Pizza: All American Favorite From Italy

Forget hamburgers and apple pie – the food that increasing numbers of Americans prefer is pizza. 94% of Americans today enjoy pizza at a rate of 350 slices per minute! For those who don’t know, pizza is simply a baked pie with a shallow, bread type crust topped with tomato sauce, cheeses, vegetables, and meats. Pizzas today are available in almost every conceivable combination. Traditional pies, barbecued pizzas, chicken pizza, pizza Alfredo, dessert pizza, Chicago style pizza, California style pizza, fruit pizza, and brick oven fired pizza are just a few of the many varieties found.

Although pizza is usually considered to have Italian origins, similar dishes were noted as early as the years of the Roman Empire. The true beginnings of what we know as pizza didn’t begin until the 16th century when tomatoes were first imported into Italy from Peru. Tomatoes were considered to be poisonous by most but the poorest residents of Naples added the new fruit to their daily fare of bread, cheese, and olive oil.

Over time, the humble peasant fare of baked bread topped with tomatoes, olive oil, olives, and sometimes meat grew in popularity and began to spread across Italy. Neapolitan pies – those from the Naples region – were considered to be the best.

By the latter half of the 19th century, Italian immigrant had brought pizza to the New World. The first pizzeria opened in New York in 1905 but for many years, few Americans except those of Italian descent had ever tasted pizza. Chicago style deep-dish pizza was born in 1943 and after World War II ended; returning soldiers brought back a taste for pizza. Servicemen stationed in Italy and other parts of Europe had learned to appreciate the delicious combination of crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings.

In the Fifties, Americans became aware of pizza in increasing numbers. Popular singers like Frank Sinatra sang about pizza in their songs and pizza joints opened their doors in many places. Although pizza first found American fame in major cities, the dish soon spread throughout the nation. By 1957, the first frozen pizza was being sold in supermarkets and in 1958, two brothers founded the Pizza Hut chain.

Throughout the Sixties, pizza increased in popularity. More frozen brands of pizza appeared on the market along with boxed mixes that allowed consumers to make pizza at home. By the 1970’s, pizza had become a national favorite and remains popular today. Varieties of pizza now exist that are variations on the original pizza pies imported from Italy.

More than 61,000 pizza restaurants operate in the U.S. today and gobble more than ten percent of all food service sales. About 3 billion pizzas are sold each year in the U.S. and Americans devour 350 pieces each second. That adds up to one hundred acres of pizza each day. 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias.

Each American eats an average of 46 slices each year and most kids from age 3 through 11 prefer pizza to all other foods. Pepperoni tops the list of favorite toppings – 36% of all pizza orders include the spicy sausage. Sixty two percent of Americans prefer meat toppings while thirty eight percent like their pizza veggie style.

One of the newest twists for pizza eaters is a take-and-bake pizza outlet. Order a pizza and watch as it’s built, then wrapped to take home and bake for pizza fresh from the oven.

Americans don’t have to have an Italian heritage to make pizza at home. Frozen pizza brands offer a wide variety and boxed mixes have improved in taste since first introduced in the 1960’s. Pre-baked crusts can be found in the bread aisles of many supermarkets – add toppings and bake. Many cookbooks now include recipes for homemade pizza and cooks are finding that making their own pizza is simple, fun, and delicious.

Homemade pizza consists of three parts – crust, sauce, and toppings. With simple recipes, any cook can create their own pizza pie.

To make crust, combine 1 and �¼ cup flour, one package active dry yeast, and �¼ teaspoon salt. Add one cup of warm water (130 degrees) and two tablespoons oil. Beat ingredients together using an electric mixer on low speed until blended then on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden or plastic spoon, stir as much additional flour up to two cups into the dough. Put dough on a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic but stiff. Divide dough into two parts and cover for ten minutes.

For thin pizza crust, grease 12-inch pizza pans and sprinkle with cornmeal. Use a rolling pin to roll each half of dough into a 13-inch circle and transfer to prepared pans. Build up edges for crust and do not let rise. Bake as is in a 425-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and top as desired then back up to 15 more minutes until pizza bubbles.

For pan or deep-dish pizza, grease two 9x9x2 pans and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pat dough into the bottom and up all sides of each pan. Let dough rise for 30 to 45 minutes until doubled. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, then remove, top as desired and bake for 15 to 20 more minutes.

To make pizza sauce, combine one 8 ounce can tomato sauce, one 7 �½ ounce can undrained cut up tomatoes, �½ cup chopped onion, 1 tablespoon basil, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon oregano, 2 cloves minced garlic, and �½ teaspoon pepper. Combine in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil then simmer for ten minutes.

Top prepared crust with generous amounts of sauce then add toppings and cheese as desired. Common pizza toppings include pepperoni, crumbled sausage or hamburger, ham, Canadian bacon, onions, green peppers, black olives, mushrooms, and pineapple. Add favorite toppings over sauce then top with 2-3 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese.

Bake as directed and enjoy.

Cooks in a hurry can opt for prepared ingredients that include prepared pizza sauces or refrigerated bread dough. Other fast options include using biscuit mix with pizza crust recipes on the box or using frozen bread dough, thawed and divided.

Pizza may have originated in Italy but it has become an all-American favorite for all ages.

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