Dat’s Amore – Creating The Perfect Pizza Pie
Who doesn’t love pizza?
No, I’m serious. I’m taking a poll. Raise your hand if you don’t like pizza.
You disgust me.
Now, for the rest of you still here (and that’s the overwhelming majority of my readers, I hope), let’s talk about this little culinary miracle, shall we?
I love pizza. Always have, always will. Me, and just about everyone I’ve ever met. How do I know that? Well, because pizza is just about everywhere in our daily lives. I’d be willing to bet that most of you live within pretty close proximity to at least a couple of pizza joints. I myself currently have several that I could walk to in a matter of minutes if I so chose:
All that doughy, cheesy goodness in less than a 2 miles radius. Am I lucky or what? I have no doubt that a fair number of you might have very similar living conditions. If so, then you know too well the mixed blessing and curse that I live with. If, however, you are not so fortunate as to be flanked by so many pizza options…then you have my deepest sympathies. I advise you to fix that as soon as possible.
Then again, by the time I’m done here today, you might not have to. Because if I have my way, you’ll be putting together fresh, delicious pizzas from scratch right from the comfort of your own kitchen. That’s why you’re here reading this little article of mine in the first place, isn’t it? You don’t want to just listen to me ramble on and on about the delicious, gluttonous indulgences of pizza do you?
No, of course you don’t.
Well that’s too bad, because I’m going to do just that for a little while longer. Just bear with me, please. There is method to my madness, to paraphrase the bard. The reason for this is to help bring a clearer understand to just how important pizza is to our modern culture. Sure, it’s a pretty popular meal just on its own, but it’s easy to underestimate just how strong of an impact it’s had on us and our daily lives.
A Dough On The Rise
To begin, let’s take a look at pizza’s overall popularity. From sporting events to birthday parties to all-nighter sleepovers, from simple date nights to general get-togethers, pizza is a staple resource. Why? Because it’s one of America’s favorite foods. In countless recent surveys time after time, pizza consistently ranks among the top spots for the favorite food trophy again and again. In fact, on average over 5 billion pizzas are sold worldwide every year, 3 billion alone being sold and consumed in the U.S.
Something else that I find fascinating about this dish – it is, essentially, the very embodiment of a perfectly balanced food pyramid. No, not just in shape (though that does factor into it), but in overall content as well. Really, just hear me out. You’ve got:
- Crust = Grains
- Sauce = Fruits [You will of course recall that, yes, tomato is a fruit]
- Cheese = Dairy
- Assorted toppings = Vegetables & Meats
[Please keep in mind that the author of this blog does not claim to be, or even pretend to be, a nutritionist and does not seriously advocate for the eating of pizza 3 meals a day every day, as awesome as that would be – even he knows that that’s just not a good idea]
Now of course it’s no secret that most pizzas on the market, whether frozen or order-out, aren’t exactly the picture of a well-balanced meal, what with their puddled coatings of excessive oils and (frankly, unnecessary) added sugars, and their through-the-roof sodium content. But that’s why I’m teaching you today to make a delicious Italian pie with standard pantry fair at your own home kitchen counter, and you won’t even need a fancy specialty oven to do it. Not only does it taste far better, provide the luxury of total topping customization, and fills the house with an incomparable mouth-watering smell, but you also get to bypass the dreaded additives of commercially prepared food, offering a surprisingly healthy flatbread if made correctly.
And let’s not forget what an impact that this little slice of Italy has had on American pop culture. It’s everywhere you look, from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze, Panucci’s craphole of a pizza parlor in the Futurama series, the infamous Little Nero’s delivery-gone-wrong shoot-em-up pranks of the Home Alone films, Spaceballs’ notorious (and disgusting) mobster Pizza the Hut, those annoying Pappa Johns commercials that seem to play every fourth ad on TV like clockwork…you get the idea. We’re a pizza pie-crazy nation. And damn if that isn’t just the way we like it.
That of course then begs the question; just how did this whole thing get started in the first place?
The answer may just surprise you.
The Why of The Pie
When “pizza” comes to mind, I’m certain that “Italy” isn’t too far behind; mental images of flags striped red and white and green, busy little bistros bedecked in red-and-white checkered tablecloths, oversized glass shakers filled with paprika and pepper flakes, the serenading music, it all comes together so naturally. Pizza is undoubtedly the most commercialized of all Italian dishes – which is why you might be shocked to learn that the dish itself is not Italian in origin.
