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Pizza Primer

Focaccia , pizza and calzone are my favorites among things prepared from bread dough. What’s more, they are easy to make.

Focaccia , the Italian flat bread, can be made in round or rectangular shapes, and its dough is nothing more than flour, water, yeast and salt, with a little oil added for both flavor and ease of handling. Usually no more than an inch thick, most focacce (the plural) are served as an accompaniment to a meal, or, especially in the rectangular shape, split for sandwiches.

Typically, a focaccia is baked with a topping, often nothing more than a drizzling of olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt. More elaborate toppings include fresh and/or dried herbs, sliced raw or sauteed onions, slivers of garlic, anchovies, cooked mushrooms and even chopped tomatoes.

Focaccia toppings, meant to flavor and enhance the dough, are never as generously applied as the toppings for a pizza, which is the principal difference between the two. Though a focaccia is usually thicker than a pizza, there are thick-crusted pizzas that have a focaccia- like crust.

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Pizza, of course, needs very little explanation.

According to Pizza Today magazine, Americans purchased approximately 30 billion pizzas in 1991. Having been raised in an Italian-American home, I developed very definite tastes in pizza and find that most of those available in the United States could be immeasurably improved if the makers came to Naples, where pizzerias originated in the second quarter of the 19th Century. In fact, the first pizzeria opened in 1830 at Port’Alba, right in the center of the oldest part of Naples, and it still serves wonderful pizzas.

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My favorite pizza is the thick-crusted variety, similar to a focaccia but, of course, with more topping. These are baked in large rectangular pans and sold by the piece in many Roman pizzerias. This type of pizza is often prepared at home, since the bread dough can be purchased at a local bakery or made quite simply from scratch.

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A calzone , the large turnover of Italy, is made from the same dough as a thin-crusted pizza. Though calzoni (the plural) may have a great variety of fillings, they often contain ricotta or other soft cheese to bind the filling.

Sicilian pizza, a thick-crusted variety generously covered with toppings typical of American pizzas, is a creation of the American pizza industry and does not exist in Sicily. But there is a kind of focaccia called sfincione , with a typically Sicilian topping of bread crumbs, onions, garlic, anchovies and just a bit of tomato. This is probably the ancestor of what in the United States is called Sicilian pizza.

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This wonderful Italian flat bread is among the easiest of all breads to prepare. It is a quickly made accompaniment to a meal and is great for sandwiches.

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EASY ITALIAN FOCACCIA

5 cups unbleached flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups warm tap water, about 110 degrees

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2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt

Combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Stir well. In another bowl, combine water and yeast and whisk well, then add 3 tablespoons olive oil.

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Stir yeast mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until all flour is evenly moistened. Beat vigorously 1 minute. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

(Or combine flour, salt, warm water, yeast and 3 tablespoons olive oil in food processor bowl and pulse repeatedly until dough is evenly mixed, about 15 pulses. Then run processor continuously 30 seconds. Transfer dough to oiled bowl, cover and let rise.)

Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons oil on 10 1/2x15 1/2-inch jelly roll pan or 14-inch round pan. Scrape dough out of bowl into pan. Pat and press dough to completely fill pan. If dough resists, wait few minutes and continue. Lightly oil piece of plastic wrap and cover dough with it, oiled-side down. Let rise again until doubled in bulk, up to 1 hour.

Once risen, dimple surface of dough at 2-inch intervals with fingertip. Drizzle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

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Bake on rack in lower third of oven at 450 degrees about 25 minutes or until deep golden. Check bottom about halfway through baking time by lifting side of focaccia with spatula or pancake turner. If browning too deeply, slide pan onto a larger pan to insulate bottom.

To serve immediately, slide focaccia from pan to cutting board. For advance preparation, slide focaccia off pan to rack to cool.

