It's an ancient seduction: good bread, aromatic and dense, topped with pure oils and the best fruits of earth and sea. Although modern pizza devotees consume $32 billion worth of the crusty delight each year, the tradition is as old as recorded history. And it is truly an international dish.
Early Greeks baked a flat bread on heated stones, topped it with oils and herbs, and called it plankuntos, which loosely translates as “edible plate.” The dish moved to Italy, where the first history of Rome from the third century b.c. speaks of “flat round dough dressed with olive oil, herbs and honey, baked on stones.” Tomatoes — an ingredient some consider essential to a well-rounded pie — were added after Columbus introduced the native American fruit to Europe.
Modern pizza history begins with a Neapolitan baker who prepared a pie in the colors of the Italian flag in honor of a visit from the queen. A few years later, Italian immigrants brought the dish to New York, and from there it flourished in Italian neighborhoods along the East Coast from Philadelphia to Boston. Years later, after United States servicemen came home from Europe with a taste for pizza and other ethnic fare, an era of all-American innovation began, and pizzas of all shapes and sizes, with all manner of toppings, began turning up in cities across the land.
Today, pizza restaurants exist on every continent and in hundreds of big and small countries around the globe. In the United States alone, there are more than 62,000 pizzerias, with pizza shops accounting for 17 percent of all restaurants in the country. Industry statistics show that Americans eat 100 acres' worth of pizza a day, or sixty-three slices a year for every man, woman, and child in the country. America's favorite topping? Pepperoni, with a whopping 250 million pounds consumed annually.
Of course, that only covers commercially prepared pizzas. What about pizzas made at home? There are no statistics to chart the rise of homemade pizzas — only anecdotal evidence. Consider, for instance, that ready-to-use pizza components like frozen and shelf-stable crusts and jarred pizza sauce represented a nearly $3 billion industry in 2005, and industry analysts expect the figure to rise. Virtually every discount store carries some form of pizza pan, including once hard-to-find pizza screens and pizza stones, as well as pizza cutters and other tools. Countertop appliances for baking pizzas can be found in housewares departments everywhere, although far more telling is the proliferation of gas and wood-fired pizza ovens. These authentic Italian stone pizza domes cost from $2,000 to more than $10,000, and builders say they're the new must-have appliance in upscale homes.
Whether your household budget leans toward the pizza stone or the stone pizza oven, it is absolutely possible to make fresh, fabulous pizza at home. The trickiest part of making homemade pizza is working with yeast-risen dough; but with a little practice, that can be mastered. In the meantime, if you want to start your home pizza tradition using store-bought dough or ready-to-top bread crusts, we promise no one will complain. The scent of warm bread and bubbling cheese from the kitchen will seduce even the toughest pizza snobs.
Using The Everything® Pizza Cookbook as your guide, explore the vast world of pizzas and pizza-inspired dishes. Try out a few pies on close friends and family, then work your way up to a full-fledged pizza party. The oohs and aahs from guests as you pull a fragrant, cheesy pizza from the oven will warm your heart … and make you wonder why you ever called for delivery.