Pizza Alexander

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:

Dough:

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.)

Toppings:

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.

Mmmmmmm! Delizioso!

Laura

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  2. As a bona fide pizza explorer myself, as well as someone with a fascination with ancient recipes, foods, and cooking techniques, I definitely would like to try this one out. However, I do take issue with the bell (capsicum) peppers, as those were not known to the ancient Greeks or Romans, being that they are native strictly to the Americas:

    http://www.calantilles.com/capsicum_peppers.htm

    http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1993/V2-132.html (scroll down to “Origin”)

    Sorry to be pedantic, but we are talking about history here.

  3. Darren, if the historian in you will not tolerate the bell peppers, please feel free to omit them. I wasn’t necessarily shooting for Historically Accurate Food–I was aiming more for an adventure in food for my kids, accompanied by a bit of research on the history of it. I think we hit that quite successfully, and we all loved the pizza!
    Blessings,
    Laura

  4. Sorry, I didn’t mean to come across so snobby. The Ancient Greeks and Romans had many great ingredients available to them. Food history is something of a side hobby of mine. I get a certain… joy? … out of the reactions I get when I tell people tomatoes are a New World fruit, and didn’t exist in the Old World until after Columbus. 🙂

    As a side note, it was an offense punishable by death to cut down an olive tree in Ancient Greece. 🙂 I thought that might be an interesting tidbit.

  5. No offense taken. I am always very interested to hear more about the history of what we’re eating. Tonight we’re doing Pizza Margherita. Got any interesting facts on basil or mozzarella? We’ve already learned that many people in the Old World were nervous about the new and feared-poisonous tomatoes.

    I wonder if the olive tree is still so protected in modern Greece. When I was studying Italian a number of years ago, my tutor was VERY serious about olive oil–she told me with great joy that she had found an Italian farmer in the California Central Valley who had brought over his family’s olive press/ stones, and pressed his own oil, which he sold by the gallon to those who knew where he was. My tutor also felt very strongly about fresh herbs, and regularly brought me large bags full of basilio, and “prezzemolo”–the Italian parsley which really is hands-down better than the flabby stuff you get on your plate at restaurants. It’s stuff like this that make me suspect I may not really be 100% Dutch as I’ve always been told, but may have at least a few drops of Italian in me. 😀

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