September 22, 2009

The World of Pizza

It's difficult to put an exact definition on pizza. It seems every culture has some form of food that resembles pizza. Basically, it is a flat bread crust with stuff on top. Or sometimes the stuff is inside. The ancestor of the American pizza originated in Naples.

The Neapolitan pizza is characterized by a bread crust which by itself has little flavor; it is the vehicle to get the toppings to your mouth without it falling into your lap. On top of that is a flavorful tomato sauce. This provides the bulk of the taste and moistens the entire thing so it goes down easy. A thin layer of mozzarella cheese covers the top that holds the whole thing together. And finally, sprinkled on the top is a little fresh basil. This simple recipe spread throughout Italy, each applying their own local variations. Then it spread all through Europe and East and West.

But something awful happened to the recipe on the way over to the U.S. Apparently the recipe blew overboard, and when the crew finally dredged it out of the sea, it was water-logged and practically illegible. This must be the case because the American pizza has evolved into something quite grotesque. The crust keeps getting thicker and denser. The tomato sauce is thin and lifeless. There are no herbs to speak of. Taking center stage is the thick carpet of cheese on top. Cheese is even infused into the crust. What was once a savory, tangy delight has become a thick, heavy glob of cheese and dough. This evolution has placed American pizza into the "junk food" category, which is a real shame because pure pizza is darn good food.

Over the years, I have been interested in pizzas from around the world. One pizza I really enjoy is a Moroccan pizza, also known as Marrakesh Pizza. This pizza is not easy to make, though, as the toppings are really a filling. The dough is folded with the filling inside, rolled out, folded again, and rolled out again. While this does create an interesting pizza, it's time consuming and messy. However, I love the taste of the filling.

In the following recipe, I recreate the Marrakesh filling but use it as a topping on the traditional Italian style pizza. I have been searching for a good gluten-free pizza crust, but so far the best is the one in Bette Hagman's book The Gluten Free Gourmet Bakes Bread. I present a slightly modified version of Bette's pizza crust below.

What I like in this particular pizza is the absence of a sauce. Pizza does not have to have a sauce, and many non-American pizzas I've tried do not. Here I used tomatoes fresh my garden and some rice-based cheese. As you can tell, cheese plays a very small role in this dish.

Marrakesh Pizza


pizza crust:

7/8 c brown rice flour
5/8 c tapioca flour
1½ t xanthan or guar gum
1 T sugar
3 T almond meal
½ t salt
2½ t yeast
2 egg whites, or 2 T ground flax seed + 4 T warm water
1½ T olive oil
½ t vinegar
¾ c warm water, more or less


½ onion, chopped fine
2 large tomatoes, or 4 romas
3 T parsley
½ t ground coriander
1 t paprika
1 t cumin
½ c shredded cheese
2 T olive oil


To make the pizza crust:

1. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or round pizza pan (not one with holes, the dough is too wet).

2. Blend the dry ingredients (rice flour through yeast) in a medium bowl.

3. Place wet ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and blend (reserve some of the water). With the mixer on low, add the flour mix. Add more water if needed to get a firm but spreadable dough. Beat on high for 3½ minutes.

4. Spread dough on the prepared sheet or pan, spreading in circles until 12 inches in diameter. Raise the edges slightly.

5. Let rise for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F.

6. Bake crust for about 10 minutes. While baking, prepare the topping.

To make the topping:

1. Mix all the topping ingredients into a bowl.

2. Spread topping on top of crust and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes.

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