THE ORIGIN OF PIZZA

First of all, what IS pizza? Is it just flat bread with a bunch of stuff on it? If it is, then it can be argued pizza originated from Iran around 500 B.C.. Persian soldiers would bake flatbread on their shields and cover it with cheese and dates: a scrumptious feast for the battlefield. But was it pizza? Is it pizza if its cooked in an open field on metal plates instead of in an oven? Many argue no, and that those Persian soldiers were gorging themselves on plain and simple flatbread. These early references are just too obscure, so let’s just talk about the modern pizza as we know it.

The first specific pizza recipe can be traced back to the famous Roman gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius during the 1st century AD. He wrote of popular Roman cuisine and food preparation in his cookbook “Das Kochbuch der Römer. Eine Auswahl, gespickt mit literarischen Köstlichkeiten”, which included recipes calling for the placement of various ingredients on a flat bread base. Some of these ingredients include chicken, cheese, garlic, pepper and oil, which forms a dish not far from the modern pizza that we know today, with the exception of tomato sauce. The Romans cannot be blamed for this though, since tomatoes could only be found in the Americas at that point in time.

It was only in the early 1500s that tomatoes made their way from the Americas to Europe, but with them brought an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. Europeans thought the tomato’s texture and colour was indicative of a lurking poison, and that a ripe tomato looked rotten and indigestible, poised to kill. Only the peasants of Naples, with nothing more to eat than olive oil, flour, cheese, herbs and lard, were open to the idea of using these controversial fruit. They chose to mash the tomatoes up into a concoction they spread across their flatbread, giving rise to the “modern” pizza, then known as the “Napoletana” pizza. It only took a while for the people of Naples, and even people from far beyond their borders, to discover the perplexity of flavours to be offered by this seemingly simple dish.

The pizza gained rapid popularity and, by the end of the 19th century, was recognised as worthy of the royals when the King and Queen of Italy requested a sample on their vacation to Naples. The Queen enjoyed it so much she ate three, and even expressed her gratitude through letter afterwards. The pizzaioli whom had whipped up her meal was so honoured he dedicated his creation to her and named his pizza the “Margherita”.

Queen Margherita in all her magnificence
Queen Margherita in all her magnificence

However, pizza as we have come to know it would not have been possible without the American spin placed on the dish at the beginning of the 20th century, when Italian immigrants brought it over to America. The first known official pizzeria was opened by a grocer, Gennaro Lombari, and began business in the early 1930s selling pizza, as well as a range of other Italian food like spaghetti. Before long, people got innovative with the pizza, and the deep dish pizza was introduced in the 1940s by Pizzeria Uno in Chicago. It’s basically a pizza that holds so many toppings it has to be contained in a pan.

Pizza only truly gained its popularity and iconic status that it still holds today in the 1950s, when pizza became widely recognized outside of the Italian-American community. The pizza was made public by celebrities like Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra, and was written about it songs like Dean Martin’s That’s Amore. I’m sure we can all recognise the famous line, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie – that’s amore”. The big pizza pie truly took the world by storm from that point onwards and began rivalling the hamburger as America’s favourite fast food. With globalisation and greater connectivity between nations, even countries like Japan, Korea and Leban have embraced the pizza with open arms and put their own spin on it. We have referenced the many forms of pizza that exist in countries around the world today in our article “Pizza All Around The World”.

So there. That’s how our Saturday night treat came to be. We hope this gives you a clearer picture on the pizza’s cultural context. The next time you bite into a Hawaiian, give a little thought to Queen Margherita and the Italians for birthing this delectable in the first place.

– Nomster Tori

Sources: [x] [x] [x]

PIZZA ALL AROUND THE WORLD

What was described earlier may be the typical way people make pizza nowadays, but as we look closer, we realise that many nations have altered the way pizza is made to suit their own culture or traditions. Here is my list of the 7 most interesting types of pizza from all around the world. Let’s get started!

Margherita, ITALY

Named after HM Queen Margherita, the first Queen of Italy, and is topped with tomato, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil to symbolise the red, white, and green, we see on the Italian Flag.

Calzone, ITALY

The Calzone originated from Italy, and is a turnover shaped like a semicircle made from folded dough and pizza toppings. [Fun Fact: Calzone actually means stocking in Italy]

Neapolitan, AMERICA

The Neapolitan hails from Naples and is the foundation for our modern-day American pizza. In 1889, the Royal Palace commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of Queen Margherita’s visit. This resulted in the plain pizza becoming the Neapolitan Pizza.

naples

Deep Dish Pizza, CHICAGO

The Deep Dish pizza from Chicago is one that reaches up to three inches in height, making it extremely heavy. The deep dish pizza may seem like a pie, but it is a legitimate form of pizza. It is baked in a pan, its thick crust holding in its many layers of cheese, sauce, and toppings.

chicago

Lahma Bi Ajeen, LEBAN

The literal translation of this delightful pizza is “meat with dough”. It is made from minced onions, (usually) ground lamb, cumin and yogurt. A truly unique treat 🙂

Okonomiyaki Pizza, JAPAN

Okonomiyaki is like a savoury pancake, but it still counts as pizza in my books. The standard recipe involves using cabbage, pork, noodles, and squid (layered or mixed in) with egg and konomiyaki sauce on top, but with this pizza, creativity is welcomed.

japan

The Extremely Unique Korean Pizza, SOUTH KOREA

A Korean Pizza can be anything, absolutely anything. They can have the weirdest names and combinations of toppings, like the Cheese Cake Sand pizza, a pizza made from cheesecake mousse and shrimp. I can’t decide whether I’m interested or perturbed…

– Nomster Tricia

Sources: [x] [x]

HOW EXACTLY IS PIZZA MADE?

