Monday, April 9, 2012


Pizza. What can I say about pizza? Pizza is such a versatile food and can, more often then not, be catered to any taste. The origins of Pizza are unclear at best (many, including myself, believe that pizza has its origins in Ancient Greece as a dish called plakous which is flat bread topped with olive oil herbs onion and garlic), but it is unanimously agreed that during the 17th and 18th century, the Naples area of Italy gave us pizza similar to what we know today. But how did we get pizza? Simply put, tomatoes were a common ingredient among the poor as the tomato was thought to be poisonous well into the 16th century after it was brought from the Americas. This caused a distaste among the ruling class until much later. However in the late 18th century, tomatoes on flat bread was very popular among the poor and middle classes and eventually came to be a tourist attraction. 

The Naples area has remained one of the pizza capitals of the world. Neapolitan pizzas have been granted Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) certification to preserve traditional taste. What that means is that only specific and safeguarded recipes can be used for these pizzas. Two of the most prominent are Pizza Margherita (Presented to Queen Margherita of Savoy along with two other pizzas. This was her favorite as it resembeled the Italian flag of green red and white. Margherita pizza has tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese filets, and fresh basil leaves. This was in 1889 and the first recorded time cheese was added to pizza) and Pizza Marinara (which has a long tradition of being prepared by a "seaman's" wife and has the traditional toppings of  tomato, oregano, garlic, and EVO). 

Pizza has spread to all corners of the world where Italians have immigrated and has certainly been catered to regional taste. Everything from Thai and curry pizzas to Southwestern barbecue chicken pizza. Here in North American we have New York style thin crust, Chicago deep dish, and California non-traditional. One of my favorites right now is barbecue pork, sweet bourbon sauce, jalapenos, and mango slices. A long way from pizza margherita but delicious nonetheless. 

Pizza of late has been ragged on because of its "unhealthy" appeal as junk food. There was quite a controversy when the U.S. congress recently certified pizza as a vegetable. Thoughit is very true that frozen and delivery pizzas have a inordinate amount of sodium and sugar, when you make your own pizza you can certainly control that. The disclaimer is that homemade pizza is not a convenience food. It's not quick if making it all same day. However the dough and sauce, and if you so choose, the cheese can be made up to a week in advance. The dough can be frozen and used later. 

Pizza is certainly a comfort food that can be an excellent ice breaker for entertaining, or a great healthy for the family. 

On to the recipe.

For this pizza, I made everything aside from the meat. This pizza was non traditional in the sense that non traditional topping were used. It resembled a Pizza capricciosa (mozzarella, tomato, mushrooms, artichokes, cooked ham, olives and oil) only I used jalapenos instead of olives and omitted the mushrooms. I also used homemade mozzarella for a fresh taste. I will include a blog post on mozzarella upon request.  

The dough. A good dough makes or break the pizza. There are dozens, if not hundreds of variations of the same recipes when it comes to pizza dough. I myself have at least 10 different recipes I use on a regular basis.  

Tools needed:
Saute pan
Pizza stone
Pizza peel
Parchment paper
Pizza cutter
everything else is icing on the cake

3 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour. Extra for dusting
1/4 cups of whole wheat flour (if no whole wheat flour 3 1/2- 3 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour)
2 1/2  tsp (1 package) of yeast
1 tbsp of sugar (use Honey)
1 tbsp salt (Koshering salt as it is pure without additives)
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 F) to warm kills the yeast, to cold won't activate the yeast.
2 tbsp Olive Oil (Extra Virgin cold press)

Put the yeast in the water to activate for about 10 minutes. You'll know if it's activated. Mix the dry ingredients and sift them. Add the oil and honey to wet mixture and start adding the dry ingredient a little bit at a time. If hand kneading, make sure surface is clean and knead for approximately 10 minutes until "elastic". If using a stand mixer or bread machine, activate the yeast and then unceremoniously dump the ingredients in and allow the machines to do the work. Then let the dough sit in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until the dough doubles in size. 

While the dough is rising, make some sauce. Again, taste is subjective and some like sweeter sauce. I don't. I like to taste the tomatoes. If crunched for time, or just don't want to make an elaborate sauce (remember the sauce should be an accent and not overpower the taste of the crust) here is an easy recipe.

1 15 oz can tomato sauce. Get good quality as some generics can have a faint metallic taste
3 oz tomato paste. 
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
A splash of honey 

Simmer on stove top, and correct seasoning as needed. It is very hard to screw this sauce up.

However, My sauce of choice right now

1/4 cup EVO
4 or 5 cloves garlic. Minced
1 can crushed tomatoes (or crush your own favorite. I like plum tomatoes for this)
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp fresh cut basil leaves (1 tsp dried. you can get a dehydrator and make your own dried herbs)
3/4 tsp dried oregano 
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar. Don't go cheap here. 
Salt and pepper to taste (many canned tomatoes are already salted for preservation. taste the tomatoes before adding anything else. Use Koshering salt and fresh ground pepper)

Saute Garlic in EVO 
Heat up skillet over medium heat and pour oil in. When you turn on the stove. Take a second to put your pizza stone in, yes...a pizza stone (it emulates the stone ovens used in Naples), the oven and preheat the oven to 450. When oil is read it should "ribbon" against the pan when swirled around. If your oil starts smoking it is TOO HOT. Once the oil start "ribboning" put garlic in and lower heat to medium low. Saute the garlic until fragrant (about 2-3 minutes) but be wary that if garlic turns brown it will become extremely bitter. Mix all other ingredient except salt and pepper and only add 1 tbsp of vinegar into a bowl. Add garlic and oil into the mixture stir and let sit for a minute. Taste, and then correct flavor with salt, pepper, and vinegar. Use immediately or refrigerate until ready. Oil will separate from the tomatoes. Just stir prior to use. 

Most important aspect of cooking...Make sure you have a good Sous chef! Mines a Pro. 
By now, dough should be ready. Punch it. Punch it good. It's fun. Take your pizza peal and line it with parchment paper ( traditionally flour or cornmeal could be used, but it tends to burn, so parchment is a good substitute. It is heat resistant and thin enough to not interfere with the pizza stone magic. Build your pizza on the parchment paper on the peel. Place your dough on the center of the peel, work it into the desired thickness (about half and inch) and shape. Leave slight finger depression in the dough. It will catch the sauce. 

Now Oil the outer crust. I use a mixture of EVO, melted butter, and minced garlic. Add your sauce and toppings and put in the oven before the dough has time to absorb the oil mixture. Pizza will cook right on the paper. Cook time should take about 10 minutes. Crust should be a brown. Yes brown. Not burnt. Not lightly brown...but brown. Use the peel to free the pizza from its fiery prison and let sit for about 3 minutes. Enjoy. It should be delicious and healthy. 

Homemade mozzarella, cooked ham, artichokes, jalapenos.
If you would like more history or variations of the dish or any ingredients, please let me know!

1 comment:

  1. This is an awesome blog, Josh! I would love a blog post on the mozarella. This looks yummy, I can't wait to make it.