Crispy or soft, firm or airy… So tasty we could eat the dough just like that…
Wow! It was about time we came down to the fundamentals on 196F! This week, for the Italian National Day, let’s make room for pizza!
Italy is famous for its great cuisine. Italians have a way of sublimating ingredients as simple as pasta or tomato. They make a poems out of a pizza bianca with a little rosemary and olive oil (the real white pizza)!
Now let’s talk about pizza!
The word pizza first appeared in 997 AD. In medieval Latin, it means “flat bread”. But it is in Naples in the sixteenth century that pizza got its modern meaning. This word derives from pide (or pita), Turkish word meaning “bread”.
Originally a poor man’s dish, pizza, which is born in Naples in the sixteenth century, is often sold by street vendors by the slice. Indeed, this flat bread coated with lard and cooked in a wood oven was served as a snack to bakery employees.
Pizza bianca (white pizza), the most simple pizza is in fact the original pizza. Rossa pizza (red pizza) only appeared two centuries later, also in Naples, with the discovery and arrival of tomatoes from America. These were exported first to Spain and then to Naples.
In the sixteenth century, tomato was not considered edible but rather toxic. It was not until the eighteenth century that they made it to the kitchen!
Today, the most popular pizza and the most consumed is the Margherita pizza. Margherita pizza has a story and its name is a nod to Queen Margherita.
In June 1889, Queen Margherita, accompanied by her husband Umberto I, decided to go on a tour of her Italian Kingdom. During her travels around Italy, she saw many people, especially peasants, eating this bread, large and flat. Curious, the Queen ordered one of her guards to bring her one of those flat breads. She loved it so much that she ate these flat breads everywhere, even in front of her people, causing consternation around her as it was not acceptable for a queen to eat the food of the peasants.
One day, the Queen asked Italian Chef Raffaele Esposito to come to the Royal Palace and requested for her own pleasure, to cook pizzas in the oven of the royal kitchen. To honor the Queen, Raffaele decided to create a pizza just for her. He cooked his dough in the oven, garnished it with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil (the 3 colors of the Italian flag: red, white, and green). This recipe was the Queen’s favorite pizza and it became very popular in Italy.
If pizza is originally Neapolitan, there is also a Roman version that differs by a thinner and crispier crust. But pizza did not remain an Italian phenomenon. It has since traveled and earned an international career.
In the early twentieth century, pizza crossed the Atlantic with the Neapolitan emigrants. We are in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan, the stronghold of the first American pizzeria. But then… no mozzarella! It had to be replaced by local cheese. The thick, greasy, and loaded American pizza was born!
What about France? The French fell in love with pizza. They are now the largest consumer in the world after the U.S. They discovered it in 1930 in Marseille, the most Italian of French cities. This is also in Marseille that the famous pizza truck craze started, a phenomenon that spread out throughout France but has not caught on in Italy!
There is obviously no good pizza without a good pizza dough. “True” Neapolitan pizza dough is unique! It is made with a special unrefined flour, which much to my regret, is very difficult or impossible to find in France. I have not given up though. The 196 flavors trio is used to finding the impossible to find! You should have seen Mike driving all around Paris to find a grouper head and annatto oil to cook arroz con bacalao last year. Well, we may not have found annatto oil that day, but after Mike left for LA, I finally spotted some stores that carried it.
It is also said that what makes the taste of Neapolitan pizza is a typical water that you can only find in Naples. This is going to be harder to find I must admit!
The recipe I made today comes from my friend Michele. While in Naples, she went to a pizza workshop, taught by an Italian chef in the kitchen of a large hotel in Naples.
Who had the crazy idea to associate pizza with junk food? As odd as it may seem, pizza is excellent for your health! Nutritionists from the University of Maryland have used pizza as a model to suggest simple ways to eat healthy. According to an epidemiological study, published in 2003 in the International Journal of Cancer, eating pizza significantly reduces the risk of certain cancers. They found that people who eat pizza once or several times a week are less affected by cancer than those who never eat any.
Please eat irresponsibly! My only regret for this delicious recipe is not to have a wood oven at home!
- 8 cups bread flour
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 5 teaspoons salt
- 3 cups warm water (about)
- 3 tomatoes , peeled, seeded and pureed
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed and mixed with the tomatoes
- 12 oz. mozzarella
- 8 oz. parmesan , freshly grated
- 1 bunch fresh basil
In the bowl of a food processor or a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of warm water (from the 3 cups of warm water).
Let stand 15 minutes.
Add the olive oil and flour and knead, gradually incorporating the warm water until you obtain a smooth and elastic dough.
Finally incorporate the salt and knead for 3 minutes.
Cover the dough and let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour (ideally 2 hours), until double in volume.
Degas the dough on a floured surface and divide it into 3 or 4 pieces of dough.
Roll each piece of dough by hand (avoid rolling pin) and place on a baking sheet.
Cover and let stand ½ hour.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 F.
Once the dough has risen, top the pizza with the fresh tomato puree and add the toppings of your choice.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.