Thoughts about Pizza


piz·za [peet-suh]

2010©myronunrau

Pizza Piece

noun
a flat, open-faced baked pie of Italian origin,consisting of a thin layer of bread dough topped with spiced tomato sauce and cheese, often garnished with anchovies, sausage slices,mushrooms, etc.
That is the definition in dictionary/reference.com

I like pizza.

Entimologists and others who like to research word origins will like this (directly from this Wikipedia page):

The first recorded use of the word “pizza” dates from 997 AD and comes from a Latin text from the town of Gaeta in southern Italy. The origins of the word are uncertain and disputed. The following are seven theories of its derivation:

  • The Ancient Greek word πικτή (pikte), “fermented pastry”, which in Latin became “picta”, and Late Latin pitta > pizza. See Greek pitta bread and Apulia and Calabria cuisine “Pitta”
  • The Ancient Greek word πίσσα (pissaAtticπίτταpitta), “pitch”,or ptea, “bran”, (pétítés, “bran bread”).
  • The Latin word “pinsa”, the past participle of the verb “pinsere” which means to pound or to crush and may refer to the flattening out of the dough.
  • The Latin word “picea” which describes the blackening of bread in the oven or the black ash that gathers at the bottom of the oven.
  • The Italian word “pizzicare” meaning “to pluck” and refers to pizza being “plucked” quickly from the oven (“Pizzicare” was derived from an older Italian word “pizzo” meaning “point”).
  • The Aramaic word “pita” (as פיתא) which exists in the Babylonian Talmud, referring to bread in general, tracing the word to a cognate for pine pitch, which forms flat layers that may resemble pita bread.[citation needed]
  • The Old High German word “bizzo” or “pizzo” meaning “mouthful” (related to the English words “bit” and “bite”) and was brought to Italy in the middle of the 6th century AD by the invading Lombards. This is the origin favoured by the Oxford English Dictionary though they state that it remains unattested.
Now you know, if you didn’t already. And no, your nearby cheesy pizza joint doesn’t do this dish justice.

And it is so varied as to make your head spin. If you can think of putting something on a pizza crust, it probably works, depending how you combine your chosen ingredients. Not everything can nor should be added and not everything can or will work together however in my experience, many things can, do and result in incredible taste sensation and dinner table experiences.

I should admit from the outset that I do not at all enjoy the ‘regular’ offered pizza fare peddled by the usual pizza chain suspects. You probably know the type, it comes in the square box, is round, looks like a pizza, has a hand full of toppings on it, but is a tasteless mass of gui, gummy bleh … the cheese has no flavor, the crust like a wet noodle and the cardboard box gives of more smell than the object of your hungry eye.

Case in point: I’m walking home one day. I am feeling hungry. It has been a long afternoon. As I approach the busy intersection near where I live, I notice that new pizza joint has opened up shop. But my eye is drawn to a guy standing on the corner. The shop is not as noticable as this guy. One of those track suited males with greasy hair and a generally cheese aura, punctuated by the occasional crotch grab. His mouth is moving too and his lips are flapping but I don’t know what he is communicating other than visually poor taste until I cross the street. Suddenly flyers fan out in his hands like some street magician ready to boggle the passerby. This guy certainly boggles, but not in a pleasant way. He accosts the passerby not only with his schtick but also accosts every sense that passerby has. Smell is another sense to be accosted by his overpowering scent of cheep cologne.

My eye skims the flyers in his pudgy fingers, his eye landing on my face, his mouth opening again and in a thick Russian accent (appologies to my Russian readership) he begins to sell the virtues of the new pizza joint 30 feet away; as well as reeking with reason not to use cologne as he does. I forget the name of the new nondescript pizza joint as it squats in a shabby space that has been cursed to change shops with a frequency akin to how some people change their minds. But like I said before, I am feeing hunger pangs and a growing sense that I don’t feel like revving up my inner cook to prepare something when I get home.

I slide/tug a flyer/menu out of the proffered fan of thick fingers and paper, knowing this merchant of madness would never guess the first pie recipe listed on the menu. I continue homeward. There I do pick up the phone, a land line and dial the magic number, after having selected a suitable combination of toppings that appeal to my hunger. The voice on the pizza end of the line sounds equally a greasy as the track suited hawker on the sidewalk, ESL (English as a Second Language) can be a bitch, but I give full marks for trying.

