The Possibilities of Pizza

Leave a comment

by Martha Esersky Lorden

Doesn’t every city in America have a Tony’s Pizza Parlor? Mine did. I have no idea if the proprietor was actually named Tony, but the restaurant was a fixture in my home town for decades. The pies were big and chewy rubber platters sporting a layer of glistening grease atop industrial mozzarella cheese. Heavy tomato sauce and dried oregano were also applied liberally. And I loved every bite. Frankly, everything at Tony’s tasted the same— the gummy spaghetti and meatballs, the soggy fried eggplant parmesan, and each variety of pizza. A favorite family restaurant, Tony’s was the only game in town when it came to pizza.

My pizza IQ rose significantly when I moved to Italy. The neighborhood pizzeria had a large glass window through which a tiled wood-fired oven glowed. The pizzaiolo put on a show while preparing the dough every morning. I watched him through the restaurant window regularly, and it was love at first sight. Our eyes met over clouds of flour as I watched him knead the soft spheres of fresh dough for their numerous rises. It’s difficult to say whether I was moony-eyed over the adorable Enzo or if it was the yeasty perfume that had simply gone to my head. His pizza was delicious, as was most all pizza I ate in Italy. I was particularly touched when one evening he brought a heart-shaped pizza to my table. I have a photo of it somewhere.

385829_547248831975903_902792817_n

Pizza Margherita:  Classic Simplicity

The Appeal of Pizza

Romance aside, pizza is an iconic Italian dish, but today pizza pie is as American as apple pie. The statistical evidence is overwhelming: on average, individuals in the US eat about 46 slices per year—that’s 23 pounds of the stuff. Americans are piggy for pizza. With nearly 65,000 pizzerias in the nation, Americans are gulping down 350 pieces of ‘za every second. The national pizza market, according to Ezine, is a $30 billion industry. Americans are simply obsessed with pizza, which is no surprise. It fits in nicely with that popular American idea of food as fun and fast, as road food or weekend take-out party grub that goes down perfectly with beer or coke. It’s the ideal accompaniment to sports television and makes for easy clean-up in the dorm or man cave.

Culinarily speaking, however, pizza’s place in the American diet has been elevated from this stereotype. While the first pizza parlor opened in America in New York City in 1905, pizza today is no longer just a specialty food made by dough-tossing dudes in classic pizza joints. Fashioned by professionally trained chefs, stylish bistros, and home cooks, pizza is currently a highly adaptable food style, a culinary foundation for very good eats. On careful examination, pizza can be the perfect vehicle for nutrition, creativity, and artisanal quality dining.

Vince Guiffire Makes a Pizza

Pizzaiolo at work in NYC Pizza Parlor Circa 1950

Culinary History

pizza_historyIn its most basic form, pizza is a flatbread made of flour and water with Mediterranean origins. Bronze Age people ate pizza in the Veneto region of Italy. While on military campaigns in Phoenicia and Greece, Roman soldiers consumed a simple seasoned flatbread. 3215391860_0de82f93ac_oDuring the Middle Ages, peasants topped yeasted dough with herbs and olive oil, and Renaissance pizza eaters experimented with the newly arrived tomatoes from the Mondo Nuovo and cheese made from the milk of the imported Indian water buffalo. By the 18th century, peasants in Naples incorporated the tomato on their flatbread base, selling pizza as street food and eventually in shops along the streets. In time, the dish made its way to the Italian aristocracy when, 120 years ago, a pizza vendor by the name of Rafaele Esposito of Naples created the popular pizza Margherita for Italy’s Queen with its tri-colori of the nation’s flag in green basil, white cheese, and red tomatoes. Soon the various regions of Italy created their own signature versions of pizza celebrating local ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                                                


Queen-Margherita

With the return of American GI’s after World War II, their penchant for pizza led to parlors in most every Italian-American neighborhood. Styles of pizza reflected a multitude of American regional preferences. So, who is to say what “real” pizza is? With so many genres, it is difficult to know. East coast cities like Boston boast a pizza that rivals the thin-crusted New York style. Many prefer Greek-style pizza with its thick, puffy, and chewy crust served in rectangles or as pies topped with feta, olives, green pepper, and onions. Sicilian style pizza, or sfincione, a doughy square-cut bread pizza topped with cheese and tomato, is baked on a sheet and requires two rises, not the one typical of most American pizzas. Then there is Chicago’s Deep Dish casserole pizza layered between a top and bottom crust and stuffed with pounds of sliced ham, sausage, several cheeses, vegetables, pepperoni, and a rich tomato sauce. Today, nearly every restaurant has a pizza or flatbread selection on the menu. Modern Italian restaurants in America have exquisite pizza ovens that reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit and are fired by carefully selected hardwoods that deliver the charcoal-flavored, thin and crunchy crust desired by today’s gourmet pizza diners. Rustic at heart, pizza is now a culinary tour de force.

