First… Some Piz’za History

Piz’za (n) – A baked pie of Italian origin consisting of a shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings, such as sausage or olives.

The Origins of Pizza
Considered a peasant’s meal in Italy for centuries, modern pizza attributes itself to baker Raffaele Esposito of Napoli (Naples), who in 1889 created a special pizza for the visiting Italian King Umberto and Queen Margherita. The pizza, named after the queen, was patriotic in its resemblance to the Italian flag; red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella cheese), and green (basil). It received rave reviews, setting the standard by which today’s pizza evolved.

The idea of using bread as a plate came from the Greeks, who ate flat round bread (plankuntos) baked with an assortment of toppings. The tomato came to Italy from Mexico and Peru through Spain in the 16th century as an ornamental plant first thought to be poisonous. True mozzarella is made from the milk of the water buffalo imported from India to Campania in the 7th century. So, the Neopolitan baker, as the saying goes, put it all together. Also, in 1830 the world’s first true pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’ Alba in Naples, opened and is still in business today!

Pizza migrated to America with the Italians. Gennaro Lombardi opened the first U.S. pizzeria in 1895 in New York City at 53 1/3 Spring Street, but it wasn’t until after World War II when returning GI’s created a nationwide demand for the pizza they had eaten and loved in Italy that pizza went public. In the late 1950’s, Shakey’s and various other mass production pizza parlors appeared and further popularized pizza.

Pizza in this day and age is not limited to the flat round type. It’s also deep-dish pizza, stuffed pizza, pizza pockets, pizza turnovers, rolled pizza, pizza-on-a-stick, pizza strudel, etc., all with combinations of sauce, cheese, and toppings limited only by one’s inventiveness. However, the best pizza still comes from the individual pizzaiolo, a pizza baker, who prepares his yeast dough and ingredients daily and heats his oven for hours before baking the first pizza.

Chef Cali’s Pizza Sauce

Makes: 3 cups

INGREDIENTS
1 can (28-ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, in juice
2 tablespoons olive oil, to sauté
1 small white or sweet onion, finely diced and minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
3 to 4 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch sea salt
Pinch fresh ground black pepper
Pinch sugar, optional

PROCEDURE
Empty the contents of the tomato can in a mixing bowl and coarsely crush the tomatoes with a fork or your hands, leaving them just a little chunky.

In a heavy bottom 2-quart saucepot, add the olive oil, over a medium high flame and heat a little. Add the onions and sauté until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and sauté about a minute until golden. Quickly add the crushed tomatoes to the mix. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and add the fresh basil and oregano.

You can add a touch of sugar if desired or if tomatoes are tart. Simmer on a low flame, stirring often for at least 15 minutes.

If not using right away, cool down and store in airtight container in the refrigerator, up to 1 week.

Chef Cali’s Pizza Dough

Makes:  2, 14” pizzas

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope active (not instant or rapid rise) dry yeast (about 2 ¼ teaspoons, a 4 oz. jar of yeast = 14 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cups cold water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Yellow cornmeal, for sprinkling the baking sheet

PROCEDURE
In a bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and sugar. Stir to combine.

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt.

Add the yeast mixture, cold water, and oil. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for several minutes until dough is smooth. Allow dough to rest for 2 to 3 minutes. Place dough in oiled bowl and allow to rise at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Punch dough down, let rise another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place cookie sheets in oven (inverted). Form a 10 to 14-inch pizza crust and place on a piece of parchment paper sprinkled with yellow cornmeal. Place topping on the crust and place the pizza, with the parchment paper, in the oven on hot inverted cookie sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes.

ABOUT YEAST … Yeast is a living, microscopic, single-cell organism that, as it grows, converts its food (through a process known as fermentation) carbon dioxide. This trait is what endears yeast to breadbakers. The art of breadmaking needs the carbon dioxide produced by yeast in order for certain doughs to rise. To multiply and grow, all yeast needs is the right environment, which includes moisture, food (in the form of sugar or starch) and a warm, nurturing temperature (70° to 85°F is best).

The breakdown of the yeast causes effervescence, the giving off of gasses which get trapped in the dough, and the lump of dough expands. As the bread is usually in a tin, the only way it can expand is upwards. A lump of dough not in a tin will expand sideways as well as upwards.