Our first stop in the history of pizza brought us back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans that we studied this year in our History Explorers curriculum (written by a group of moms, so you won’t find it online–please email me if you are interested in hearing more about it.) We looked at a few different websites to research the history of pizza, most notably here and here.
We found that the common statement “Well, you know pizza was invented recently by Americans, not in Italy” was, in fact, not true. Things resembling pizza can be found in the literature of both Ancient Greece and Rome. In fact, Roman soldiers were known to make a focaccia-like bread by baking the dough on their shields! One of the above articles gave a list of toppings found in Greek literature for their version of pizza, which they called plakous: cheeses, dates, herbs, olive oil, and honey.
We took that list, and decided to give the dates a miss (Mom dislikes dates.) We also decided that our 21st century palates were just not up to including honey on the same pizza as cheese. So we separated the sweet from the savory–I’ll post the dessert pizza in a separate post, (and it was fantastic!)
The savory version, we called Pizza Alexander, after Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who conquered a huge part of the world to form an empire that came to be known as the Greek Empire, though it was never again completely ruled by any one Greek ruler. But the culture, language, and, presumably, the food of Greece extended across this vast stretch of lands and peoples, paving the way for the conquest of Rome and the spread of Christianity.
Here is the method for Pizza Alexander:
To make the sponge, pour the following into a large mixing bowl (I use my Kitchenaid) and mix well:
- 2 c. warm water
- 1 TBSP dry yeast
- 2 TBSP honey
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
Let sit for 15 minutes until frothy and bubbly. Start mixing on medium-low, and add more flour, 1/2 c. at a time, for a total of 3-4 cups. When dough is smooth and elastic, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, (and is roughly the consistency of your earlobe), stop mixing, cover loosely with a towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
When ready, flour your hands, and take the dough out of the bowl. Divide it so that you have 1 large lump (approximately 2/3 of the dough) and 1 small lump (ca. 1/3 of the dough.) Set the small lump aside for the dessert pizza if desired. (Or make some breadsticks to bake and eat while you wait for the pizza to bake.) Spray a pizza stone or pan with cooking spray, or wipe a thin layer of olive oil on it. Stretch the dough to form an even layer on the stone or pan. (I wish you could see my husband toss the dough–he used to work at a pizza place in college, and it’s a wondrous thing to see him spinning and tossing the dough.)
First, drizzle a bit of olive oil on the dough, and use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread it evenly. Then add the following:
- Minced fresh onions and garlic, sautéed in olive oil (use the quantity you desire–ours worked out to about 4 TBSP)
- Thin strips of red or yellow bell pepper
- Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- Toasted pine nuts
- Crumbled feta cheese (about 1/2 c.)
- Fresh basil leaves
- A sprinkling of herbes de provence
- Shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1/2 c.)
- Grated Romano cheese (about 1/4 c., just for flavor)
Bake in a 400ºF oven for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown. Remove from oven, let sit for about 5 minutes, then cut and serve.