I worked as a welder through college and learned something on job sites. When you’re developing a new building, if you don’t get the foundation right, you’re in trouble.
The same can be said for pizza. Sauce, cheese and crust are the foundation for making a stand-out pizza.
First, a short history lesson. The legend goes that the first modern pizza was made in 1889. A pizza maker decided to honor the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, by creating the “Pizza Margherita.” It was garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. These three ingredients were chosen to represent the Italian flag’s colors – red, white and green.
But pizza has been around much longer than the 1800’s. Evidence suggests that it’s an ancient food, enjoyed on multiple continents. As far back as 997 AD the word “pizza” was first referenced in a Latin text found in a southern Italian town. So pizza, or its close cousins, has been around for more than 1,000 years.
Today pizzerias represent 17% of all restaurants in the US. In fact, each person in the US eats about 46 pizza slices a year. If you’re among them, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned since I’ve been involved with Live Basil Pizza.
Most of us love technology and many think the next new thing is better than something old fashioned. In pizza, that is not the case. If you want to create a truly fantastic pie, go back to the old ways. As in the really old ways.
To make a great pizza at home, here’s what you should keep in mind: you don’t need modern technologies like convection ovens, or pre-packaged sauce or crust, or unnatural food products. What you need is simplicity.
If you could travel back in time to watch an old-school pizza maker, you’d see him creating a simple sauce that still works today. To replicate that, all you need to do is pour tomatoes in a big bowl, add sea salt, and blend it together to make a pulpy sauce. It’s always best to use fresh, uncooked tomatoes as this gives a fresh, bright flavor. Even canned tomatoes work as long as they’re not pre-cooked. Just resist the temptation to pre-cook the tomatoes if they’re fresh, or heat the tomatoes if they’re from a can.
I like San Marzano tomatoes in my sauce, which are grown on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius. These tomatoes are sweeter and less acidic than a standard tomato. San Marzanos aren’t specifically grown to be organic, but the Italian growing specifications for this tomato are tougher than the specs for organic produce in the US. You can probably find San Marzano tomatoes in your grocery store.
What’s different about this simple sauce from other popular pre-packaged pizza sauces?
Sugar can be delicious and some cooks say you want to add sugar to tomatoes to cut the acid and enhance the tomato flavor. Personally, I don’t add sugar at home, especially if I’m using San Marzanos. The reason sugar is prevalent in many pre-packaged foods is that it can mask flavors, for example if the primary ingredients in a pizza sauce are not of high quality.
After the sauce, cheese is the next most important ingredient in baking the perfect pie. There are different kinds of cheese that work on pizza, with mozzarella being the most popular of course. But there are also varying ways cheese is manufactured. Technology has given us a faster, so less expensive, method to make cheese using a chemical process that yields in one day what’s known as pizza crumble. Old-school cooks might shudder at that idea. I prefer all-natural real cheese, so I avoid products labeled “cheese food” or “processed cheese” or “cheese product” or “pizza cheese.”
To make things easier in the kitchen, technology has also given us pre-made pizza crusts and crust mixes. But for the best pizza taste, you want to quickly cook your pizza in a very hot oven. At home I turn my oven to the highest setting and cook the pizza for only about two minutes. These pre-made convenience foods share the same flaw that many pizza dough recipes have. Again, more sugar and too much fat.
Fat and sugar will burn quickly in a very hot oven. Instead, look for a low fat, no sugar crust.
To finish it up once it comes out of the oven, give your pizza a liberal sprinkle of live herbs that you bought from the grocery store, or from your garden.
Your culinary genius was showing in my last blog where I reveal Smashburger secrets so you can make the best burger you’ll ever cook at home, Five Secret Steps to Making the Best Burger You’ll Ever …
You were right, with 80% of the vote, it’s Japan where you can order a burger on a black bun, baked with charcoal, and topped with black ketchup colored with squid ink that’s been flavored with garlic.
Click on your choice above and I’ll let you know how you and my office mates voted.
I can’t help it. Right now I’m picturing a pizza made with all four of those ingredients.