Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
What is pizza?
Search the e-archives and you’ll run into etymological suggestions that link modern pizza to words like pluck, press, pita, pastry and pie. But pita is hardly pizza and, as the research shows, people here in the States will say ‘mud’ before they’ll say ‘pizza’ when they’re asked to list off types of pie. So onward you go, to message boards about the origins of pizza which, as message boards so often do, leave you more lost than you were when you arrived.
So, again, what is pizza? I don’t know anymore. And so I can’t tell you why the star of today’s post – pizza ebraica (or Jewish pizza) – shares a name with the savoury bread you and I think of when we hear the word pizza. There’s no familial resemblance. Their common ingredients include flour and flour alone. They’re both a sort of baked dough, yes, and you’ll find them in Italy. But the similarities seem to end there.
Better to think of pizza ebraica as an unleavened (as in, free of yeast and other rising agents), Italian take on fruitcake, made with ingredients like Marsala wine and pine nuts. It’s crispy – nearly burnt – on the outside, the raisins puffed up and blackened, while the inside is soft and boozy, part creamy and part biscuity, and dense with fruit and nuts.
Like its namesake, pizza ebraica too has a long and uncertain history (you can read two rather different accounts here and here), so I can’t tell you anything certain about where it came from. But today, you’ll find it (where I did) in Rome, served by the slab at the famous il Boccione bakery in the Jewish Ghetto. And, if you’re lucky, they might even let you buy a piece or two.
In the mean time, make it yourself. Don’t skip the wine, and make sure the fruit is plentiful. Bake it until it’s burnt on the outside but still a bit gooey in the centre, then dig in and come to understand why this knobby little pizza has stood the test of time.
Recipe Adapted from Saveur
Serves 8-16, depending on how big you cut your pieces
Note: If you’re not keen on candied fruit, try swapping it for dried fruit that you’ve rehydrated with a bit of freshly boiled water. If my memory serves me correctly though, the Roman version comes complete with mysterious green cherries!
1 cup marsala wine
2/3 cup dark raisins
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg white, beaten until frothy
3/4 cup chopped raw almonds
1 cup roughly chopped candied or dried fruit (depending on how fruity you like your bread)
1/4 cup raw pine nuts
1. Heat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Put your wine and raisins in a small bowl and let sit for 30 minutes, or until raisins have plumped slightly.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and butter with an electric mixer (or a wooden spoon and vigour) until the mixture is sandy. Mix in the frothy egg white.
4. Add to the sandy mixture the almonds, fruit, pine nuts, and raisins (with the wine they’re soaking in). Mix until the dough comes together and the nuts and fruit are distributed throughout.
5. Form the dough into a 6x8(ish) inch rectangle that’s roughly 1.5 inches high (I formed my dough into little 2x2 buns first for easy separability, but wouldn’t bother next time).
6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the tops are starting to turn dark brown, and the interior of the dough is still moist (if your oven runs hot, you may want to check them at 25-30 minutes).
7. Let it cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before cutting into generously sized logs or squares.