Is there a better feeling than a warm pizza box on your lap? Comedian Kevin James, known for his role in "The King of Queens," said it best by expressing what most of us have thought at one time or another when we've held that box of takeout pizza from one of our favorite restaurants. It takes a lot of discipline to not sneak a peek.
Pizza has been around a long time. Today is actually "National Pizza Pie Day."
An American favorite, it is estimated that 350 slices of pizza are eaten every second in the United States. According to inventors.about.com, pepperoni is the number one topping. We think of pizza originating in Italy, but there is evidence of bread creations in more ancient times. Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Persians are just a few cultures that ate flat breads with various ingredients and toppings. It is Naples, Italy however that is considered the "modern" birthplace of the pizza we know today.
OBSERVER Photo by Mary Deas
A homemade vegetable pizza is not only healthy, but delights the eye with its many colors.
At first, pizza was a food of the poorer classes; simple and easy to eat while working. Along the way, tomatoes were added; a native fruit that originally came from America as part of the "Columbian Exchange," which was the exchange of plants, animals, and ideas between the continents after Columbus' discovery in 1492. According to aboutpizza.com, in the late 1800s pizza gained favor with more and more people in Italy when a baker made a version of it for visiting royalty. Of course, as Italian immigrants came to the United States, they brought pizza with them. In these early days, pizza was mostly enjoyed in Italian neighborhood restaurants, particularly in New York City and Chicago where there were large populations of Italians. It seems it was American World War II veterans who helped make pizza popular to the masses in the United States. They were introduced to it while serving in Italy. Of course, they wanted more of it when they came home. As they say, the rest is history.
One problem for some pizza lovers is that as good as it tastes, there is often a guilty and heavy feeling after eating it. This is particularly true if we have overindulged with a thick crust including extra cheese and pepperoni.
A "healthier" vegetable version might have a few mushrooms and a smattering of olives and peppers, but somehow it is not that different. There is one recipe that can truly be eaten without guilt. It is loaded with real vegetables. In honor of "National Pizza Pie Day," consider trying the following recipe, a people pleaser for those looking for a real alternative.
Begin with a whole wheat crust. Like any bread, the ingredients should be simple. You need nothing more than flour, yeast, salt, oil, and a sweetener such as honey. One nice recipe is detailed on the back of Hodgson Mill Old Fashioned Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour.
Dissolve 1 pkg. of active dry yeast in 1 cup of warm water (110 degrees). If the water is too hot it will kill the yeast, and if too cool will not activate it. Allow it to "rest" for about 5 minutes. Then stir in 1 and a half cups of whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. sugar (I use honey from my hive which keeps bread more moist, lasts longer, and is healthier), half a tsp. salt, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and I cup of unbleached white flour. Knead in another half cup of unbleached flour by hand for about 5 minutes. Lightly spray/coat a medium-size bowl with olive oil. Place pizza dough in bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover and let it rise in a warm place about 15 minutes. Next, stretch the dough across a lightly coated stone/pizza pan (sprinkle of corn meal first is optional) and flute the edges to hold in the toppings.
Next comes the really fun part the toppings! Instead of tomato sauce, spread a thin layer of pesto sauce over the crust. This is available in the store in small jars in the same aisle as other sauces. It is basically olive oil and seasonings such as basil and garlic, so you can easily make your own! Next, place a thick layer of fresh spinach leaves. Don't be afraid to put on a ton because it shrinks down when baking. The next toppings create a beautiful palette of color and can be varied to personal taste. A great combination is sliced red and yellow peppers, onion, broccoli florets ( partially cooked first if fresh), olives, fresh mushrooms, tomatoes, and some pineapple tidbits. Garnish with banana peppers (jar), parmesan and shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees until the cheese is melted and the crust is browned.
Moving the pizza in and out of the oven is somewhat of a load. It is a heavy pizza, but in a good way. Mamma Mia, what a pizza! Think of all the servings of vegetables you get when eating such a delight. Make it a good week and enjoy one soon.