If Americans could only eat one food for the rest of their lives, the No. 1 choice is pizza, according to a recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll. From New York to Chicago to California, we consume more than 3 billion pizza pies each year.
Nothing beats a fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza, and making it at home is easier than you think. The basics are simple — dough, toppings, heat. Where you go from there is up to you.
Great pizza begins with great crust. I always say fresh is best, and my dough recipe can be made in the food processor or by hand.My favorite toppings change with the seasons, but only use about three. Experiment with a blend of cheeses. While mozzarella is the classic pizza cheese, Fontina, Gruyère, and Gorgonzola are other options that melt well and deliver lots of flavor.
I consider Portobello Mushroom Pizza with Prosciutto and Arugula an elevated pepperoni and mushroom pizza, but not as heavy. There is a nice earthiness to White Pizza with Mustard Greens and Mushrooms — the slight bitterness of the mustard greens marries well with the umami of the mushrooms.
Do as the Italians do! For authenticity, I like to drizzle pizza with extra-virgin olive oil before slicing and serving.
Portobello Mushroom Pizza with Prosciutto and Arugula
(Makes 2 servings)
- 1 10-ounce pizza dough (see recipe) or purchased
- 8 ounces portobello mushrooms (2), stems and gills removed
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 thin slice prosciutto
- 1 ounce baby arugula
Place large baking stone on bottom shelf in oven; preheat oven to 450˚.
To roast mushrooms: Place mushrooms on baking sheet, coat with 1 tablespoon oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake on top rack, turning mushrooms over halfway through baking, about 10 minutes or until tender. Cool and then cut mushrooms into ½-inch-wide slices. In small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon oil with garlic.
To make the pizza: Using oven mitts, remove pizza stone from oven and set on pizza rack. Stretch dough to about an 11-inch round and lay over stone. Drizzle garlic-oil mixture over dough. Sprinkle half of each cheese over dough, and then top with mushroom slices and sprinkle remaining cheeses. Using oven mitts, return pizza stone to oven and bake pizza for about 7 minutes, or until crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove pizza stone from oven and return it to pizza rack. Tear prosciutto into strips and arrange them on pizza, and then sprinkle arugula over pizza. Cut into wedges and serve.
Make-Ahead: The portobello mushrooms can be roasted, cooled, and sliced up to 8 hours ahead, covered, and refrigerated.
Per serving (with pizza dough)
- Calories: 453
- Total Fat: 16 g
- Saturated Fat: 5 g
- Sodium: 309 mg
- Carbohydrate: 59 g
- Fiber: 4 g
- Protein: 19 g
White Pizza with Mustard Greens and Mushrooms
(Makes 4 servings)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 bunch mustard greens, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped (about 8 ounces of leaves)
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 2 ounces part-skim milk ricotta
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- 1 15-ounce ball pizza dough (see recipe) or purchased
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 3 ounces button mushrooms, thickly sliced
- 11/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
Position rack in lowest position in oven and preheat oven to 500°. Heat large sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, shallots, and garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Working in batches, add mustard greens and cook for about 4 minutes, or until wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and transfer to plate lined with paper towels to drain. In small bowl, whisk milk and ricotta until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Turn 13-x-9-inch baking sheet upside down and lightly dust with flour. Transfer dough to baking sheet. Using rolling pin, roll dough over baking sheet. Spread ricotta mixture over dough. Top with mozzarella, then greens and mushrooms. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until crust is crisp and cheese is golden. Drizzle pizza with extra-virgin olive oil, slice, and serve. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, if desired.
Make-Ahead: Ricotta mixture can be made up to 1 day ahead, covered, and refrigerated. Greens can be cooked up to 4 hours ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated.
Per serving (with pizza dough)
- Calories: 560
- Total Fat: 25 g
- Saturated Fat: 5 g
- Sodium: 388 mg
- Carbohydrate: 49 g
- Fiber: 3 g;
- Protein: 22 g
(Makes 3 10-ounce dough balls or 2 15-ounce balls)
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/3 cup good-quality dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
In 2-cup measuring cup, whisk warm water, wine, yeast, and honey to blend. Set aside 5 minutes, or until foamy. Mix in oil. Place flour and salt in food processor. With machine running, mix in yeast mixture (dough will be wet). Transfer dough to floured work surface and knead 3 minutes, or until it is smooth, elastic, and very tacky but releases from hands. Form into three 10-ounce or two 15-ounce balls. Place on sheet pan and dust top with flour. Cover with plastic wrap. Place dough in warm area 45 minutes, or until it rises and doubles.
