Thursday, August 25, 2011

History of Pizza and Robiola, Portobello and Zucchini Pizza with Truffle Oil

I went to many different sources to discover the one true history of pizza since I love to find these things out –– only to find––there really isn’t one.

I found a multitude of possibilities just for the origin of word… like lexicographer Charles Earl Funk’s opinion that the word "pie" came from "magpie" (called only “pie” in English until the 16th century and one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet—part of the crow family). That connection was inspired by the assortment of objects the birds collect to decorate their nests as a pie has many ingredients within its crust.  Are you following? Magpie is “pica” in Latin, meaning black and white, and that became pizza in time.  A stretch, don’t you think?

The first written example of the word pizza (that has been discovered to date) comes from a 997AD document from the southern Italian town of Gaeta, very near Naples.  It records that a tenant will give the bishop “duodecim pizze” (12 pizzas) every Christmas day and every Easter.  Another theory, from Your Dictionary, postulated that that the word Pizza came from German domination of Italy in the later part of the 1st millennium -- from the Germanic Langobard or Lombard (hence Lombardy region of Italy) language’s “bizzo” or “pizzo”, related to bite. There are other ideas… some truly far-fetched, others reasonable, but none were definitive.

Honestly, I don’t think we will ever know for sure

There were also many attempts to create an ancient lineage for Pizza.  It is easy to find flatbreads in the most ancient cultures, and eating bread topped with the rest of your dinner is quoted in Virgil’s (70-19BCE) Æneid where he talks about eating bread plates, “See, we devour the plates on which we feed.” The great Roman gourmet, Apicius, one writer posited, made a proto pizza (# 126 in Book IV, De Re Coquinaria) –– although I thought that was again stretching it, if you ask me. The recipe reads that on a hollowed out loaf of bread you place chicken, sweetbreads, cheese, pignoli nuts, cucumbers, chopped onions … that sounds right, but the writer neglected to mention it was covered in a jellied broth then chilled and covered with a dressing made of crushed herbs and flavorings (celery seed, pennyroyal, mint, ginger, fresh coriander and raisins were mashed up), oil, vinegar and honey added.  Honestly, that sounds more like a terrine or even a composed salad to me… delicious, but nothing like a pizza.  

A carbonized bread was found in Pompei along with marble slabs that could have been used for making pizza-like breads. I know my ancestors used bread for plates called trenchers in England for a thousand or more years but that’s not quite pizza, is it? There are pitas in the mideast and parathas in India but they aren’t  pizza... that’s not cooking the bread with a topping of tomatoes and cheese… that started in Naples…as far as we know.

Our idea of pizza came from a peasant food that became popular as the tomato became readily available.  At first, it was only sold from stands and bakeries. Antica Pizzaria Port’Alba came about in 1830 and was the first Pizza restaurant  (still going strong) that famously served the Margherita pizza at the request of a slumming Queen Margherita in 1889.  The mozzarella, tomato and basil topped pizza honored the colors of the flag and the Queen.  It was said she enjoyed it very much.

American pizza started slowly in NYC with Lombardi’s in 1905 and still delicious today (although it closed up for a few years and was re-opened near the original Spring Street location in 1994 by a descendant of the original Lombardi).  Pizza was popular with immigrants and Lombardis began selling 5¢ pies… sounds cheap these days but wasn’t for poor immigrants at the time.  To accommodate empty pockets they sliced them up and sold the slices so you could get as many as you could afford.

After WW2, soldiers came back from the European theater having eaten pizza in Italy and they wanted more.  Pizza parlors began springing up all over America to satisfy the new appetites for Italian pizza.

I love pizza and have experimented with various doughs and toppings for years. About a dozen years ago I found a pizza recipe in Gourmet that I have been making ever since.  I thought the crust was really flavorful and the rich cheese and mushrooms with the wonder of “boskily perfumed” truffle oil, (as Nigella Lawson once said), put it over the top.  This is not uncle Luigi’s pizza.

The zucchini is a great simple addition too, amidst the other more luxurious toppings.  Instead of chopping everything as the recipe had requested, when I found the gadzukes zucchini variety with ridges at the farmer’s market –– they sort of asked to be sliced.  I decided to slice some of my mushrooms too… a little chopping and a little slicing for  a little variety in the texture.

And then there’s the truffle oil.  My friend Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks and I have talked about real vs chemical.  I remembered Daniel Patterson’s NYT’s article  from a few years back that threw me for a loop.  There I discovered most truffle oil had never been anywhere near a truffle.  The smell came from 2,4-dithiapentane. Hmmm.  Many chefs still use it, other chefs are horrified by it.  Serious Eats’ Ed Levine quotes “Comparing truffle oil to real truffles is like comparing sniffing dirty underwear to having sex.” OUCH! Well, I don’t feel quite that strongly about it, in fact I have 3 different bottles in my fridge… one that I keep meaning to toss that’s lost all it’s flavor, another is really too strong and chemical and the last one that is fine… you just can’t use very much or the phony comes out in a big way.  I have found the best way to use the faux version is to combine it with good olive oil and then drizzle that… it calms down the strength of the chemical.

