Top 10 Foods: Past & Present – #3 Pizza

Ahhh Pizza! The combinations of toppings are endless right? (Kind of like all the choices you have on our cooktop configurations – shameless plug, sorry.) You’ve got everything from meat lovers to vegetarian and even dessert pizzas! Now what, might you ask, is the history behind this true North American favorite? We instantly thought “Well, Italy of course”, but the story goes much deeper than that.

Recorded in history (dating back to 500 B.C.), we know that Persian soldiers would bake a flatbread on their shields and then top it with cheese and dates. We also know (thank you google, wiki and the gods of internet research) that Greece was baking unleavened bread and India was baking naan bread, both without toppings. So the question really becomes: What defines pizza? Considering tomatoes weren’t introduced to Europe until the 16th century (a time when the pizza we commonly know today started to take shape), there is definite debate over whether the Persians “on-the-go” meal could be considered a pizza or not.

No matter what side of the story you stand on, the origin of pizza, as we know it, does hail from Italy (insert sigh of relief). In fact, ancient pizza ovens can be found all over Italy, some dating as far back as the days of Pompeii, before it’s demise.

Fast-forward to 1531 and we have history supporting the first tomatoes being used on pizza. Until this time, Europe was convinced tomatoes were poisonous (they are a member of the nightshade family – commonly known for toxic plants); however, fear changed to love when they discovered how delicious tomatoes were over hot baked flatbread with cheese.

From there you could say the rest is history: The dish became popular with local peasants first, and then travelers started visiting the small neighborhoods to try this “pizzaioli”. Eventually pizza traveled to America with Raffaele Esposito (a pizza maker from Naples) during the Great Migration.

As we enter into prime pizza season (the summer – time dust off your outdoor pizza ovens), we’re pleased to present an interesting take on pizza crust from our chef sponsor this month.

Meet Elizabeth Walkowicz, Culinary Director of Eurostoves Culinary Center

After studying at the Culinary Institute of America, Liz traveled abroad (Switzerland, Europe, Australia, Mexico & the US) in pursuit new experiences, fine food and wine. Throughout her career she has catered, taught and worked as a Pastry Chef & Executive Chef. Presently Liz is the Culinary Director at Eurostoves Culinary Center where she teaches a wide variety of cuisines, skills, baking and pastry. She loves to share her enthusiasm for food and wine with others.

What else does she love? Well, pizza of course! “I am so crazy about pizza that I had a wood fired burning pizza oven built in my backyard. We have pizza parties all the time! That also has to be one of the favorites at Eurostoves. Guests love cooking pizza in the Capital Culinarian.” – Liz Walkowicz

Recipe: Flat Bread Dough – Perfect on the Grill!

1 ½ cups unbleached flour and more for kneading
3/4 cup warm/tepid water
1/2 teaspoon crushed sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1. This is a 5-hour rise

2. Dough ready for balling

 

 

Mix the flour, salt, and yeast together with dry fingers in a large bowl. Add the water and oil and combine until blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap set in a 70-80 degree environment for 4-12 hours. This is the primary mixing of the dough. Note: You can let it sit for only 3 hours, but the dough will need a longer secondary proofing for at least 45 to 60 minutes in a 70 to 80 degree environment.

Balling the dough and secondary proofing

 

 

 

1. The dough 2. Folding the gluten. 3. Making the dough ball. 4. Secondary proof

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour on countertop, then remove the dough from the bowl with a scraper or spatula and place on countertop. Sprinkle flour over the dough to help with the stickiness.

Take all the dough in both hands and gently knead the outer edges into the bottom to form a ball. Use your fingers to push dough up and into the center of the ball. You are folding the gluten strands into a cohesive round that will make it easier to form a pizza. As you gently push more dough underneath, the top will get firmer. This is a good time to stop. If the ball gets too sticky, roll the ball in flour. Do not over knead.

You should have one 14-ounce dough ball. Place it on an oiled tray and cover with a generous sprinkling of flour and a clean cotton towel, for 15 to 45 minutes.

Forming the Schiacciata

 

 

 

 

1. Pushing into oval 2. Gravity stretch. 3. Two handed stretch. 4. Rest on countertop.

Take the dough ball in both hands and stretch it into a football shape. Set on a lightly floured countertop and push with fingertips sideways to push gluten strands into shape. Go all the way to the edge with fingertips.

Hold the dough over the countertop. Using the back of your hand, let gravity pull the dough into an elongated form. Make sure the thinner parts don’t rip. Set it down on the countertop and manipulate the dough to even out the thick and thin areas.

With the back of both hands, place with fingers together in the center of the dough. Slowly pull them apart while opening your fingers. This will gently massage and stretch the dough in an elongated form.

Leave the dough on the countertop to rest for 3 to 5 minutes; do not let it sit for longer as it will begin to stick to anything. With this all-purpose flour recipe, there shouldn’t be much “bounceback” (when the round or oval pizza dough contracts back) but there may be some.

All that’s left to do after this is throw it on the grill – cook both sides to your desire, add toppings and pop in the oven until cheese is melted.

Information Sources: Passion-4-Pizza.com, WhatsCookingAmerica.net, Fruit-Pizza.com, RecipePizza.com
Image Sources: FornoBravo.com, PizzaHutPizza.com