Monday, March 1, 2021

The Evolution of Pizza

 


Growing up, my family would eat pizza quite regularly but since we lived on a rural farm 20 miles from the nearest pizza place, it was always homemade. My mom would make it on a rectangular cookie sheet in the oven and each of us could top our two slices as we saw fit. Later when I went to college, pizza became a necessity as our dorms didn't serve food on Sundays and the only places that delivered were pizza places. They would come into the ground floor of our dorm about every half hour with a stack of 10 or more pizzas, per company. It was a phenomenal business for sure. But when I graduated college, pizza along with ramen noodles just fell out of personal favor for a long long time. Eventually pizza came back into my life though it was mostly the occasional ordered pizza.

Then I got married and pizza really began to evolve. As I had done my entire life thus far, pizza started in our family as a rectangular cookie sheet, loaded up with various toppings. But then baking stones started entering into the lives of ordinary pizza cookers at home and we ended up with one along with a couple types of peels. We switched to making personal pizzas topped as we each desired and cooked on a baking stone in the oven. We liked the crust it produced but there were a few problems. The biggest problem was trying to get a pizza loaded full of ingredients into an oven without spilling or scrunching up the pizza. We had a conveyor like pizza peel that would work fairly well at off loading the pizza onto the stone but it was finicky to get set just right and was almost impossible to use it to retrieve the pizza. We tried a wooden peel but it required the right amount of corn meal on the paddle to offload the pizza onto the stone or you would end up trying to pull it off bare handed while burning all the hair off your arms in the intense heat. Eventually we got a thin metal peel which had the same problems off loading as the wooden one had but unlike any of the other peels, made retrieving pizzas easy. So we migrated to the two pizza peel system, a finicky conveyor pizza peel to unload the pizza and the thin metal one to retrieve it. However, two pizza peels and a baking stone was a lot to clean and store just for pizza night. Also, we yearned for the deep dish pizzas loaded full of toppings that we just couldn't do using that system.

One Saturday afternoon we happened to see a cooking show that made pizza in cast iron pans, something I had never tried before. You stick the cast iron pan in an oven and then preheat oven and pan to about 450 F degrees and once scorching hot, pull the pan out of the oven and put on your counter. Add some olive oil to coat the bottom, add your crust which starts sizzling upon impact, load up your ingredients, as many as you want, and then put the pan back in fro 10 or 15 minutes until the desired charred doneness on the cheese. It is like manna from heaven. I especially like overshooting the cheese up next to the cast iron pan sides so I get crispy charred cheese ringing the edge of my pizza. We have enough cast iron pans we can do several pizzas at a time. You can make it as thin or as deep dish as you like and it is easy to get in and out of the oven by just grabbing the pan handles with a thick oven mitt. Best of all, it is so easy to clean if one starts with well seasoned pans. 

Above you see the three pizzas from our latest pizza night. Starting from the top, cheese pizza for the kids, the middle is a half vegetarian half sausage pizza (the bottom half is the sausage and top half the vegetarian part) and the bottom pizza is a tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza. For now, we have been very content with this method and I am hard pressed to think we will stray to another form, but I won't rule it out. But I do know that unless we are extremely feeling lazy or are out of cheese and other essential pizza ingredients, this method has become our preferred method for making pizza and is also much cheaper than supporting our neighbor.

Our neighbor you ask? Our neighbor lady and late husband used to own nearly a hundred pizza franchises across three states. She has now sold most of them if not all, but I know from just our idle fence line chit chat sessions over the years, the franchises were very kind to their retirement account. 

23 comments:

  1. I am impressed. You take no prisoners when it comes to pizza, and I’m sure they are scrumptious. We order one every month or two. We have decided that in these times when few are eating out and many are bringing in, that pizza is the most reliable meal. Our last fish n chis were disappointingly just warm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, fish n chips definitely has a very finite shelf life that it needs to be eaten within. Pizza is quite a bit longer.

