Alexander Lee, writing “A History of Pizza” for “History Today” tells a great story:
“People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: ‘Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!’”
We are still eating our plates all these years later.
Another website discussing the history of pizza, “Today I Found Out,” offers the fact that in the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August, 79 A.D., archeologists discovered shops containing equipment and tools consistent with those used in pizzerias.
That site also informs us that in the early 1500s, citizens of Naples started topping their flatbreads with not only cheese but tomatoes. Eating “pizza” when in Naples became a “must-do” activity for tourists. [And still is!] In 1889, when Italian royalty King Umberto I and Queen Margherita were vacationing in Naples, they tried pizza and loved it, with the queen especially enjoying the pizza with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. The pizza maker thereafter dedicated it to her, calling it “Pizza Margherita.”
When Italian immigrants came to America at the beginning of the 20th Century, they brought pizza with them. The first known pizzeria in the U.S. (or one of the first) was opened in New York City. Time Magazine reports:
“Lombardi’s is widely accepted as the first pizzeria in the U.S., when Gennaro Lombardi began selling coal-oven pizza out of his grocery store in Manhattan’s Little Italy in 1905. Before then, pizza was available in many Italian neighborhoods, but mainly it was homemade in kitchens or sold through unlicensed vendors. The word pizza (or “pizze” as it was then spelled) appears in Boston newspapers as early as 1903. Lombardi’s proved to be enormously influential pizza force, serving as the training grounds for cooks who went on to open celebrated pizzerias such as John’s and Totonno’s.”
[It should be noted however that pizza researcher Peter Regas has found evidence from 19th-Century Italian-American newspapers in New York that there were actually other pizzerias on the scene before Lombardi’s came along. They were started by Filippo Milone, who sold off one of them to Gennaro Lombardi.]
In 1943, Chicago began over a half-century of rivalry with “New York style” pizzas when Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno’s which served the “deep-dish” pie.
Still, pizza didn’t really “take off” until the 1950’s, when celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra, who all had Italian roots, were publicly seen enjoying pizza, according to “Today I Found Out.”
They add that the 1952 song “That’s Amore” sung by Dean Martin, which included the line “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie – that’s amore,” “did more for the popularity of pizza than a thousand ad campaigns could have done.”
Pizza Magazine (yes, there is a Pizza Magazine) reported that as of December, 2017, the world pizza market topped $134 billion, with the U.S. pizza market at over $45 billion.
On average, every person in the U.S. consumes around 23 pounds of pizza each year. That adds up to over 3 BILLION pizzas, not counting frozen pizzas. The top 5 pizza sales days are Super Bowl Sunday, New Year’s Eve, Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.
Pepperoni is the most popular pizza, making up 36% of all pizzas ordered, but these days, you can get almost any topping conceivable. Sometimes Jim and I spring for “artisanal” pizza. But we have never gone so far as to order any pizza like the ones on this list of “The Most Expensive Pizza Slices in the World.” With toppings like “caviar that is pre-soaked in Dom Perignon,” “sprinkling of gold flakes,” or even “sprinkles of diamonds,” it doesn’t even appeal to us, to be honest. Seriously, what would you rather eat: cheese, or gold flakes?
And where do they eat the most pizza? Pizza Magazine reports that Pakistan is the world’s fastest-growing retail market. In terms of the number of pizza delivery and takeaway outlets, the U.S. leads the global market, followed by Italy and Brazil, according to Euromonitor International. And within the U.S., the state with the most pizzerias per capita is New Hampshire – who would have guessed!
Jim and I also consume a great deal of pizza. And we love deep-dish. Having grown up on the East Coast, I never even heard of “deep-dish” till I came to Wisconsin, where the love of cheese made for a natural partnering with deep-dish pizza. I was smitten. (My cholesterol doctor, not so much.)
Today, we live in Illinois, and while we do not live by an Uno’s, we are near another Chicago-based institution, Lou Malnati’s. Apparently Lou Malnati got his start working at Uno’s, and took his expertise out to the Chicago suburbs. He opened his first pizzeria in 1971. The website claims “Lou Malnati’s Pizzerias have stayed true to the original Chicago-style deep dish pizza recipe that Grandpa Malnati helped create in 1943 at Chicago’s first deep dish pizzeria.”
For our pizzas, we like lots of cheese. I like mushrooms and onions. Jim occasionally insists upon an add-on of sausage because he, after all, was born in Chicago. [It’s even worse! People in Chicago say “sah-sedge” instead of “saw-sidge.” Imagine!] But I require strict lines of demarcation between his half and mine so as not to get it contaminated with either sah-sedge or saw-sidge…. Here is a recipe I have used for a wonderful deep-dish pizza. It is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks: The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two by Anna Thomas:
Basic Short-Crust Pastry
1 ½ cups flour
½ to ¾ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, well chilled
scant 1/3 cup ice water
Sift together the flour and the salt. Slice the cold butter rapidly and drop the slices into the flour. With a pastry cutter or two sharp knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.
Sprinkle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and stir it in very quickly with a fork, until the dough gathers together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in wax paper or foil, and chill it for about 2 hours.
Makes enough dough for 1 large (11 or 12 inch) quiche shell.
Preparing the shell
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out in a circle about 2 ½ inches larer than your quiche pan. Roll the circle of dough loosely around your rolling in and unroll it over the quiche pan, centering it as well as possible. Press the sides in against the rim of the pan, pushing the extra dough down a bit to make an edge that is slightly thicker than the bottom. Trim the dough off with a sharp knife, about ¼ inch above the rim of the pan.
Crimp the ridge of dough neatly just about the rim of the pan. Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork, and chill the shell for ½ hr.
Prebake the shell in a preheated 450 oven for about 8 minutes, prick again with a fork, and return to the hot oven for another 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom of the shell begins to color. Allow the shell to cool slightly on a rack, then fill and finish baking according to recipe.
Cheese and Tomato Deep Dish Pizza
1 recipe Basic Short-Crust Pastry (or what the heck, buy it pre-made)
3 lbs. ripe tomatoes
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried basil, crushed
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
1 lbs. yellow onions
2 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ lb. mozzarella cheese
Prepare the short crust, line an 11-inch quiche pan with it, and prebake according to instructions above.
Chop the tomatoes coarsely, reserving their juice. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the garlic in it for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, ½ tsp of the salt, the basil, and a little fresh-ground black pepper. Simmer this sauce, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by about half. It should be quite thick.
Peel, halve, and thickly slice the onions. Saute them in the butter until they are golden and sprinkle them with the ¼ tsp salt.
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the bottom of the quiche shell. Arrange the sautéed onion slices over it in an even layer. Cover the onions with the tomato sauce.
Cut the mozzarella in thin strips and arrange them evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Slice the olives off their pits and sprinkle the olive bits over the mozzarella cheese.
Bake the pie for 35 minutes in a preheated oven at 375 and serve hot.
Serves 6 to 8.
Happy Deep Dish Pizza Day!!