Pizza has been in constant evolution over the centuries, the origins are undoubtedly Mediterranean. Historical records suggest that people in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome all ate things that are very similar to our modern pizza crust. Ancient Egyptians had a custom of celebrating the Pharaoh's birthday with a flat bread seasoned with herbs. The word pizza may be a derivative of the Latin word picea, a word which the Romans used to describe the blackening of bread in an oven.
Europeans returning from the Americas brought with them the tomato, a very suspicious fruit of the time. Exactly when the tomato was actually considered to be edible is unclear, the tomato became enormously popular among southern Europeans. Today the tomato is a key element of Mediterranean cuisine, and is used in most pizza recipes.
The world's first true pizzeria, "Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba", opened in 1830 and is still in business today at Via Port'Alba 18 in Naples. Pizzerias in this era usually included a large brick oven, a marble counter where the crust was prepared, and a shelf lined with ingredients. Contemporary Neapolitan pizzerias are prepared in the same way they were 100 years ago. The large brick ovens make the pizzerias uncomfortably hot in every season except winter, but the unique flavor of these brick-oven pizzas is unmatched. Pizzaioli (makers of pizza) often assemble the entire pizza on a marble counter right before the customer's eyes.
Here is the recipe for a basic pizza dough. I use a stand mixer, but of course it can be done by hand.
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
pinch of flour
pinch of sugar
3 1/4 cups flour
2 tbsp. olive oil
In a small bowl mix together the warm water, yeast, and pinch of flour and sugar.
Let stand at least 5 minutes, until it becomes bubbly.
In a mixing bowl, combine the 3 1/4 cups flour, with the salt and olive oil. When the yeast mixture is ready, add that to the mixing bowl. Using a paddle attachment, mix for about 2 minutes on medium speed. When mixture has come together, replace padddle attachment with the dough hook. Mix for another 2 minutes on medium speed. When it is a nice, soft, elastic texture, remove dough and need by hand for a few minutes, forming a nice ball. Pour some olive oil in the mixing bowl- enough to lightly coat the dough. Let it rise at room temperature for at least four hours. The dough can be made ahead of time, and refrigerated overnight. It is important to let it reach room temperature before use. This recipe makes four thin crust pizzas, about 12 inches in diameter.
When you are ready to make pizza, top pizza with a thin spread of tomato (fresh if available or canned) puree, sprinkle with salt and oregano. For cheese I suggest using a fresh mozzarella, and spreading around small pieces lightly. You can then top the pizza with your favorite ingredients. When I make the pizza, I make it on a wooden pizza peel, then slide it from there into the wood fired pizza oven, or on a baking stone in a conventional oven. With a wood fired oven, pizza bakes in about 4-5 minutes, with a conventional oven at 510 degrees, it takes about 15 minutes, but you should always keep your eye out for desired doneness. ENJOY!!