I give my telephone number for varification and the address. Lucky for me and the delivery person (I’m thinking at this point) is that I live a mere four blocks from the scene of the coming crime. Now the 20-30 minute wait and I won’t be hungry any more. So I wait. The 30 minute mark comes and goes and I wait some more. I am standing by the dinning room window the better to see the delivery guy whom I am waiting for. Did they have to make flour first, I wonder. Did they have to go get fresh ingredients at the local produce store? I wonder some more. Perhaps they had to go fishing for anchovies … it is then that I realize that I’ve been seeing the same large exhaust belching vehicle crawling along my block. I notice it on the third pass. I look closer and recognize the track suit dude. He is piloting this heap of a delivery vehicle. The 45 minute mark has approached. I give him more benefit where I should have felt doubt.

The doubt settles uneasily when I see him make two more slow passes past my large and unmistakable house number. Mayhaps he is dyslexic. I step outside and wave him down and return to my doorway after his face lights up upon recognizing my face and then I watch the  belching and back firing rig careen forward towards a tight parking spot. Trank Suit man ends up double parking his heap and lurches out of the car pulling an uninsulated pizza box off the bench seat behind him. I can see the lid is not closed completely as he approached the door. He wipes his mouth with the left sleeve of his shiny track suit jacket. He hands me the box and the bill. I can’t believe what I see. I flip the box lid all the way open to discover that this trickster has been picking toppings off the pie as he searched for my address idling through the neighborhood! What a guy. I fix him with a steely smile and wish him bon appetite, telling him that he’d best enjoy the rest of the pie he has already begun to eat. No, I say. I am not paying for this very personalized service an send him off.

Box Pizza

That my dear reader has been my worst delivery tale, matched only the inability of delivery types to locate my address on other occasions which resulted in free pizzas that were also less than tasty even if freely delivered in the end. I know it’s not all bad for all people but that has been my experience and reason to move in another direction entirely.

But that took a bit of indirect encouragement. And things get better. Much better. And they begin to taste better too.

When someone invited me over for dinner and suggested a pizza pie making event that was to be dinner, I was curious. And game. I’d never name a pie before. Cool. I accepted and found the experience to be a lot of fun and to see how others put pies together was as much fun as I could imagine on one rolled out pizza dough crust. Everything could be imagined onto a pizza and that epiphany opened a gate to more excitement and experimentation for me. I’ve never forgotten that first attempt although I can’t tell you nor recount what I put on that first pizza. My first home made pizza.

Then I learned how to make my own dough and that was it, no more ordering in square boxes to the front door. Basta! I’d do it myself. And I did. I’d make two pizzas every Friday or Saturday evening for dinner. My family loved it and was curious to see what I’d come up with next.

pizza guy page graphic ©myronunrau

Of course it helped to have a well stocked Italian deli with a wide assortment of interesting cheeses and sauces and other ingredients just up the street alongside a wonderful produce store where nearly any kind of vegetable was available for inclusion should a particular whim strike me. I was in a good place there. My taste buds were happy, my family and friends were happy. Ma belah looked pregnant (not too cool and I’m happy to announce I not longer am that pregnant looking).

I took the pizza making seriously and experimented with different ingredients every week. It got to the point where I was posting my recipes online weekly for a local website that a family friend was running. It felt as though I was contributing to something and I hoped that my enjoyment/enthusiasm was appreciated by others. I have not idea if it was or not, lol. This was back in the nineties an I no longer maintain that page but I recently found it again … here (when I look at it now I feel a little embarrassment cause some of those recipes read utterly silly. The one with the eight eggs … forget it. Too many eggs, hahaha.

In the last few years I’ve begun to use fresh yeast for my dough and won’t go back to dry yeast unless I have to. In Germany you can buy individual 42gram cubes of yeast; here where I am now I have to buy a one pound chunk of the stuff. Sure I can freeze portions but it is not as convenient and at times quite a bit of yeast goes bad because I can’t eat that much pizza or make it regularly.

Photo credit: Val Harrison

Another thing I discovered in southern Germany is what is called Flammenkuchen (flame cake), a thin crust free form pizza, covered in a thin layer of sour cream, topped with chopped onions and thinly sliced smoked/cured ham … simple and delicious. When a big pie is too much, this can be enjoyed as light snack, in sense 😉

Of course variations exist for this as well. I enjoyed a wonderful apple/cinnamon version for a mid morning break a while back.

Flammenkuchen, German

Well, I hope that this rant about one of my favorite pies has caused you hunger pangs and that you go and try your own hand at making that which you want to eat, if you are able and willing to put in the good and honest efforts.

Just last week I met up with dear friends and suggested a do it yourself pizza evening. Just bring ingredients I said on the phone. They did … bring the kitchen sink as it were and while buddy is an excellent home cook, he had never before put a pizza together; instead just going for pizza at one of his local Italian pizzerias (can’t fault him for that). I do give him full points for being game and building his first pie. I’ve named it after him; based on his ingredients and will rebuild it for myself sometime in the near future, but without the excess liquids.

Bon appetite.

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