Resurrection of the Pizza & Fries, Part 1

(Last Updated On: March 20, 2014)

Pizza_waiter_without_menus tom 200pxScience Fact:  Pizza always ranks near the top, both in popularity and appeal.  The hot question for today and tomorrow is: can you bring leftover pizza back to life?  And there’s good news: it turns out that the same Frankenstein-like techniques that work for pizza can also work for French Fries, fried onion rings and other fried foods.

This story is so big that it takes two days to tell: today’s post discusses origins, styles and prices of pizza and the critical question of how to store leftover pizza.  Tomorrow, we will bring the pizza out of storage, heat it up and enjoy it!

Pizza came to the U.S. with Italian immigrants and we’ve had pizzerias for over a hundred years. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizza#United_States) However, pizza’s boom years have been since WW II, when American servicemen stationed in Italy acquired a craving and brought that craving home with them.

Pizza has become such a universal dish in the U.S. that is has become “naturalized,” a part of our native foodscape.  Yet the citizens of Naples are proud being its creators, and the European Union officially recognizes Neapolitan Pizza as a Traditional Specialty Guaranteed, which is analogous to the geographic designation appellation d’origine contrôlée used in France.  The European Community Council Regulation for “Pizza Napoletana” describes in detail what it takes for a pizza to be truly a Neapolitan Pizza and the requirements are not easy to satisfy.  The pizza must be:
– Round, and not more than 35 cm (13.8”) in diameter
– The central part must be 0.4 cm (1/6”) thick, increasing to 1 to 2 cm (0.4 to 0.8”) at the perimeter
– It may be kneaded mechanically with a dough hook, but it must be hand shaped (the hand shaping moves pockets of air to the edge where they rise to form the raised perimeter)
– It must be baked at 485 degrees Celsius (905 degrees Fahrenheit – wow!) for 60 to 90 seconds

There’s nine pages of detail, and it’s surprisingly fun to read.  Moreover, the touch of the human hand is important: as bakers like to say, “Once the yeast is mixed in, the dough becomes a living thing.”

As an American citizen pizza has diverged from its Italian origins, thus many regional styles are well established today, including:
– New York (thin, close to the Neapolitan style)
– Chicago deep-dish (in a deep pan, with sauce above the cheese)
– Detroit, or “Sicilian Square” (fairly deep, with cheese on top; rectangular; twice-baked, so that cheese can be laid all the way to the edge)
– New Haven (thin, may be chewy, often without tomatoes or any soft cheese)
– Hawaiian (cured pork, pineapple and mozzarella; ironically, this type is not popular in Hawaii)

The reason we want to understand the best way to reheat pizza, to revive it the next day, is that most of us order more pizza than we can easily eat.  With good reason: the biggest pizza gives you a lot more for your money.  Let’s put aside the photo showing a gigantic pizza that adorns one news report and look at the research results: a compilation of 74,000 U.S. pizza prices shows that the price decreases almost exactly as the inverse diameter of the pie.

Decoding the data, the average price of a pizza is about $1.00 per inch of diameter.  Thus an 8 inch pizza costs around $8.00 and a 16 inch one around $16.00.  However, the 16 inch pizza is four times larger (in square inches of area, in calories and in consumer satisfaction).  So you always save by buying bigger.  But unless you have a passel of friends on hand to consume it, there will be leftovers.  Which brings us to the most important point: how can you resurrect the rest of the pizza and make it enjoyable?

But wait a second – what do we do with the pizza between the time we declare it to be a leftover and the time we decide to feast on it?  Most of us were brought up to toss leftovers in the refrigerator, but that’s exactly the wrong thing to do with pizza.  Why?  Because the pizza crust is a type of bread, and bread goes stale six times faster in the refrigerator than at room temperature, for reasons that reportedly are not fully understood, even by food scientists.  The best advice for storing bread appears to be to wrap it in plastic to hold in the moisture and keep it at room temperature; but if you’re going to keep it for more than four days, wrap it tightly in plastic and freeze it, unwrapping it again before defrosting.

However, pizza is more than a bread-like crust.  Its toppings – cheese, sauce, other goodies – are all things that want to be refrigerated so that they won’t spoil.  So this leads to a recommendation:

Recommendation #1: Storage for a day.  Room temperature storage only applies if you are confident in the strength of your immune system and snap your fingers with disdain at the idea of microbes growing on your countertop food.  Use one or more plastic food storage bags, the type with an airtight seal (a press seal rather than a slider type).  Separate the pizza slices enough to fit into one or more bags.  Place the slices on a layer of paper towel, or two layers if the crust is very oily, then slip them into bags, press out the air and seal them.  Put only a single layer of pizza into each bag.  Store at room temperature, preferably in a cooler room (60°F) rather than a hotter room (72+°F).  Disclosure: I prefer to freeze my own leftovers.

Recommendation #2: Storage for multiple days.  Seal the pizza slices in plastic as above but without the paper towels — you don’t want paper frozen to the underside of your pizza.  Place in the freezer, preferably on a flat, already-cold surface.  Your goal is to bring the pizza to freezing temperature as quickly as possible, so it doesn’t linger in the stale-making in-between temperature zone.  You can store pizza this way up to a few months.

In tomorrow’s post we’ll talk about how to heat up that leftover goodie.

If you keep leftover pizza, how do you store it?  Do you keep it at room temperature, in the fridge or the freezer?

Drawing Credit: tom, on openclipart.org

Comments

Resurrection of the Pizza & Fries, Part 1 — 2 Comments

  1. That’s way too much effort to preserve probably the laziest of all foods. If you are eating pizza, at least the kind from a pizza store, you’re not looking to spend time on preparation or clean up. I just leave mine in the delivery box, out on the table, ready for immediate consumption.

  2. Fascinating .. I’m looking forward to part 2. I’ve loved pizza since college, a period in my life when I could eat a large pizza by myself without any obvious impact on my health or weight. Consequently I never had to deal with leftovers. But as I got older the portions I could consume shrank until they became less than a small pizza. At that point I quickly found that a pizza simply tossed into the refrigerator came out a “different animal” that was nowhere near as delectable as the original item, so I dropped back to only eating pizza with friends so we could completely consume it in one sitting.

    For about 10 years my girlfriend and I made a custom of having pizza every Friday night when we got together, but those days came to an end when she decided the extra 15 pounds she’d put on through the years were unacceptable … sigh … and though I nobly offered to eat more than my “fair share” so she could keep her weight down, it turned out she couldn’t resist pizza if you put it in front of her so she had to remove the source of the temptation. Now it’s a rare event when I have pizza, but if I can learn how (in part 2) to preserve it better maybe I can reintroduce it into my life when she’s not around!

    Of course that does require that I have the self-control not to eat it all at once so there ARE leftovers, an untested concept. 🙂