To serve, cut narrow slices or squares to split horizontally for sandwiches. Keep focaccia loosely covered at room temperature, if served on day made. For longer storage, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze. Unwrap and reheat focaccia on baking pan, about 7 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Variations

Herb and Onion Focaccia

Cook 4 to 5 ounces of fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme or sage, in covered skillet with 3 tablespoons olive oil about 20 minutes, until just beginning to brown slightly. In separate skillet, saute 2 sliced onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil with salt and pepper to taste, until tender. Cool and sprinkle herbs, onions and kosher salt over top of focaccia before baking, or incorporate herbs directly when mixing.

Tomato and Olive Focaccia

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Scatter 1 cup seeded, chopped and drained canned plum tomatoes on dimpled focaccia dough. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 2 to 3 tablespoons halved and pitted oil-cured olives and 1 clove garlic, sliced into paper-thin shreds. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

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This Sicilian hybrid of focaccia and pizza is a popular street food in Palermo’s famous Vucciria market. Though many variations exist, as with many Sicilian specialties, this recipe contains all the essentials of Sfincione, which combine both strong and delicate flavors--from anchovies, onions, tomatoes, bread crumbs and cacciocavallo cheese.

SFINCIONE

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5 cups unbleached flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups warm tap water, about 110 degrees

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

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1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 (2-ounce) can anchovies packed in olive oil, drained and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup tomato puree

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1 cup finely grated cacciocavallo cheese or 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano

3/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs

Combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Stir well. In another bowl, combine water and yeast and whisk well, then add 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Stir yeast mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until all flour is evenly moistened. Beat vigorously 1 minute. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

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(Or combine flour, salt, warm water, yeast and 3 tablespoons olive oil in food processor bowl and pulse repeatedly until dough is evenly mixed, about 15 pulses. Then run processor continuously 30 seconds. Transfer dough to oiled bowl, cover and let rise.)

Use 1 tablespoon of oil to grease 10 1/2x15 1/2-inch jelly roll pan. Using rubber spatula, scrape dough from bowl to oiled pan, without stirring or folding dough. Oil hands. Press, pull and pat dough into pan. If dough resists, let stand 5 minutes, then continue.

Lightly oil piece of plastic wrap and cover dough with it, oiled-side down. Place pan of dough in warm place about 30 minutes, or until slightly puffed.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in skillet. Add onion and cook over low heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Add anchovies and cook 2 minutes. Add tomato puree and cook until sauce is somewhat thickened, about 5 minutes longer. Cool sauce.

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When dough has risen, spread with sauce. Sprinkle with cheese, then with bread crumbs. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons oil over top. Bake on middle oven rack at 400 degrees about 30 minutes, until well risen. If browning too deeply, slide pan onto another larger pan to insulate bottom. When done, cool to room temperature in pan on rack. Makes about 6 appetizer servings, or 4 main course servings.

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This is the pizza I remember my grandmother preparing for birthdays and other special family occasions. It is typically Southern Italian, home-style, quick and easy to prepare. It will not be easily recognizable to those used to designer pizzas, American pizzeria pizzas or so-called Sicilian pizzas. Basically, the toppings are simple: crushed tomatoes (not a cooked sauce), grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, a little mozzarella, olive oil, a few slivers of garlic and a dash of oregano.

HOME-STYLE PIZZA

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2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup warm water, about 110 degrees

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

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6 tablespoons olive oil

1 (27-ounce) can plum tomatoes

1/2 cup coarsely shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

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1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Stir well. In another bowl, combine water and yeast and whisk well, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Stir yeast mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until all flour is evenly moistened. Beat vigorously 1 minute. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

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(Or combine flour, salt, warm water, yeast and 2 tablespoons olive oil in food processor bowl and pulse repeatedly until dough is evenly mixed, about 15 pulses. Then run processor continuously 30 seconds. Transfer dough to oiled bowl, cover and let rise.)

Use 1 tablespoon oil to grease 10 1/2x15 1/2-inch jelly roll pan. Using rubber spatula, scrape dough from bowl to oiled pan without stirring or folding dough. Oil hands. Press, pull and pat dough into pan. If dough resists, let stand 5 minutes, then continue. Place pan of dough in warm place on stove about 30 minutes, or until puffs slightly.