Pizza has a global fan base that is growing, too. Many nations have adopted their cuisine to include pizza. International variations feature a Mochi-crusted Japanese pizza, a Turkish pizza on a round shell with meat sauce called lahm bi’ajin, and a Korean adaptation with kimchi and bolgogi toppings. In Europe there is the French Provencal pissaladiere with cooked onions, anchovies, and olive oil, along with a popular German flammkueche, a thick circular dough topped with crème fraiche, onions, and bacon.

Build Your Own Pizza at Home

The potential combinations of bread-based crusts and toppings is stupefying. And home cooks can now leap right into the fun. No need to rely on pre-made frozen pizza, delivery, or take-out. The resources to make a quality pizza in tune with individual dietary preferences and tastes is infinite. There are really just three parts to pizza creation— crust, toppings, and heat source.

Crust

If you don’t care to make a pizza dough from scratch (see recipe below), there are fabulous options in the grocery store. Consider the potential of the following items as the base of a quality home-cooked pizza:

  • Fresh made pizza doughs (whole wheat and white flour) are found in the prepared foods section
  • Numerous flavors and sizes of pre-baked, fresh-frozen, and gluten-free pizza shells from artisanal bakeries in Vermont and New Hampshire such as Stonefire, Little Red Hen, Green Mt. Flour, and Mama Mary’s
  • Naan flatbreads
  • Tortillas and wraps of every variety
  • French bread and baguettes
  • Frozen puff pastry
  • Pita bread
  • Broad, crunchy crackers like lavash or Torte de Aciete by Ines Rosales from Spain

Naan-Pizza

Pre-packaged Naan Indian bread  makes a fine option for a quick home-crafted pizza

Toppings

In selecting toppings, consider the meal. Are you making an entrée or an appetizer? Or perhaps you want to stretch a meal of salad or soup with a crusty slice. And how about breakfast? Not the usual cold leftover slice, but a fresh pizza adorned with scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, bacon, and some crispy potatoes. The leftovers from last night’s BBQ chicken work well, too. Go vegan and make seasonal vegetables like asparagus, leeks, and snap peas the stars. Take your inspiration from international cuisines and think Mexican with taco-themed toppings or Indian Tandoori curried chicken and paneer pizza. For a dessert pizza, top a pate brisé crust with sweet pastry cream, seasonal berries, kiwis, and powdered sugar. If you love cheese, combine feta and lamb, a local goat cheese with baby spinach and arugula, or fontina with mushrooms. Smear shells with pesto, truffle or chile oil, anchovy paste, or a spicy salsa.

Heat Source

Bake fresh pizza at home at the highest temperature your oven can go. Commercial ovens bake at well over 500 degrees, and wood-fired ones crank at nearly 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the pizza in the top of the oven on a pre-heated pizza stone, and it will cook in 10-12 minutes.

An excellent way to enjoy pizza is to use the outdoor grill for the best direct heat delivery. Bake dough directly on the rack for 5-10 minutes, then flip. Fill the shell with toppings. Close the lid and grill another 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Pizza also cooks well in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop or inside the oven, and if using pre-baked crusts, just stick the pizza under the broiler for 2 minutes.

Pizza is a perfect food with universal appeal. It is an attractive and creative option for home cooks who want to prepare a convenient meal. Sink your teeth into a great crust loaded with flavor, texture, and nutrition. Bring the elegance of pizza into your own kitchen—without the box.

Schermata-2011-03-10-a-10.01.47-copia3-600x380

Classic Pizza Dough Recipe

(from the Cooks’ Illustrated Cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen, 2011 )

This is an easy, shortcut pizza dough that produces a crispy crust when made on a pizza stone and can “practically be made in the time it takes to heat the oven.” Bread flour works extremely well, but you can substitute all-purpose flour if you wish. The bread flour, however, promises a somewhat chewier texture.

This recipe makes 2 pounds of dough, enough for two 14-inch pizzas.

