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Wine… Pizza! (September 11, 2001)

Agency Doner Canada.
Photography Instil Productions Inc.
Sculpture by permission of Youssef Hasbani.

Two of the world's oldest foods are surely bread and wine, and we thought it would be fun to mention them both in the same column! At the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the remarkable exhibition, "Gift of the Gods, The Art of Wine and Revelry" is pleasing crowds through October 21. It covers more than 7,000 years in the history and culture of wine, including the evolution of wine production, grape growing, what goes on in the winery, and, of course, wine and food matching. It's a gorgeous show, with dazzling exhibits and interactive areas.

Our very own Tony Aspler is one of the stars of the show, if you haven't seen it yet, now is certainly the time. For more information, see our wine events page or visit

Pizza. Just the name conjures up gratifying, mouthwatering memories: a hot, crispy crust with any number of delicious, robust toppings all somehow blending together for a perfect little meal in a slice.

How old is pizza? It makes sense to say that the history of pizza is closely bound up with the history of bread, the earliest beginnings of which were somewhere in the southeast Mediterranean region, sometime between the twelfth and the third millennia BC. We don't have room here to give you any more, but it certainly made fascinating reading as we munched.

These facts and many more, you see, are found in a wonderful, definitive new cookbook, Pizza, by Rosario Buonassisi, which lovingly describes the dish from its Italian origins to the modern table, with lots of stops along the way. It's a veritable encyclopedia of this favourite food, filled with lots of colour prints and photographs and all the history and facts you'll ever want on the subject!

Buonassisi is almost as fascinating as his subject! A professional chemist, he has lived on four continents and travelled for 30 years. He returned to his native Italy to write, especially about food and wine. He is an expert in archeology and currently teaches the history of food at the Università della Terza Età in Milan.

Time to start the pizza festival – get those taste buds ready! We'll be making Pizza alla Pescatora, Pizza al Gorgonzola e Annas, and Pizza alle Melanzane. But first, you need to make the dough!

Basic Pizza Dough

This is where any good pizza starts, and indeed this is a fine crust. Warning: make it at least once, and you'll be hooked for life as no store-bought bread will come close.

2¾ - 3½ cups unbleached flour (650-875 mL)
1 pkg. (or 2½ tsp – 12 mL) active dry yeast
1 Tbsp salt (15 mL)
1 Tbsp olive oil (15 mL)
2 cups lukewarm water (500 mL)
more flour as needed


Sift the flour. In an earthenware bowl, mix the yeast with a little warm water, add a heaping spoonful of flour and blend thoroughly to obtain a dense, smooth, and homogenous mixture; cover the bowl with a cloth, and let stand in a warm place for half an hour.

Pour 2¾ cups (650 mL) of flour onto a surface dusted with flour, and place the fermented mixture of flour and yeast in the center of that pile. Add the remaining water, the olive oil, and the salt.

Cover your hands with flour and knead energetically for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and not sticky, adding more flour as necessary – it should not stick to your fingers. Form the dough into a ball, cover it with a kitchen towel, and let it rise for 2 hours in a consistently warm temperature.

When that time is up, knead the dough again for about 10 minutes, again with flour-covered hands. Split it into 4 equal parts, and then – using your hands – shape each of those 4 parts into a flat disk roughly ¼ inch (½ cm) in thickness, a little thicker along the lip or edge (about 1/3 inch or 1 cm).


Pizza alla Pescatora

Oh, this is a wonderful pizza; it's only got a few ingredients, and takes no time at all to assemble. It's really a translation onto a crust of the classic Italian folk dish, Spaghetti ai Fruitti di Mare! We promise that it tastes as good as it looks – in fact, you could serve this up happily to guests at a small dinner party, but you'll have to make sure there are seconds, and even third helpings.

1 pettola (pizza crust)
12 large clams, scrubbed
8 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
½ cup chopped tomatoes (125 mL)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp parsley, minced (15 mL)
1 Tbsp olive oil (15 mL)
2 large scallops, with roe attached if possible, rinsed

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

Pieropan Soave or Anselmi San Lorenzo (Soave). North American option: crisp, dry white (unoaked Ontario or BC Chardonnay, Hermann Weimer Riesling (New York)

Place scrubbed clams, still in their shells, in a pan without water, allowing them to open over a moderate heat. Remove clams from their shells and set them aside. (Always throw away shellfish that fail to open.) Filter the liquid yielded by the clams, and set it aside. Place scrubbed mussels (still in their shells) in a steamer with a little water and bring to a boil. When the shells open, remove mussels from pan. Arrange the tomatoes on the crust, sprinkle with garlic and parsley, and moisten with the clam broth. Sprinkle with olive oil. And put the pizza into the oven for approximately 15 minutes at 450°F (230°C). After about 12 minutes, remove from the oven and arrange the shellfish, including the scallops on the pizza. Put back in the oven for about 2 minutes to finish baking.

Pizza al Gorgonzola e Annas
Pizza with Gorgonzola Cheese and Pineapple

  OK, so you thought this was a weird and still strangely wonderful Canadian invention, eh? Well, seems we're not alone with this blend. The traditional combination of tart and sweet that in the past dominated many of the cuisines of the Western world is still popular today, and this Italian version with Gorgonzola just has to be tasted to be believed! Trust us, it's fabulous.

1 pettola
¼ cup Gorgonzola (not spicy) (50mL)
½ cup pineapple chunks, fresh or canned (125 mL)

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

Recioto della Valpolicella or Australian Shiraz or California Zinfandel.

Distribute the Gorgonzola over the crust, cut the pineapple into small pieces and arrange it over the pizza. Put it in the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes at 450°F (230°C).



Pizza alle Melanzane
Pizza with Eggplant

This is a spectacular pizza that balances the bitter aftertaste of grilled eggplants with an appetizing mix of tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. In short, another small masterpiece of rustic cuisine. Sigh…

1 pettola
½ cup chopped tomatoes (125 mL)
1/3 cup grated mozzarella (75 mL)
½ cup eggplant (about ½ medium-sized eggplant), cut into slices 1/8 inch (3mm) thick and grilled
6 to 8 capers, rinsed
1 garlic clove, minced
6 basil leaves
2 Tbsp olive oil (30 mL)
freshly ground white pepper

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

a crisp, dry white, preferably Sauvignon Blanc. European option: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume. New World: St. Supery Savignon Blanc (California).

On the crust, arrange the mozzarella and half the tomatoes. Scatter the minced garlic over it, and evenly distribute the capers, the slices of eggplant, and the basil leaves. Salt moderately, sprinkle with olive oil, scatter the rest of the tomatoes over it, and place it in the oven for approximately 15 minutes at 450°F (230°C). When it is baked you can dust it with freshly ground white pepper.

Photos and pictures are reprinted with permission of Firefly Books:

Preparing the dough, Etruscan era, Museo Archeologico, Florence
Courtesy Archivio Fotografico SCALA

Pizza alle Melanzane – Pizza with Eggplant
Pizza alla Pescatora – Fisherman-style Pizza
Pizza al Gorgonzola e Ananas – Pizza with Gorgonzola Cheese and Pineapple
Courtesy Maj-Britt Ideström

Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.




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