But I wanted to know, what does real truffle oil taste like?

So, I went to Oregon Truffle Oil to investigate and then bought the real deal from Amazon.  Real white truffle oil is delicate – sort of the ethereal spirit of a truffle in the oil.  I thought it was marvelous.  It is a little more expensive… the best phony I had was $18 and this is $30… but not horrendous.  I’ve already used it on pizza and drizzled it on a mushroom omelette that was fabulous.  If you want to be knocked over the head with truffle-ishness... this is not for you.  It is subtle.

I also recommend, as all good pizzerias do, that the dough be allowed to rise overnight… it maxes out the flavor and makes it more digestible!

Robiola Pizza, makes 2 pies

2 t yeast
1 T  oil
pinch sugar
1 - 1½  c water depending on your flour
2 ½ c flour + 1 cup extra
¼ c cornmeal
3 T whole wheat
1 ½ to 2 t salt

2 portobello mushrooms, chopped and sliced
4 shitaki mushrooms, chopped and sliced
2 m zucchini, sliced very thinly on a mandoline

1 pound robiola cheese, that would be 2 cheeses usually, rind top removed and scooped out (I used Robiola Due Latti) but you could use a camembert or other soft creamy cheese since robiola is pricey.  You can also just slice them with the rind… your call.

5 T cornmeal
½ c chopped chives
¼ cup chopped thyme
smoked salt & pepper

3-4 T white truffle oil

Combine all the crust ingredients and blend for 8 minutes in a stand mixer… it will be a wet dough.  Let it rise for about an hour and then spread the dough out (you may need a little extra flour for this) to make 2 pizzas on cornmeal covered pans… make them as thin as you like put into the fridge, covered, overnight (lightly oil plastic wrap or it will stick.  Or, refrigerate the dough in the bowl and make the pizzas the next day.

Toss vegetables and ½ the chives with salt and pepper.

Spread the robiola cheese over the crusts, one cheese per pizza.  I took the cheese out of the rind but it’s fine to just slice it and lay it on the dough.  Sprinkle with the vegetables.

500º for 15 minutes or until the crust looks the way you like it.

Sprinkle with remaining chives and thyme and serve.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!!


Tasty Trix said...

I love the shape that you made yours, more like a flatbread than a pizza? Or are they the same thing? But then I have always always been bothered by the question: What is the difference between a flatbread and pizza, anyway? I was very curious to hear what you thought of the truffle oil - I like the idea of a delicate one (non chemical!!), and plan to order some straight away. Well, whatever the name - pizza or flatbread - yours is really beautiful!!

Diane said...

Interesting history, or lack of.... LOL
I love pizza so will certainly give this a try. You know I have never tasted truffles, I have no idea what they are like!!! Perhaps it is time I changed the situation :-) Keep well Diane

Magic of Spice said...

So delicious! Robiola is such a great choice here...beautiful pizza! And boy what a history :) Glad to hear you tried the truffle oil, I adore it and do not find the pricing to be extreme :)

helen tilston said...

How interesting and thank you for the recipe

Marjie said...

I'd like to let my pizza crust rise overnight, but there are more than a couple of people here who would grumble at that! I like your pizza history research, but it always seems that great foods evolve over time. Wonderful article, as always!

I have tried to comment the last 2 weeks, and blogger has scrambled my comments, then told me your page was unavailable. I hope it works this time! I haven't forgotten to visit you!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Deana dear,

Thank you for coming to get a beam of moonlight before I changed my post; Clair de Lune is indeed one of the most beautifully composed songs that reaches in my soul. AND I didn't even know that Debussy's birthday was on the 22nd...AND I MUST check out this artist of whom you speak that inspired DEBUSSY! You see, I really have always wondered WHAT INSPIRED HIM!
NOW....on for the really yummy stuff! THIS IS MY FAVORITE FOOD ON THE PLANET. I used to make my own pizza dough; I had a relationship to the dough pratically! A friend always wanted my recipe for the dough but it is like music. You learn the notes and then forget them. You learn a recipe, then the kneading and then you find yourself having the right touch. It has been at least 5 years since I have made a homemade pizza, but I LOVE to put walnuts and fresh basil on my pizza sauce. I say sauce and I don't know if that is REAL PIZZA, but I use tomato sauce for the topping. Oh dear, I am getting hungry!

YOUR HISTORY IS FASCINATING! Thank you for coming over, Anita

Anonymous said...

Such a lovely pizza, the combination of mushrooms, zucchini, and robiola cheese sounds excellent! And I love the use of truffle oil here. This Oregon truffle oil sounds like the organic truffle oil from da Rosario that I tried a while ago, also subtle.

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana - great post, everything seems to want to pass as pizza. Only pizza is pizza and yours is a masterpiece.
We are fans of truffle oil, and boy oh boy do they vary.
Favorite use: on fresh popped popcorn with sea salt.

tasteofbeirut said...

If I wanted to eat a pizza, I would pick one like yours; this truffle oil is something I must experience soon, sounds like!

Priscilla - She's Cookin' said...

I'm always interested in the origin of food and traditions and did a little cursory online research, so interesting. Such a beautiful pizza full of flavors that I love and I can imagine how the delicate truffle oil enhanced them!