4 to 4 1/4 cups bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups water, heated to 110 degrees

Pulse 4 cups flour, yeast, and salt together in food processor (fitted with dough blade if possible) until combined, about 5 pulses. With food processor running, slowly add oil, then water; process until rough ball forms, 30 to 40 seconds. Let dough rest for 2 minutes, then process for 30 seconds longer. (If, after 30 seconds dough is sticky and clings to blade, add remaining ¼ cup flour 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed.)

Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand into smooth, round ball. Place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl; cover bowl tightly with greased plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, before using.

Fontina, Caramelized-Onion, and Pancetta Pizza

(from Cooking Light, October 1998 )

For a mellow and melt-in-your-mouth cheese pizza with a sweet and salty bite, try this simply prepared topping. It’s bursting with flavor.

1 1/2 ounces pancetta (Italian-style bacon) or Canadian bacon, chopped
8 cups sliced onion (about 3 large)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded fontina cheese, divided
Thyme sprigs (optional)
Cracked black pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add pancetta, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add onions, thyme, salt, and white pepper; cook 25 minutes or until onions are browned, stirring frequently.

Brush each prepared pizza crust with 1½ teaspoons oil; top each with half of onion mixture. Sprinkle half of cheese over each pizza. Bake at 475° for 9 minutes or until crusts are crisp. Cut each pizza into 8 wedges. Garnish with thyme sprigs and sprinkle with black pepper, if desired.

Eating Italy

2 Comments

Sometimes it’s just fun to post a great eating experience here at OTK, and Sunday was a real festa for the foodie meet up group I recently joined.    (Upper Valley Adventures in Food and Wine: (organizer Cindy Blakeslee) )

My husband and I hosted the dinner and welcomed 14 excellent home cooks with their amazing Italian dishes.  The menu was as follows:

Antipasto: Tomato Bruschetta, Cold Platter (artichoke hearts, various salamis, olives, roasted red peppers, lupini, mushrooms ), Artisan Bread with Seasoned Olive Oil

Primo:  Pasta al Forno: Lasagna of Roasted Vegetables, Ravioli: Made-from-scratch Mushroom Ravioli

Secondo:    Roman Style Braised Oxtail Stew with Polenta,  Braised Chicken with Lemons and Olives

Contorno:  Zucchini Layered with Smoked Provalone and Prosciutto, Carote di Stufato

Insalata: Sicilian Blood Orange Arugula Salad with Red Onion, Olives, and Pine Nuts (dressed with white balsamic, olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest vinaigrette)

Dolce:  Fruit and Cheese Plate, Handmade Pizzelle and Cannoli

Wine:  6 Varieties that were opened and consumed so quickly that I never got the names of them.  The empty bottles went directly into recycling. Geesh!

The tangy antipasto dishes were a nice, salty start to our dinner party, and the wine started flowing.

The oxtail ragu was outstanding, and its aroma reminded me of walking through Trastevere in Rome on Sunday mornings. Its perfume filled the streets as it simmered in neighborhood family kitchens.

The chicken dish was a family recipe passed down from the Italian aunties of one of the members, and was drenched in a garlicky, lemony marinade accented with olives and herbs.

Porcini mushrooms created a rich, sweet, and earthy flavor in the fresh ravioli, which was dressed simply in olive oil, fresh thyme, and pepper.

The roasted vegetable lasagna was made with layers of home made pasta, caramelized squash, and other earthy vegetables surrounded in a velvety bechamel sauce.

Blood oranges appeared in both the salad and later on the dessert fruit platter.  A real hit was a sweet and smooth lemon ricotta, which can be described as tasting somewhere between cheesecake and fresh milk heaven.   (I ran out and picked up a wedge today.  Fabulous stuff.)

If you want any of the recipes for these dishes, please contact OTK for copies of them from the meet up members.

Buon appetito a tutti!

Mangia con noi!

Photos by MELorden

Dining With Da Vinci

2 Comments

leonardo-da-vinci-self-portrait-detail

DINING WITH DA VINCI

by MELorden

110807_davinci

We are all familiar with the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Not only was he fascinated with drawing plants, he may have preferred eating them.

For its time, to be a vegetarian was somewhat uncommon as well as controversial. It was said that Da Vinci was such a lover of animals that he often strolled through the bird markets, purchased the caged creatures, and promptly set them free. Da Vinci’s vegetarianism may have been the result of his contact with travelers like Greek humanists and painters from the East who came to Renaissance Florence and Milan.