Make-Ahead: Once dough balls are formed, store airtight and freeze up to 1 month. Allow extra time for dough to rise before using.
Per 10-ounce dough ball
- Calories: 907
- Total Fat: 48 g
- Saturated Fat: 11 g
- Sodium: 718 mg
- Carbohydrate: 119 g
- Fiber: 7 g
- Protein: 38 g
Portobello Mushroom Pizza recipe: From Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone by Curtis Stone. Copyright © by Curtis Stone with permission of Clarkson Potter. All rights reserved; White Pizza Recipe: Courtesy Curtis Stone; Pizza Dough recipe: Excerpted from The Bakeware Cookbook by Rochelle Palermo. Copyright © 2017 by Rochelle Palermo. Excerpted by permission of Rochelle Palermo and Curtis Stone. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
This article is featured in the January/February 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Shutterstock
There’s something about pizza that seems to fire the human imagination. Today, Americans have nearly unlimited choices of crusts and toppings.
If pizza lovers are willing to travel, they can get a pizza that’s deep fried in New York, or one that has a sweet potato crust in Los Angeles. Around the country, imaginative pizza artisans (pizzologists? pizzeristas?) are adding caviar, sushi, tandoori chicken, eggplant, pancetta, and smoked reindeer to their creations. And they’re offering unusual combinations, too, like strawberries and chicken, shrimp and guacamole, peaches and prosciutto, and caramelized onions, apples, and goat cheese.
Even pizza delivery has been upgraded. Impatient customers now can track the progress of their delivery by GPS, and Domino’s is testing delivery via driverless car.
All this creative thinking was inspired by a food that, for centuries, was just a flour crust with tomato slices and seasonings. The Saturday Evening Post has been tracing the evolution of the humble pizza for nearly 150 years.
The lowly tomato pie is first mentioned in our November 21, 1835, issue in a column from The Rural Economist trying to convince readers of the tomato’s merits: “There are few who relish it at first sight.” Despite Americans’ apparently chilly reception to the tomato, the author soldiers on: “Some will give a decided preference to a dish of tomato sauce or a tomato pie, when properly prepared, to any thing of the kind in the vegetable kingdom.”
Thirty-five years later, in 1870, the tomato-in-crust makes another appearance, although this recipe for tomato pie is most definitely more “pie” than “pizza.”
TOMATO PIE-Take two large ripe Feejee or other tomatoes of the same size, drop them into boiling water to remove the skin, then, with a sharp knife, cut them into thin slices, put the crust in an ordinary pie-pan, as for berry pie; cover the bottom with a layer of the tomatoes, then a layer of sugar and butter, then of tomatoes, then of sugar and butter as before; flavor with either lemon, orange peel, or nutmeg, to the taste. Cover with the top crust, bake, and bring to the table hot — (cold tomato pie is not good).
—October 8, 1870
This recipe was offered among several others, including cold partridge pie and chow chow. The author’s judgment is not to be trusted, however, based on his or her condemnation of cold pizza.
One of the earliest toppings of modern pizza was anchovies. Here is one recipe described in 1927:
A typical Tuscan menu was prepared and served by Giovanni Pisani, capo cuoco, or top chef, of one of Florence’s leading hotels. He started off with Pizza alla Paesana:
Prepare a large, flat brioche, unsweetened, about ten inches in diameter and an inch thick. Place the brioche in a shallow baking pan. On top of brioche place a layer of sliced tomatoes. Scatter on top of the tomatoes about ten or fifteen filets of anchovy. Over all place thin slices of cheese similar to Mozzarella. Spray a little olive oil over it, season with salt and pepper and cook in oven for about twenty minutes.”
—“A Cook’s Tour,” by restaurateur George Rector, December 3, 1927
The author notes that mozzarella was a cheese native to Italy and unlikely to be found in America.