Anonymous said...

You alwys find the most fascinating stories Deana! That carbonized pizza is amazing! :O

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
What a fascinating post which delves into a complete world about which, previously, we knew nothing.

But, sadly, it has not changed our view of pizza which we rarely, if ever, eat as it is simply not one of our favourite foods,

Have a lovely weekend.

Faith said...

So much fun to read about pizza! And you're right, we may never know it's true origin, but it really is fascinating to see such similar "pizza-like" dishes in so many different cultures throughout the world. Such an elegant pizza, I love your cheese choice!

Lazaro Cooks said...

My friend only you would find a photo of the carbonized bread from Pompei, 79 AD.

While the history of pizza is convoluted, I will always be a great admirer of Gennaro Lombardi, for bringing it to NYC. That place still rocks even today.

OK I need to grab some of that truffle oil, it is now on my hit list.

What can I say about your masterpiece apart from...WOW! Love it. Agreed about letting the bread proof overnight.

You are a shining light in the food blog world. Never change my friend.

Unknown said...

You really did your research on pizza! Thanks for all of the interesting info. That carbonized bread from Pompei is really cool. Delicious pizza creation!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I do think the Magpie theory was a long stretch for the word pizza! Very interesting what you found and lack of information. How sad for such a popular food.

Your pizza sounds wonderful! I have a recipe that I've been wanting to try that calls for truffle oil so I'll keep this one in mind.

Linda said...

I love this post...
I want a bite of that pizza.
Stay safe today Deana!
We are battening down the hatches...

Unknown said...

THis post comes at a perfect time for me. I just took a class in making pizzas and I am so excited to try making my first pizza from scratch.
In class I made a mushroom pizza, but this is much more sophisticated. I've got to do one with truffle oil now.
Like you, the teacher recommended an overnight rise in the flavour.
I absolutely love your choice of pizza toppings, if only I could pull out a slice from my computer screen.
*kisses* HH
p.s. have you ever tried lombardi's white pizza? It was the most delicious, decadent pizza I've ever tasted. I can't wait to try it again one day.

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

What a great history lesson, or suggested history. Maybe that is why pizza is so popular, for it's aura of the unknown. Nah it ia because of the cheese! Love you choice of topping and I am a fan of a touch of truffle oil too.

angela@spinachtiger said...

Thanks for the story behind the story. A fascinating post.

Charissa said...

The toppings, the shape of the pizza, it's all beautiful! Love it!

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Hi Deana:

Lovely post!

My favorite part is that there is not a tomatos in sight! Too much "Italian" food is overwhelmed by tomatoes to the expense of other flavors.

Thanks for the history, glad you came down on the side of Naples and nearby places.

Magpies are very cool - one once stole my daughters bright blue scarf at the Washington Zoo, and the keepers had to go in to fight for it back! but doubtful that they or any other nationality has anything to do with pizza.


Our Italian Kitchen said...

What yummy pizza! So creative and authentic! Love it!

Sarah said...

I just sprung for some white truffle oil when I was on Vancouver Island and so glad I did. It might be expensive in the beginning but you only need a drizzle to turn ordinary into extraordinary.

myfudo said...

I love your historical piece, such a pizza historian. The robiola is such a nice twist additive.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

The kids on Long Island would be amazed at this history of pizza. The flavors in your pizza would blow them away!

Claudia said...

Okay - I still like my truffle oil and it is still cheaper than truffles even when pricey (the oil!). Yes, this is wonderfully elevated and it is a makeover - so yes - go for it - the cheese, the vegetables, the crust, the (ahem) aforementioned truffle oil. Pizza as we know it may be slightly "new" but pizza probably existed from the moment we figured out fire!

Tanantha said...

Wow I know a bit more about pizza now. I only wiki-ed it and found out that it was originated from Middle East. This meatless pizza is irresistible. All the ingredients are what I like such as mushroom and zucchini. I started playing with truffle oil from Lazaro too! I agree that it's pricey. I'm fortunate enough to get a giftcard from Marx Foods to redeem.

a quiet life said...

i am not looking at food blogs this year since i am trying to lose weight, this is the very reason why... your pics are pushing me over my limits... must unplug now!

Ken Albala said...

Deana, With Pizza, little things really make a difference. Like a stone. Gives you wonderful crust, and water in the oven to create steam. cranked way up at 550 degrees if your oven goes that high. And don't even get me started on toppings! But truffle oil sounds splendid. Ken

Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™ said...

i love how you go into detail about the history of pizza. definitely some stretches in there with the connection to birds! ha. gotta love it though. and that Pompeii pizza dough does look like one quite interesting piece of artifact. I remember visiting Naples and Pompeii and loving everything about it until I was robbed of my camera (which had hundreds of pictures I took at the ruins). Argh. And, of all the pizza's I've had in the States, I have to say Lombardi's is indeed one of my faves, still. Great pizza concept. I'm curious to taste that truffle oil you bought... considering most are fake...

andrew1860 said...

Thanks for this wonderful post! You do so much research on each of your post! The photo's are always beautiful and I always learn something new, Thanks!

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