There are records of what he consumed in the courts of popes and patrons.  He ate greens, fruits, mushrooms, pasta and cereals, and all manner of vegetables.  In particular, a hot chickpea minestrawas a favorite. This recipe is found in one of the first cookbooks of the Renaissance entitled Platina de honest volupatate (1475) written by the Venetian Bartolomeo di Sacci (Batali in Fedele, The Artist’sPalate). Among Da Vinci’s library books was a 1487 copy.  The authentic chickpea recipe follows:

La Minestra (Luis in Cecere Rubeo) from Platina    

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.30.37 PMWash a pound or more of chickpeas in hot water.  After being washed they should be put in a pot to simmer without water.  With your hands mix half an ounce of meal, a little oil and salt, and twenty grains of coarsely ground pepper and ground cinnamon, and then put this near the hearth with three measures of water, and add sage, rosemary, and chopped parsley roots. Let this boil so that it is reduced to eight saucers full.  When it is nearly cooked, drop in a little oil; but if it is juice for sick persons, only add a little oil and spices. (Platina in DeWitt, Da Vinci’s Kitchen)

Who is to know what amount was contained in Platina’s saucer, or in a measure of water?  And the meal required for mixing is unknown, though some scholars believe that Da Vinci was familiar with corn meal (maize) which had been introduced to Italy around 1494 by the brother of Ludivico Sforza, the great Duke of Milan and patron of Leonardo Da Vinci.  Dave DeWitt, in his book Da Vinci’s Kitchen (2006) makes note of shopping lists Leonardo made (while working on The Last Supper) which include red and white maize– quite remarkable considering the recent return of Columbus from the New World. Some research suggests that corn was already being cultivated in Africa. Is there a connection here between Da Vinci and Lombardy’s polenta-centric diet?

rom37

While the great Leonardo invented a heat propelled spit for turning meat as well as a meat smoker and sausage grinder, he was a confirmed vegetarian, though he may not have been one in his early life. This rejection of meat in later life is referred to by a courtier in a letter to the Medici as somewhat heretical.  Da Vinci was recognized as odd in his desire to avoid hurting any living thing let alone feast on anything that had blood coursing through its veins (DeWitt).  In the true spirit of Renaissance humanism, his respect for life seems to have informed his diet–  though one wonders if he simply lost his taste for flesh after all those cadavers he dissected.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.45.46 PMIn his notebooks, Leonardo delights in the vast and infinite variety of simple vegetarian foodstuffs and the endless manner in which they can be combined as shown in the recipes of Platina.  There are recipes in Da Vinci’s notes for a bright and herby salad dressing with spearmint, parsley, and thyme as an excellent dressing over a salad of fennel and bitter greens. He makes reference to anise cookies and light suppers of egg tarts.

For his students, Leonardo advocated a well-ordered life and a diet of moderation.  In a poem he summarizes his principles for culinary happiness:

If you be healthy, heed this advice,

Eat only when hungry, and let light fare suffice.

Chew all your food well, and this rule always follow.

Well-cooked and simple, be all that you swallow.

On leaving a table, a good posture keep,

And after you luncheon, do not yield to sleep.

Let little and often be your rule for wine,

But not between meals or when ready to dine.      –L. Da Vinci

Stand up straight, don’t be a glutton, and remember– you are what you eat.   Here, Da Vinci suggests all things in moderation, especially when it comes to food.  Sounds like reasonable advice for feeding body and soul from the world’s ultimate Renaissance dude.

(For more information about Da Vinci and the diet of the Renaissance:       What Did Leonardo Da Vinci Eat?)

 

Baking with Grandma Duck

2 Comments

Baking with Grandma Duck:  Apple Cakenonnapapera

An Italian interpretation of Nonna Papera’s apple pie is translated here below by the wonderful Francine Segan (Dolci: Italy’s Sweets). Francine has been a major fan of  Grandma Duck’s manuale of recipes since childhood, and now she has written a few of her own.  One of her favorites, and certain to be one of yours, is this rich and simple-to-make apple cake.  If you put it on your window sill to cool, attenzione!  It might just disappear.

NOTE:  Click on the sidebar menu under RECIPES for more cooking with Disney!

