I’ve told you about this book before; the more I cook out of it, the more impressed I am with its recipes. It must have been one of the last thorough, general-use, make-it-from-scratch cookbooks to be published before “instant” this and that, and all kinds of needless shortcuts, came into vogue.
I was reading it recently and discovered a recipe for pizza! Curiously enough, it was in the “Vegetables” section, under “Tomatoes”! Huh?
Well, what was the American version of pizza in 1949? I mean, what constituted the basic, no-frills pizza that a generalized cookbook would offer for the standard American cook? Pizza! It has garlic in it! That’s ethnic! That’s Eye-talian!
Another thing that caught my eye was the subheading under “PIZZA,” informing the reader that it’s “pronounced peet-za.” Yes, pizza was that novel in the 1940s. (Anyone remember when Taco Bell, and thus Mexican food, first came to the Midwest, and the menu boards coached us in pronunciations like “buh-REE-toe” and “TAH-co”?)
Well, guess what: This pizza recipe is dang close to the real thing, the traditional pizza napoletana. And the one variation for toppings that is provided—for Anchovy Pizza—is very close to pizza marinara, which has no cheese, plus the added anchovies (which is a very traditional topping). I was surprised to find such authenticity, when I was expecting something frightfully, embarrassingly Americanized.
I guess what happened was this: The Good Housekeeping Cook Book (“copyright 1942, 1944, 1949”) completely preceded the births of Pizza Hut (1958) and Shakey’s Pizza (1954), whose presence would play a huge part in establishing the “norms” for the American idea of pizza. And before the arrival of chain pizza joints (and not counting various regional versions of pizza that emerged in big cities like Chicago), the only kind of pizza most Americans knew was the authentic kind—made by immigrants, or tasted in Europe.
And yeah, a lot of Americans had been introduced to authentic Italian pizza during and after World War II!
So I suspect that there was a window of time, post–World War II and pre–Pizza Hut, where the only pizzas available were ones made by ethnic Italians and available to other Americans only in big cities, and those made to be as close as possible to the traditional Italian pizzas.
So this recipe must be one of the latter. Yes, there are clearly adaptations for the limitations of the typical midcentury American pantry (note the use of “shortening” in the dough), but even then, the recipe is strikingly authentic. It doesn’t say to use a rolling pin, and it calls for olive oil. (Just Google “authentic pizza recipe,” and see the Wikipedia article on “pizza,” to see tons of examples of what I’m talking about: rolling pins are verboten, and olive oil is a requirement.)
I was so curious! I had to give it a try. I’ve retyped the recipe below. My changes and comments are noted at the end.
It’s like a huge pancake, topped with a tomato-cheese mixture, and baked until crust is crisp and golden brown. Hot out of oven, it’s cut into wedges. You fold a wedge; eat it with your fingers. Use as appetizer, bread with dinner, main course for lunch, or evening snack.
1 pkg. dry or compressed yeast
2 tablesp. lukewarm water
1 cup boiling water
2 tablesp. shortening
1 1/2 teasp. salt
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
Sprinkle yeast in lukewarm water; let stand 5–10 min. to completely dissolve. Pour boiling water over shortening and salt in a large bowl. Cool to lukewarm; stir up yeast, then add. Add half of flour; beat until smooth with spoon. Then add remaining flour; beat smooth. Divide dough in half for 2 thin pizzas such as are served in restaurants. Or use all of dough for 1 thicker pizza. Place dough on floured board; pat gently with hand into 2 11” rounds or 1 13” round; have edges slightly thicker (this keeps filling from running over during baking). Place on greased cookie sheets. Let rise in warm place (85° F.) until double in height. Then proceed as directed in Tomato Topping.
1 tablesp. olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 lb. sliced Italian mozzarella cheese or process American Cheddar cheese
2 cups diced, peeled ripe tomatoes, drained
1 minced, peeled clove garlic
1/2 teasp. salt
1/8 teasp. pepper
1/2 teasp. dried oregano or thyme
1 tablesp. olive oil
Heat oven to 450° F. After the round or rounds of Pizza Dough doubles in height, brush with 1 tablesp. olive oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese; then arrange 1/3 of mozzarella cheese on top; sprinkle with diced tomatoes combined with garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange rest of mozzarella on top. Sprinkle with oregano; then drizzle on 2 tablesp. oil. Bake in hot oven of 450° F. for 25–30 min., or until crust is golden brown.
Anchovy Pizza: Make Pizza with Tomato Topping, omitting all oil and all cheese in Tomato Topping. Dot tomatoes with 2 oz. can fillet anchovies, finely minced; drizzle on oil from anchovies. Garnish with a few slivers of green pepper. Bake as directed.
My Changes and Comments
The recipe gives you the option of making one large or two smaller pizzas; I chose the latter. However, I made one pizza be the standard type, and one the anchovy version (halving various components as necessary). Why? Because variety is the spice of life!
Another thing I changed is that I used diced, drained canned tomatoes instead of fresh. Why? Because it’s February, and even the tomatoes that look ripe taste pretty lame (especially given the price). (But see my note about salt, below.)
Also, as you can see in the pictures, I didn’t have any green bell peppers, so I used the yellow one I had on hand.
Finally—and I think I wasn’t giving enough credit to the writers of the cookbook—I used a plain old bouncy-bouncy rubbery brick of grocery-store mozzarella instead of the fresh kind I know is authentic (and much better). Why? Because I assumed that’s what people had access to in 1949. Now, however, I’m not sure about that.
Indeed, the recipe calls for “3/4 lb. sliced Italian mozzarella cheese”—and I’m betting that in 1949, anyone with access to any mozzarella at all probably knew where to get the good stuff. In fact, Kraft might not have even been making the rubbery kind back then. I’ll bet that’s why the recipe calls for “sliced” mozzarella, and names the alternative (for the truly limited grocery shopper) as “process American Cheddar cheese.” (Yuck!) Next time I make this, I’ll go for a ball of genuine, fresh mozzarella. (Or else, if I use the rubbery kind, I’ll be sure to shred it, so it melts better.)
Hopefully I don’t need to tell you this, but use real Parmesan cheese, and not the dusty stuff from the green can.
Finally, if you try this recipe, I recommend cutting the salt way back for the tomato mixture, especially if you’re making the anchovy version and using canned tomatoes (which are already salted)—heck, even the cheese is salty enough. In fact, you probably don’t need to put salt with the tomatoes at all.
I kept a close eye on the pizzas, and I found that they only needed about a third of the cooking time recommended—ten or twelve minutes was plenty! Trust your instincts, check the pies, and the crust will turn out fine.
And yes, these were really good! I was kind of worried about whether I would like the anchovy pizza, since there was no cheese (whine, whine!), but I didn’t miss it at all. The saltiness and richness of the anchovies and their oil completely made up for the lack of cheese.
As an added bonus, the Good Housekeeping Cook Book includes the following variation, as well:
Kitchenette Pizza: For 2 people, or a few guests, use 4 English muffins, split in halves, instead of Pizza Dough. Top with 1/2 recipe for Tomato Topping. Bake at 450° F. 20 min.
How about that! I thought the kid-friendly English-muffin pizza was a relatively recent invention/bastardization, but here it is alongside fairly authentic recipes, made for an American audience that had never even sampled Jeno’s! I’ll be darned.
The recipes on this post were published in The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, ed. Dorothy B. Marsh (New York: Rinehart and Co., 1949), 418–19. It’s long out of print, but it’s truly worth hunting for! See this blog post for more on this book.