No Wonder It Is Everyone’s Favorite
Written by Jim Stott and Jonathan King
Photographed by Jim Stott
Pizza, a basic bread crust topped with tomatoes, cheese and a couple of herbs, has probably had more written about it than any other food in history. Entire books are devoted to the worldwide and regional history of everyone’s favorite food, and there are more cookbooks about the “tomato pie” than we can count. Deep dish or thin crust, simple cheese or “loaded,” everyone has a favorite pizza, and everyone has a story about where they had the best pizza they ever tasted.
As you might expect, we have our favorites, although it’s really hard to narrow it down to one or two. If pushed, we’d have to say a simple Margherita pizza is at the top of the list, along with a perfectly grilled pizza topped with caramelized onions, artichokes, several kinds of cheese and a sprinkling of roasted red peppers.
We confess we didn’t know the significance of one of our favorites, the classic Margherita pizza, until we researched its origin. Turns out that in the late 1800s, the royal palace in Rome ordered a local baker to create a pizza to honor the visiting Queen Margherita. He fashioned one with the colors of the Italian flag, using deep red tomato sauce, pure white mozzarella and fresh green basil, and she loved it. It was so simple and yet elegant enough for a queen.
We still remember the flavor and texture of a Margherita pizza we had in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy. It had a thin crust with fresh tomatoes, thick slices of mozzarella and fresh basil, which we topped with freshly ground pepperoncini and grated Parmigiano–Reggiano. Perhaps it could have been the fact that we were sitting in the sunshine in Siena with a glass of local Chianti, but we really do believe it was the best pizza we’ve ever had.
In our research of pizza, we also discovered that the soldiers of Darius the Great, king of ancient Persia who died in 486 BC, often marched in lengthy battles and reportedly baked a flat bread covered with cheese and dates on their battle shields over an open fire, a meal that would keep them fortified for long stretches of time.
That brings us to the nutritional value of pizza. While most of us think of it as a fast food and perhaps even a bit of an indulgence, it really is a healthful option for lunch or dinner. Keeping an eye on the amount and the kind of cheese you use is important, but overall there aren’t many meals that are as healthful and convenient. Tomato sauce is extremely nutritious, and veggies will add fiber and vitamins to your daily meal plan. Pile on the onions—rich in chromium, vitamin C and fiber—and pizza will help lower your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. Black olives help ward off heart disease and lower cholesterol and sweet red peppers are full of Vitamins C, A and B6. So relax, enjoy and include pizza in your diet.
Attached are two recipes for pizza we hope you will try. One is for a grilled pizza which sounds challenging but is easy to make and a sure crowd pleaser. Mangia!
You may want to practice this recipe a time or two before serving it to guests. Once you get the hang of it, it is a wonderfully flavorful way to cook pizza. This recipe will work on either a charcoal or a gas grill. The grill must be large enough to allow for half the grill to be hot and the other half cool. Use your imagination with toppings and create your own version. (One helpful hint: have all toppings handy in bowls near the grill. You will want to move quickly when the crust begins to brown).
Pre-made pizza dough
2 Tbs. olive oil
Toppings of your choice
1. Prepare your favorite pizza dough recipe. Roll it on a flour or cornmeal surface to a desired shape and let it rest a few minutes before placing it on a cooking sheet that has been lightly coated with olive oil.
2. Preheat one side of a gas grill to about 400°F, making sure the grate is clean. Check to see that charcoal coals are hot if you are using a charcoal grill. When the grill or charcoal is ready, flip the dough onto the grill, oil side down using tongs or a large spatula. Allow the dough to cook for about a minute or two; you want the underside of the dough to be slightly charred and crisp.
3. Move the dough to a cooler spot on the grill and leave it for just a minute. Quickly flip the dough and spread about one half of the toppings over the dough. Move it back to the hot side. Cover and let the pizza cook for about two to three minutes. Move the pizza again to the cool side, add the remaining toppings, cover, and let the pizza cook until the cheese is bubbling.
4. Remove to a cutting board and enjoy.
Tomato, Basil and Niçoise Olive Pizza
Makes two 12-inch pizzas
1 batch of your favorite pizza dough
4 tsp. olive oil
6 tbs. fresh basil, julienned
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
6 medium tomatoes, sliced thinly
1 cup Niçoise or black olives, chopped
1 1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Roll out the dough and brush lightly with oil.
3. Scatter two tablespoons of the basil and one third of the cheese on top of the dough. Arrange tomatoes in a circle, slightly overlapping each one. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the rest of the basil. Scatter the olives over the tomatoes and place the mozzarella in random fashion over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and drizzle the remaining olive oil on top.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is brown