Recipe of the Week, February 17: Pizza
Pizza is 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 or olive. The word pizza is believed to be from an Old Italian word meaning "a point," which in turn became the Italian word "pizzicare," which means "to pinch" or "pluck."
In one of its many forms, pizza has been a basic part of the Italian diet since the Stone Age. This earliest form of pizza was a crude bread that was baked beneath the stones of the fire. After cooking, it was seasoned with a variety of different toppings and used instead of plates and utensils to sop up broth or gravies. It is said that the idea of using bread as a plate came from the Greeks who ate flat round bread (plankuntos) baked with an assortment of toppings. It was eaten by the working man and his family because it was a thrifty and convenient food.
In the late 19th century, pizza was sold in the streets in Naples at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was cut from a large tray that had been cooked in the baker's oven and had a simple topping of mushrooms and anchovies. As pizza became more popular, stalls were set up where the dough was shaped as customers ordered. Various toppings were invented. The stalls soon developed into the pizzeria, an open-air place for people to congregate, eat, drink, and talk.
Pizza migrated to America with the Italians in the latter half of the 19th century. Pizza was introduced to Chicago by a peddler who walked up and down Taylor Street with a metal washtub of pizzas on his head, crying his wares at two cents a chew. This was the traditional way pizza used to be sold in Naples, in copper cylindrical drums with false bottoms that were packed with charcoal from the oven to keep the pizzas hot. The name of the pizzeria was embossed on the drum.
With the stationing of American soldiers in Italy during World War II (1941-1945) came a growing appreciation of pizza. When the soldiers returned from war, they brought with them a taste for pizza.
It wasn't until the 1950s that Americans really started noticing pizza. Celebrities of Italian origin, such as Jerry Colonna, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, and baseball star Joe DiMaggio all devoured pizzas. It is also said that the line from the song by famous singer, Dean Martin; "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that amore" set America singing and eating pizzas.
In 1957, frozen pizzas were introduced and found in local grocery stores. Pizza soon became the most popular of all frozen food.
This recipe takes a bit of time, but is worth it.
Deep Dish Pizza
For the pizza crust:
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 packet fast-acting yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup cornmeal
For the filling and topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper or frying pepper, stem and seeds removed, and sliced
1/2 pound Italian sausage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (oregano, thyme, parsley)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Dissolve salt and sugar in 1 1/2 cups warm water that is between 100 and 120 degrees F. (Warm water is needed to activate the yeast, but if it is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Use a candy thermometer to test the temperature.) Stir in entire contents of packet of yeast and allow the mixture to "form a head" (like on a beer), which takes about 15 minutes.
Place flour into mixing bowl and add yeast mixture. Stir to combine and then knead until the dough comes together and is a cohesive mass. Knead for a few minutes so the dough becomes elastic. Cover bowl with a clean cloth and allow to rise and rest for 30 minutes. Then punch the dough down, knead again briefly, cover the bowl with the cloth and allow to rise a second time.
For the filling:
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and cook onion until it begins to caramelize. Add garlic and sliced pepper, and cook until they soften. Add pieces of sausage allowing them to brown. Pour off fat and stir in tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper. Cook together for a few minutes to allow flavors to blend, then remove from heat and set aside briefly.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
On a floured surface, stretch the dough into a 14-inch circle which is thicker around the edges. Transfer to a lightly greased 11-inch pie pan and shake cornmeal over the dough. Spoon the tomato/sausage mixture into the dough and sprinkle mozzarella over the top. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the pie sets up, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
What's you favorite pizza?