Pizza might have remained an obscure Italian dish if American soldiers hadn’t discovered it during World War II. By 1948, it was even appearing in Post fiction. It now had a thinner crust, but it still had those anchovies:
The little old man stood behind a counter, kneading a ball of dough. Presently he began to stretch it with light, deft fingers until it was large and round and paper-thin. He brushed it with olive oil, sliced bits of hard white cheese over the surface and poured on a thick tomato sauce. Then he arranged anchovy fillets across the top and sprinkled freshly ground pepper and oregano over everything. With a long-handled, flat wooden shovel he lifted it up and slid it into the huge oven behind him. …
Tony fed the juke box another nickel, and they danced some more, until the pizza was baked to a delicate melting brown. Then Papa Joe slipped it onto a big tin plate and cut it quickly into large sections, and Tony showed her how to eat it, flipping the tip of the triangle back over the filling and holding it over a paper napkin.
—“The Low-Brow and the Lady,” by Gertrude Schweitzer, October 2, 1948
That same year, the Post’s sister publication, Country Gentleman, ran an article on backyard barbecuing and offered a recipe for “Campfire Pizza.”
Add ⅔ cup of milk or water to 1 cup of prepared biscuit mix, and beat 1 minute. Spread in a well-greased 10-inch skillet.
Cover with 1 cup of cooked tomatoes, and sprinkle with ½ cup of cubed American cheese, cup of grated Parmesan cheese and 4 cups of salad oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover and cook over a rather slow fire 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned on the underside, and the cheese is melted. Cut into pie-shaped pieces for serving. Serve while still hot to 6 hungry campers.
—“Cook It Outdoors,” by Sara Hervey, September 1948
Ten years later, America had finally figured pizza out. A Post article by Richard Gehman in November 30, 1957, rhapsodizes over pizza,
…that wondrously flavorful, smoky-crusted, crisp or chewy pie of Neapolitan origin, bubbling with hot melted cheese and rich sauce from Italian plum tomatoes, dotted with bits of sizzling, succulent sausage or laced with soft, salty anchovies, sprinkled with parsley or oregano and dusted with musty Parmesan cheese.
Pizza had swept the nation, particularly Los Angeles, where restaurateur Patsy D’Amore prospered: “His restaurant, where Joe DiMaggio wooed Marilyn Monroe with pizza, is highly esteemed by movie stars. Frank Sinatra, whose fondness for pizza is almost legendary, goes there several nights a week.”
From such primitive beginnings, pizza has continued to evolve. The cooks of 150 years ago likely wouldn’t recognize the modern pizza, with toppings like rhubarb and barbecue sauce. And who knows what tomorrow’s adventurous chefs have planned? What we can predict is that if you have the perfect, crisp crust and some juicy, vine-ripe tomatoes, you can’t go too far wrong.
Featured image: Pizzeria in Napoli, circa 1910 (Wikimedia Commons)
No matter how you slice it, pizza is an American obsession. On any given day, roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population eats some pizza, according to a 2014 USDA report. We love the dish so much we declared October National Pizza Month.
Enter Curtis Stone, who shares time-tested tips on building your own perfect pizza from scratch. His secret? “Never overload pizza with toppings,” Stone says. “Too much stuff on top of the pizza weighs it down and the crust will get soggy and won’t crisp up properly.”
When choosing toppings, think seasonal. “Use fresh, in-season produce — radicchio, arugula, zucchini, leeks,” says the celebrity chef. “One of the biggest threats to healthful pizza eating is its cheesy topping. Take a cue from the Neapolitans — go without cheese once in a while. A beautiful tomato sauce, some olives, and fresh oregano comprise a classic Marinara pizza.”
Good pizza is all about the crust, right? To get that crust pizza-lovers crave, Stone says to “always cook your pizza on a preheated surface — pizza stone or baking sheet.” And to boost nutritional content and enhance texture, Stone suggests adding whole-wheat flour to the dough recipe.
In the Stone household, pizza’s a frequent visitor — served for family and friends. “Homemade pizza is a great way to kick off the weekend. It’s easy and fun to throw a bunch of sauces (white, red, olive oil) and toppings in front of guests and let them build their own ’za.”
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