Then mix or knead in the remaining flour bit by bit. The dough should be only slightly sticky. Use more flour if necessary…add less to prevent the dough from becoming too dry and stiff. Knead for 15 minutes on a floured surface until smooth and elastic.
TIP: Over-kneading the dough will make it tough. It’s important to give the dough time to relax while stretching it out. This may take more time, but will help to eliminate tearing.
Take a large size zip lock baggie and lightly spray the inside of the bag with vegetable oil spray. Slide the bag between your hands to cover the inside completely with the spray oil. Place the dough into the baggie and seal. Then, place the baggie into the refrigerator and let sit for about 20 to 24 hours. That is the trick for making pizzeria style dough…letting it rise only once in the fridge before forming into a pizza and baking.
Crust Variation: Try kneading dried tomatoes into the dough! The following recipe for oven roasted tomatoes is extremely simple, but is full of fresh taste that will add a well deserved kick to any flavor of pizza!
Mom’s Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Set your oven to its lowest setting, 200 ° or below.
Slice Roma or Plum tomatoes in half, top to bottom. Scoop out the seeds with your fingers. Season with seasonings of your choice, such as, salt, pepper, garlic, Italian seasoning, herbs, etc. Place, cut side up on foil lined baking pan; drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 12 to 15 hours, which causes tomatoes to dry and shrivel. Refrigerate tomatoes in a resealable plastic bag.
It is now time to focus on a tomato sauce that will complement the flavor of the crust, plain or with oven roasted tomatoes. An elegant sauce recipe is one that is homemade, yet simple to prepare!
Gourmet Pizza Sauce
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup diced onion
15 oz can crushed or whole tomatoes
6-8 oz can tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ Tbsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 bay leaf
Sauté garlic and onion with olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, sugar, basil, oregano and bay leaf. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (In the meantime, you can prepare the dough.) Remove sauce from heat and let cool. Remove bay leaf.
Oh boy! We are getting so close to sampling your pizza masterpiece! We have the crust and the sauce, but what shall we top the pizza with? There are a vast array of delicious pizza toppings to choose from that will provide a delightful taste to your palette!
Pizza Topping Ideas
sliced cold meats (salami, pepperoni, or ham), cooked sausage, cooked ground beef, or cooked chicken
green or red pepper, thinly sliced or chopped
mushrooms, thinly sliced
onion, thinly sliced
other ingredients that work well are zucchini, eggplant, pine nuts, canned sliced pineapple
Be daring and get creative with some unique pizza toppings!
The time has finally come! It is time to assemble the pizza!
Roll the dough with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. (If needed, use your hands to flatten and stretch the dough into the desired shape of the pizza stone!) Spread the crust with the Gourmet Pizza Sauce with desired amount that you have previously prepared. Sprinkle layer of cheese over the pizza sauce and then add the remainder of your desired toppings. (NOTE: If using mushrooms or zucchini, place them on the very top because they tend to sweat.) Sprinkle with more cheese to make your pizza creation a gooey delight! Bake in 425 degree, preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until cheese is melted and dough is cooked! Remove from oven and enjoy!
While you are savoring your bites of freshly baked, gourmet pizza, I though that you might like to know that pizza has gone “bubbly”!
An Italian cosmetics manufacturer has created a new range of bathroom products that smell like….yep, you guessed it….PIZZA!?! Creator Ducio Cresci from Florence, Italy believes the traditional Italian dish should indulge all the senses, not just the stomach, and so he created the luxury bubble bath, soap, and body lotion. The products are made from natural ingredients and contain tomato extract, essential oils of basil and oregano. Cresci said: “The bubble bath smells especially strong when you are bathing in it, but once out of the water it leaves an irresistible trace of scent on your skin.” The former TV presenter said his products have been selling very well. Interesting, huh?!?!?!
Well, folks, there you have it! I hope that you have learned a great deal of information about one of Americans most consumed foods…PIZZA! I look forward to hearing about some of your favorite pizza stories. Please feel free to email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until then, happy eats and God bless!
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