      Delete
  2. I can remember making deep-dish pizza (with a top and bottom crust) in cast iron skillets years ago. They were delicious. I've always loved pizza and still do, though mine are vegan these days (and just as tasty, I might add). I like getting creative. Just this week I made us some using store-bought sourdough bread as the crust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to make my own crust but now I just buy the prepackaged crusts where you add water and let sit for 5 minutes. Much easier than thinking in advance and letting things rise an hour and I just never thought there was much difference in taste. Sourdough on the other hand sounds wonderful.

      Delete
  3. I used to make pizza from scratch (deep dish) and it was tasty. Yours look delicious, especially the bottom one. I've decided that I much prefer tomato based pizzas, no matter how tempting the other sauces might sound. And I'm not a big meat lover, although Hawaiian pizza is one of my favorites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We like to experiment when it comes to pizza. I make taco, crab rangoon and an occasional cheese using artisan cheeses from a local creamery. But my favorite is just some pork sausage and whatever veggies we have on hand sautéed to sweetness.

      Delete
  4. Oh gosh those look delicious. I tried making one in a cast iron skillet years ago and as I recall it turned out great. Might have to try that again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It certainly makes better crust than trying to bake one on a pizza sheet style pan, I guess if you like crispier crusts.

      Delete
  5. I never had any luck with the pizza peel either. I finally gave up and just take my pre-heated stone out of the oven, sprinkle with cornmeal, put on the crust, then toppings, and bake. For the crust, I use my bread machine. We're happy with the results! But I really like your cast iron pan idea too. Makes the idea of personalized pizzas sound really good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I expect you have a smaller stone than ours. Our stone is very large and heavy which makes getting it in and out of the stove awkward, otherwise, that sounds like a really good solution that I hadn't thought about.

      Delete
  6. You’re making my mouth water. That pizza with the basil leaves especially caught my eye. And crispy cheese? Oh wow! Yum!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is definitely my wife's favorite. I like it but prefer a bit more to my pizzas.

      Delete
  7. Looks good Ed. We also grew up on rectangular pan pizza with those little tiny shrimp on the.

    These days we use a no-stick cook pan and stretch on the dough and first brown the crust. We then add the ingredients and let bake and then pull it off the pan and have it directly on the rack for a few minutes. Crisps things right up.

    We use the bread maker for pizza dough - it is not always as consistent as we would like, but it is easy: ingredients are flour, honey, olive oil, water, and yeast. Toppings are pretty reliably spinach, mozzarella, peppers, and red onions. And yes, we also split it into quadrants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another tip that I never thought about. Prebaking the crust somewhat. I also forgot about spinach. We use that from time to time on pizza. Hard to go wrong when combined with cheese.

      Delete
    2. I will say in our experience, prebaking it does not cause it to burn but browns it nicely.

      Really, it is hard to go wrong with anything when combined with cheese.

      Delete
  8. I have made pizza often, but never in cast iron except a dutch oven. I'll have to try this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Knowing your fondness for dutch ovens, I'm not surprised! I have to admit that in all my years of cooking outdoors over a fire, a pizza has never crossed my mind but it should the next time.

      Delete
  9. That is actually a clever, clever idea. It always shocks me when such a simple idea as this hits me like a paradigm shift.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was for me too when I first saw that cooking show.

      Delete
  10. Having to be gluten free, my pizza intake is limited and mostly disappointing. But I am with you on the browned, crispy cheese edges! I really only eat pizza in the summer when I have an ample supply of zucchini for my favorite GF crust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fortunately, I'm gluten tolerate but I have had some GF stuff over the years and it can be tasty in its own way.

      Delete
  11. I really like your stories (including the one about the icicles. Especially the part about the burned arm hair (sorry). I also watched a cooking show recently about making a deep dish pizza in the oven with a cast iron skillet. What a great idea, I'm going to try it. I have a large skillet and a small. The small one will be great for personal pan size. Do you buy a mix for your crust or make your own?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have done both but usually for time, I just buy the mix where you add water and let sit for 5 min. With all the toppings, I never notice any taste difference and since my homemade crust always seems to be hit and takes a lot longer for yeast to rise, I just stopped using it. One of the rare times I use prepackaged foods.

      Delete