Pizza, the word, does hold its roots in southern Italy and even late Greek culture. Pitta (Greek), later morphing into the Latin Pittsa, bread, was a word used to refer to flatbreads, usually rounded in shape, that were decorated with toppings and then baked at high heat. Under the Italian influence, this dish took on a featured seat of honor at many festivals and holy celebration festivals and holy celebrations where it began to take on its more recognizable modern form and flavors; no doubt why to this day it continues to hold such a place of high regard at parties, family gatherings, sporting events and everything in between. It’s become ingrained in the very core of our being over the past several thousand years that pizza = celebration. You won’t hear me complaining about that.
But despite the word’s Italian and even pre-Latin origins, the food itself far predates Italian culture. The human race has been preparing stone oven-baked flatbreads, topped with delicious oil drizzles, cheeses, and herbs & veggies, from the very beginning civilization; since the Stone Age, as a matter of fact. When you take that into consideration, it’s easy to see that pizza is one of the single most significant stepping stones of culinary development, among the most ancient of food traditions that we still proudly carry on even to this day so many countless thousands of years later. Pizza has been by our side from earliest human memory, and I call that a clear sign – call it divine intervention, the will of the Universe, destiny, the Force, whatever you like – that human beings and pizza are simply meant to be, two peas in a pod.
If that’s not a beautiful sentiment, I don’t know what is.
Try It Out
Now, I bet you think you’re ready to toss together a pizza of your own now, don’t you?
Well, hold on just a minute. We’ve got a few more things to go over before we start making a mess all over the kitchen.
You should know by now that, before undertaking any new cooking venture, you need to look over your equipment and recipe lists. I know from experience that there are few things as disappointing as being halfway through cooking a new meal before realizing that I’m missing a single key ingredient. So do yourself a favor and make sure you have everything, and I mean everything, here:
- Pizza stone (for traditional round pizza) or large cookie sheet (for square-slice sheet pizza)
- Stand mixer or medium-size mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula/wood mixing spoon
- Rolling pin
- Flour [3 cups]
- Water [1 ½ cups, warm]
- Yeast [1 packet]
- Salt [1/4 tsp.]
- Tomato paste
- Cheese [LOTS] Yes; “Lots” is a unit of scientific measurement)
- Toppings [House choice]
Alright, so if you’ve made it to this point, I’m going to safely assume that you have everything you need and are ready to proceed.
As with bread baking, the most difficult part of the process is simply patience. The good news is that here you only need to wait around an hour for the yeast to do its job, as opposed to the two hours required when baking full loaves of bread. So, pulling up your stand mixer (or bowl and spoon), bring together your warm water, yeast, and flour. Mix with a dough hook on low speed for a couple of minutes; remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a heavy cloth, and let sit for around one (1) hour (Or, mix together with spoon, then dump your dough out onto a flat, floured surface and knead for several minutes before returning to mixing bowl and covering).
Once your dough has finished rising, preheat your oven to 400 F, then coat your pizza stone or cookie sheet with a dusting of flour. Empty the dough bowl onto your baking surface of choice, dust your dough heavily with additional flour, and roll flat with your rolling pin. From here, I’m sure you know how to build the rest of the pie: lay down a thick layer of tomato paste, your cheese of choice
- (HINT: use more cheese than you think you will need; it will melt into the sauce and toppings as the pizza bakes and won’t look as presentable if you don’t add a little extra), and a layer of whatever toppings your heart desires.
Toss your pie into the oven and let bake 20-25 minutes, until the crust has finished bubbling and the cheese is steamy and melted. Remove from the oven carefully with a pair of hot pads (turning the oven off, don’t forget), and let rest on a cooling rack for a few minutes before slicing and serving up. Unless you’re one of those weirdos who enjoys burning your tongue on scalding hot cheese – then feel free to go nuts and dig right on in.
All that’s left is to pair with your favorite drink of choice – be it a cold Coke, a beer, a sparkling rose, pick your poison – and dinner is served.
For larger parties, just double the recipe (or triple, depending on how many people you’ve got on the way). The recipe above can feed four people and will make either a single 8-slice circle pizza on a stone, or a single 9-to-12 slice (depending on how big you cut them) rectangular pizza on a cookie sheet. Fill the house with the unbeatable smell of fresh homemade pizzas, and your guests – and your wallet – will love you.
Just remember, many people are divided on the subject Hawaiian pizza, so if it’s a summer luau party be sure you check with your guests before adding the ham and pineapple. It’s just common courtesy.