So you may be wondering how pizza, this earth’s most beautiful culinary creation, is made. Here’s a quick summary of how it is done.

To make the pizza dough, flour, water, baker’s yeast and olive oil are mixed together, then kneaded to form a smooth stretchy dough. The dough is then left to rise in a warm area till it rises to double its size, about 1-2 hours.

The pizza is then topped with anything and everything, including but not limited to the typical tomato sauce and cheese, but also chocolate spread and banana for sweet tooths out there. It is then placed on a flat, circular, metal pan with a metal frame called a pizza pan, and placed into the oven with a long-handled flat shovel. Once the pizza is baked, the outer frame is removed. Traditional pizza stones are made of clay, which is porous to absorb the moisture. The stone has a thickness of about 2 cm and radiates heat evenly. The pizza is baked at about 230 °C for 15 minutes before being removed and allowed to sit. A pizza wheel is then used to cut this Italian delight into triangular or square slices, for ease of entry into our pieholes.

Voilà!

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– Nomster Tricia

Sources: [x]

FUN FACTS ABOUT PIZZA

Let’s start our Pizza Week with some fun facts about the cheesy delight itself!

  1. Americans consume about 251,770,000 pounds of pepperoni every year
  2. There are about 61,269 pizzerias in the United States
  3. Pizza comes from the latin root word ‘Picea’ which means the blackening of crust by fire
  4. An average slice of a medium-sized cheese pizza slice ranges from 220 to 370 calories
  5. 5 billion pizzas are annually sold worldwide
  6. National Pizza Month is October
  7. The most expensive pizza ever created cost $2,745 and contained edible gold toppings
  8. Pizza used to be considered a poor man’s food
  9. Saturday night is traditionally the most popular night of the week for eating pizza
  10. Anchovies are the least favourite toppings of Americans

– Nomster Chara

Sources: [x] [x] [x] [x] [x]

#chocolateweek: Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Perfection comes in many forms. It is the irresistible fragrance emanating from within the oven that pervades the air – the distinct aroma of roasted macadamia, pecans and heavenly chocolate. It is the delectable sight of a cracked topmost surface, revealing a warm and soft interior. It is the dense, crumbly yet chewy texture that brings forth a decadent taste upon eating. It is the perfect blend of bitter and sweet infused with richness, inundating the taste buds with an incomparable and luscious taste.

Perfection is a double chocolate chunk cookie.

Look at that beauty.
Look at that beauty.
Mixing the mixture.

It was already past midnight when we hatched up the ingenious idea to bake these delectable treats. We here at Nomsters Club are big on not wasting food. Hence, we were obliged to use all our leftover melted butter from our previous baking session (refer to this post). The BEST decision ever. We here at Nomsters Club also love a super-soft and chewy cookie. Sinful, crumbly and heavenly: A concoction of pure bliss.

Completed and now onto the baking trays.
Divided onto the baking trays.
Divided onto the baking trays.

After surfing the web for a recipe to use we came across Martha Stewart’s ‘Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies’ recipe. It wasn’t until we completed mixing the ingredients that we realised the recipe yields about three dozen cookies. Well… three dozen cookies is certainly a large number that we didn’t end up baking. It was most likely due to the sheer size of these cookies; they were BIG. Scooping up a fairly large amount of batter using an ice-scream scooper, we only managed to bake under twenty cookies. Twenty LARGE cookies. As they say, quality over quantity. In this case, the quality being the size. Not only were the cookies larger, the amount of batter used attributed to creating a dense and chewy texture. The cookies were intended to be extremely soft, especially in the centre. They certainly didn’t disappoint. Taking a step further to elevate this recipe, we added cashews and macadamia nuts. Without realising it, we actually accidentally used double the amount of chocolate required. But a little more (a lot more) chocolate never hurts. The only thing it may be hurting are our expanding waistlines, but oh well. When something tastes this good, all health consciousness  is forgone.

Is there anything more delightful that a tasty and indulgent cookie? No, not really.

So try it out yourself with the following recipe. Depending on your preference just simply add any other fillings you want.

The beauties have arrived.

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies (from Martha Stewart)

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen (it depends)

Ingredients: 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, 4 ounces coarsely chopped, 4 ounces cut into 1/4-inch chunks

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set side.

Melt the chocolate with the butter in a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

Transfer chocolate mixture into a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla and mix on medium speed until combined.

Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in flour mixture.

Fold in chocolate chunks. (And any other preferred additional fillings.)

Scoop batter using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Place them 2 inches apart. 

Bake until cookies are flat and surfaces begin to crack, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the cookies onto wire racks.

Let cool 5 minutes. (Hard, we know.)

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. (They probably won’t last that long.)

A creation of pure bliss.
A creation of pure bliss.

– Nomsters Inés (Li Ting)