Drain tomatoes. Reserve juice to use for soup or pasta sauce. Squeeze tomatoes to extract seeds and excess liquid, then chop coarsely. Place in strainer or colander to drain.

When drained, scatter tomatoes evenly on dough. Sprinkle with mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, garlic and oregano. Drizzle evenly with 3 tablespoons olive oil.

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Bake pizza on bottom rack at 500 degrees about 30 minutes. After about 10 minutes, check pizza by lifting end with metal spatula to check that bottom is not burning. If bottom is browning too quickly, slide pan onto a larger pan to insulate bottom. If color is light golden, check again after another 10 minutes. When pizza is done, top should be sizzling gently, cheese melted, deep golden in color and bottom dark brown. If top has not turned golden when bottom is done, place pizza on top oven rack and bake 5 minutes longer.

To serve, cut pizza into large slabs with pizza wheel or serrated knife. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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A calzone (the literal translation is “trouser leg”) is nothing more than a turnover made from pizza dough, usually filled with cured meats and cheeses, such as prosciutto, sweet dried sausage, ricotta, mozzarella, shredded hard cheeses and often some herbs for freshness. To be good, the dough should not be overburdened with filling, so that the flavor and texture of the dough may be appreciated as well as the filling. A calzone is delicious served hot or at room temperature, making it a practical and tasty picnic dish.

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PROSCIUTTO AND RICOTTA CALZONE

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup warm water, about 110 degrees

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1 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup whole-milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

Freshly ground pepper

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2 tablespoons chopped parsley or basil

1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup coarsely shredded mozzarella

4 ounces dried sausage, skinned and diced or thinly sliced, or shredded prosciutto, or combination

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Salt, optional

Olive oil

In mixing bowl combine flour and salt. Stir well. In another bowl combine water and yeast and whisk well, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Stir yeast mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until all flour is evenly moistened.

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(Or combine flour, salt, warm water, yeast and 2 tablespoons olive oil in food processor bowl and pulse repeatedly until dough is evenly mixed, about 15 pulses. Then run processor continuously 30 seconds. Transfer dough to oiled bowl, cover and let rise.)

Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead dough gently, folding over on itself. If very sticky, scrape off surface with spatula or plastic scraper. Avoid adding more flour, or dough will be tough. Knead about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and only slightly sticky.

Rinse and dry bowl and spread remaining 1 tablespoon oil all around inside. Form dough into ball and place in bowl. Turn ball of dough over, so that top surface is oiled. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature about 1 hour, or until double in bulk.

In bowl mix together ricotta cheese, pepper to taste, parsley, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and sausage. Taste mixture. If bland, stir in few dashes salt.

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Oil 1 (12-inch) round pizza pan or baking sheet or jelly roll pan with some olive oil.

Generously flour work surface and scrape risen dough from bowl in 1 piece onto work surface. Flour dough and press with palms of hands to form even disk. Roll dough, adding dashes of flour under and on dough as necessary to keep from sticking to surface or rolling pin, until dough is about 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick.

Fold disk in half. Transfer to pan and arrange folded piece of dough to bake. Unfold dough and spread cheese mixture in half-disk, leaving about 1 inch dough around edges. Brush edges of half-disk on which filling is spread with water and re-fold remaining dough over. Press edges together very firmly to seal. Slash top in several places to allow steam to vent during baking.

Bake calzone on middle oven rack at 450 degrees about 30 minutes, or until dough is baked through and has turned deep golden color. Serve immediately, cutting into 2 or more pieces. Or allow calzone to cool to room temperature and serve at room temperature. If made ahead, reheat at 375 degrees about 10 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

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To make individual calzoni, divide dough into 4 pieces and shape each into ball. Let stand, covered, about 10 minutes, then roll, fill and shape like large calzone.

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Variations

Spinach and Ricotta Calzone

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Omit sausage-prosciutto mixture. Add 3/4 cup cooked, drained, chopped spinach to filling. Substitute boiled ham and Gruyere cheese for prosciutto and mozzarella.

Sausage Calzone

In skillet cook 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, then cool and crumble. Add to above filling mixture instead of dried sausage-prosciutto mixture.


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