Pizza – What does the word mean? What’s its origin? The answer – no one really knows. Go online. There are sites that suggest that “pizza” may be related to “pita.” There are other sites that suggest it may be a word of German origin. Whatever its word origin, pizza is a gift from Southen Italy and her immigrants to this country in the past century. In Italy pizza may take several forms. The most famous for travelers is the Neapolitan thin crust, wood oven delight. In Rome you will find pizzerias with pre-cooked varieties that you buy by the slice or by weight. All the Italian varieties are excellent in their own right. In America, however, excellence is rarely the case. In America pizza has an almost uncountable number of variations. In my estimation, most of these preparations do not merit the slightest consideration. Chain pizzas are not worthy of the name.
So, why spend the ridiculous price for bought flappy dough when you can so easily make real pizza at home? There is nothing easier and more satisfying than home-made pizza. Yes, it takes time, but not work time. Pizza only needs the time it takes for the dough to rise. The actual hands-on work time is less than thirty minutes.
The pizza I have always made is based on childhood memories. Although I remember watching my aunts there was no recipe. It’s all from visual memory. My aunts each had their own version of pizza. Aunt Florie married a man of Calabrese origins. Aunt Annie’s husband was of Abruzzese stock and my direct uncle Frank, of Cilentano descent, married Lena who was, I think, of Sicilian stock. All of them were American born, and few, if any actually spoke Italian. Yet, in each case, the influence of Italy and the specific province of the spouse made variations in the way the pizza was prepared and served. The pizzas were always baked in a cookie baking pan. They were always on the thick side. And the only cheese that I remember was what they called “scum-utz.” That was their Italian-Americanized pronunciation of “scamorza,” a cheese something like a denser mozzarella. I can still see and smell Aunt Lena’s pizza with the slices of melted “scum-utz,” in their South Philadelphia kitchen. The “scum-utz” was always thinly sliced and lightly set out over the tomato sauce. Aunt Annie’s was rich in tomato and Aunt Florie’s sometimes had olives and even slices of hardboiled egg. There was certainly no such thing as grated cheese in a bag. In each case the pizza was nothing short of a table of joy. Pizza was a standard meatless Friday night fare. It was dinner that was fun with all the cousins at the table. It was served directly from the baking sheet. And, you cut it not with a fancy slicer. You cut the pizza with scissors!
Now, it must be said that homemade pizza in an American oven cannot in any way replicate the historic Neapolitan pizza. In Naples, the wood burning stoves are heated to nearly one thousand degrees: such a high temperature that the pizza is ready in just a few short minutes. It is also so thin and delicate that only an oven of such heat can produce it. So, as wonderful as such pizzas may be, they cannot be duplicated in the home oven.
So, where does that leave us? Even though we cannot replicate the original Neapolitan pizza we can create dough that is tender, crusty and easy. Homemade pizza is simply a question of a good dough. You don’t spin it. You don’t fling it. You just roll it out and press it into a baking sheet. Top it with whatever you like, from perfectly plain raw chopped tomatoes to the most complicated concoction. Bake in an oven preheated to at least 450, hotter if you can. No, it’s not the Neapolitan original. We just can’t do that. But this is satisfying “cuisine of accommodation” that will please.