2011-10-28-DolciCovercrop.jpg

photo by Ellen Silverman

Pareva la torta di Nonna Papera!
Looks like Grandma Duck’s cake!
Said of a particularly pretty cake or pie

A classic! At first glance it may seem like a huge ratio of apple to dough and you’re going to be tempted to cut down on the apples. Don’t! It looks like a lot of apples, but they magically meld into the batter. You’ll love the result. The top half of the cake is chock full of tender apples that float over sweet moist cake.
Deceptively simple, exceptional results.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, plus more for the pan
7 ounces, about 1 1/3 cups, whole wheat or all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
2/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, granulated sugar
2 large eggs or egg substitute
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Zest of 1 lemon
4 large or 5 medium apples, about 2 pounds total

Preparation
:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan. Beat 2/3 cup of sugar and the eggs in a large bowl, using a whisk or electric handheld beater, until creamy and light yellow. Beat in the flour, milk, baking powder, baking soda and zest. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Peel and core each of the apples. Dice one of the apples and stir the dices into the batter. Cut the remaining apples into thin slices. Spread the slices over the diced apples in the pan in a neat pattern. Press into the batter. Scatter thin pats of butter or drizzle olive oil over the apples and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for about 75 minutes, until dark golden and cooked through.

Cooking From Comics: In the Kitchen with Disney Characters

2 Comments

nonna papera4

When Walt Disney was building his Disneyland empire in California in 1955, there was a growing fascination with all things Disney in post-war Europe, and particularly in Italy. Topolino, or Mickey Mouse, hit it big in Italy. By the 1960’s, a lively series of  paperback bound comics  emerged and were extremely popular.  The comics paralleled a fascination with American culture that was taking hold. Today, tees and sweatshirts and all manner of clothing are festooned with Topolino imagery, and a good number of grown men and women don this attire enthusiastically.  In Italy, Disney is not just for kids.

I have a large collection of  the Italian Disney comics, and I never fail to return from Italy without at least 3 or 4 new issues.  I am addicted. I learned a lot of my Italian and a multitude of colorful idioms from these illustrated books. And it turns out that many Italians learned a lot about “American” cooking from their Disney-Italian comic book characters.  You can thank Donald Duck and his extended family.

family

A favorite series featured the adventurous tales of  Uncle Scrooge McDuck (Paperone) along with nephew Donald (Papernik) his three nephews (Qui, Quo, and Qua) and Grandmother Elvira known as Nonna Papera (Grandma Duck).  A rather distorted image of American family life was presented in these comics.  Picnics in the park, gold mining in the Rockies, cowboys wrangling cattle in the west, river rafting down the Mississippi, and trips to outer space were family adventure stories in the comics, all bankrolled by Unca Scrooge himself and in pursuit of some thief who was stealing his treasure chest.

scrooge-mcduck-make-it-rain

Thank goodness for Nonna Papera.  She kept the boys well-fed, the American way. The Italian comic book artists delighted in depicting her beautiful apple pies cooling on her window sill, and even several adventures involved mysteries around who swiped the cooling pastry. Italians  became fascinated with Nona Papera’s beautifully fluted pies–  and her cookies, sandwiches, and picnic fare, too.

images

According to Barks’ and Rosa’s Who’s Who In Duckburg, “Grandma Duck is in many ways the head of the Duck-family. She is normally the one who arranges the family’s Christmas celebrations and she’s known as an excellent cook with pies as one of many specialities.”  It was Donald’s grandmother who made American pie popular in Italy.

grandma

By 1970, a book of her recipes was published under the title Il Manuale di Nonna Papera (The Cookbook of Grandma Duck).  Many  Italian cooks will tell you today that this collection of recipes was their first cookbook and first venture into cooking.   Most of the recipes are an Italian interpretation of American dishes, but in reality, the recipes remain Italian in spirit. Sandwiches (or panini), a Chip and Dale Popcorn recipe, and lots of cakes and pies are included and are featured alongside traditional Italian sweets, finger foods, and several main dishes. Cleverly named, many recipe titles indicate that these are historical recipes handed down to Nonna Papera from very famous people of the past such as Queen Elizabeth or Christopher Columbus (appropriate personages for the settlement of America).

getmedia.php

I’m still reading Disney comic books.  I have recently acquired a reprint of Nonna’s recipe book and have yet to try out these “American” recipes. I am sure if I do, I will no doubt improve not only speaking in Italian but also cooking in Italian.  In time, I might even receive that fine compliment about my cooking from an Italian:  “Pareva la torta di Nonna Papera.” (“That looks just like a cake made by Grandma Duck!”)      –MELorden

NOTE:  Click on the sidebar menu under Recipes for more cooking with Disney!

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 6.43.40 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 6.41.29 PM

 

For a look at what the current world of Disney is offering in Mickey Mouse and Disney Princess cookbooks, check out these souvenir collections on Amazon:

Available Disney Cookbooks from Amazon.com

41VQ+-rV6LL._AA160_ 51PFCihEjaL._AA160_