by John Pecoraro , Assistant Director
Something vaguely similar to pizza has existed for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the lowly, new world, tomato arrived in Europe that the pizza we know and love today became a possibility. Thought for years to be poisonous (as a member of the nightshade family), tomatoes had become a regular part of the diet of the southern Italian poor by the late 18th century. Pizza crossed the Atlantic to America along with Italian immigrants in the late 19th century.
As testament to how much we Americans enjoy pizza, consider that there are 70,000 pizzerias in the U.S., and that annual pizza sales revenue is 32 billion dollars. Three billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. every year, with the average consumer eating 46 slices (usually not at one sitting). An estimated 93% of Americans eat at least one piece of pizza early month, with more pizza consumed during Super Bowl week than at any other time of the year.
Since October is designated National Pizza Month, take the opportunity to sample some of the books about this delectable round (and sometimes rectangular) food.
In “Truly Madly Pizza,” food stylist Suzanne Lenzer sings the praises of pizza as a blank slate happy to be topped with whatever you’ve got floating around your refrigerator. Take a really good crust and have fun repurposing leftovers. What could possibly go wrong? Lenzer begins with one incredibly easy recipe for pizza crust, followed by hundreds of sauces, spreads, and topping combinations to make pizza a nightly affair.
Eleven time world pizza champion, Tony Gemignani, offers a collection of over 100 recipes in “The Pizza Bible.” This is a comprehensive guide to making pizza, covering nine regional styles including Neapolitan, Roman, and Chicago.
Just what are the differences in pizza styles? Neapolitan is tomatoes, garlic, and oregano (pizza marinara) or tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil (pizza margarita). Sicilian is thick-crusted, deep-dish, and usually rectangular in shape. Chicago style is the ultimate deep-dish pizza, baked in a high-edged pan with large amounts of cheese and chunky tomatoes. New York style is traditionally hand-tossed, covered with marinara sauce and cheese, and its oversized slices often eaten folded in half.
You don’t necessarily need a brick oven to cook delicious pizza. In “Grilled Pizza the Right Way,” barbecue champion John Delpha, reveals the best techniques for cooking perfect pizza on your outdoor grill. The results are pizzas with a crunchy crust, perfectly melted cheese, and a smoky flavor.
You can get quite a workout kneading pizza dough, but for a less strenuous experience, Jim Lahey presents “My Pizza: the Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home.” You do have to be patient with your dough, which has to rest unkneaded and unattended for eighteen hours. After the dough, the sky’s the limit, and Lahey’s recipes include innovations beyond tomato, cheese, and pepperoni.
“The Pizza Book,” by Evelyne Slomon, claims to explain everything there is to know about the world’s greatest pie. Included are more 200 easy-to-follow recipes, and advice about ingredients, equipment and technique.
Over the years pizza has become one of America’s most popular foods, especially in school lunchrooms. In her “Pizza: a Global History,” Carol Helstosky explains how pizza has been adapted to local cuisines and has become a metaphor for cultural exchange. Her book also features several recipes and a wealth of illustrations.
Pizza goes great with everything, especially when it’s free. Last April, Director J.J. Abrams bought pizza for 1,500 fans waiting in line for a Star Wars event in Anaheim, California. And speaking of Star Wars, the library celebrates Star Wars Reads Day on Saturday, October 10. Activities including crafts, trivia, selfie photo booth, and a Yoda impersonator contest begin at 11:00. The will be a showing of the movie that started it all at 1:00
Whether you enjoy your pizza delivered to your home or office, picked up from a pizzeria or supermarket, savored as you dine at your favorite pizza place, or love to make your own, October is the month to indulge your pizza fantasies. Happy National Pizza Month.