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Pizza recipes squared away

Pizza has been pleasing taste buds for a very long time.

I was planning dinner and thinking about how I could transform some leftover, grilled chicken sausages and bell peppers into another meal. Then it hit me: Pizza! Dinner dilemma solved. I decided to slice the sausages, chop up the peppers, combine them with some mild salsa and cheeses, and use it as a topping for homemade, deep-dish pizza.

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Pizza has been pleasing taste buds for a very long time. In prehistoric times, people baked large pieces of bread on flat cooking stones. Later, in Italy, these flat pieces of bread were spiced up with herbs and called focaccia bread. Italians still love to eat focaccia as an appetizer or snack. This snack was handy because you didn’t need utensils, and it could be seasoned with extra scraps of food and fresh produce.

When Europeans came to the New World, they were introduced to tomatoes, which they then took back to their home countries. The Italians needed something a little different to add to their bread-filled diet, and the people of Naples were the first to put tomatoes on focaccia bread. At first, no one wanted to use tomatoes because they thought this delicious red fruit was poisonous!

The world’s first pizzeria opened in 1830 in Port’Alba in Naples. Pizzas were baked in an oven lined with lava from a local volcano! The first pizza delivery occurred in 1889 when an Italian restaurant owner was asked to create a special dish for the guest of honor, Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni. He wanted to include the colors of the Italian flag in his dish to honor the queen, so he added tomatoes (red), mozzarella cheese (white), and basil (green) to focaccia bread. The restaurant owner named this meal the Margherita Pizza, using part of the guest of honor’s name along with part of the name of his restaurant — Pietro II Pizzaiolo. The pizza was delivered to the palace because the queen did not want to travel to the restaurant!

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first American pizzeria in New York City, and it is still there today. However, pizza did not become popular until after World War II, when war veterans stationed in Italy returned home craving the pizza they had eaten there. Soon, pre-made pizza pie mixes, frozen pizza and pizzeria chains sprang up around the country. Today, pizza is one of the most popular and delicious foods in the world!

More pizza facts:

— Pizza Hut is the largest pizza company in the world.

— The world’s largest pizza measured 123 feet in diameter, and was baked in South Africa in 1990.

— The world’s largest pizza order came from the VF Corporation in North Carolina, which ordered 13,386 pizzas for its 40,160 employees nationwide.

— October is National Pizza Month.

— Kids between ages 3 to 11 prefer pizza to all other foods for dinner.

— Three of the top 10 weeks of pizza consumption occur in January. More pizza is consumed during Super Bowl week than any other week of the year.

— 62 percent of Americans prefer meat toppings on their pizza, while 38 percent prefer vegetarian pizza.

— Mozzarella cheese was originally made from the milk of water buffalo!

Using convenience products like pre-made pizza crusts or boxed crust mixes make creating this recipe for Savory Pizza Squares for a weeknight or weekend pizza party an easy task.

SAVORY PIZZA SQUARES

2 (6.5 ounce) packages pizza crust mix (like Jiffy Pizza Crust Mix)

2 tablespoons minced onion

2 teaspoons ground basil

1 teaspoon ground oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup warm water

3 tablespoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon olive oil for pan

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

Topping:

1–1/2 cups cooked and chopped ham, chicken or turkey; or cooked ground beef or ground turkey; or cooked and sliced chicken, turkey or beef sausages or pepperoni slices

1–1/2 cup shredded Parmesan or mixed Italian cheeses

1/2 cup ripe olives, chopped

1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a 13- by 9-inch pan with olive oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal for a crisp crust. Set aside.

2. For crust, combine pizza crust mix and dry spices in a large mixing bowl. Add water and olive oil. Blend well with a fork. Cover bowl and set crust mixture aside in a warm place for at least 5 minutes or up to 1 hour.

3. Sprinkle flour on a cutting board. Knead crust mixture on the floured board 8 to 10 times. Press crust into the bottom of prepared 13- by 9-inch pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

4. Combine topping ingredients. Sprinkle over top of crust. Bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut into squares. Makes 12 to 15 servings.••

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is www.divapro.com

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