The hot question for today and tomorrow is: can you bring leftover pizza back to life? And there’s good news. The same Frankenstein-like techniques that work for this delicacy 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 its leftovers. Tomorrow, we will bring the pie out of storage, heat it up and enjoy it!
The Origins of Pizza
Pizza came to the U.S. with Italian immigrants and we’ve had pizzerias for over a hundred years. However, pizza’s boom years have been since WW II. During the war 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 it has become “naturalized,” a part of our native foodscape. Yet the citizens of Naples are proud being its original creators. The European Union officially recognizes Neapolitan Pizza as a Traditional Specialty Guaranteed. That 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 this dish to truly qualify as Neapolitan. 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. However, it must also 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.”
The American Style of Pie
Once an American citizen, this food diverged from its Italian origins. Many regional styles are popular 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).
Why do we want to understand the best way to reheat pizza, to revive it the next day? Because most of us order more than we can easily eat. And with good reason: the biggest pie 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. prices shows that the price decreases almost exactly as the inverse diameter of the pie.
The Price of Eating Pleasure
Decoding the data, the average price of a pizza is about $1.00 per inch of diameter. Thus an 8 inch pie costs around $8.00 and a 16 inch one around $16.00. However, the 16 inch pie is four times larger (in square inches of area, in calories and in consumer satisfaction).
Thus 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 this food 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. This occurs 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. However, 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.
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 healthy 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 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. After all, you don’t want paper frozen to the underside of your food. 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. That way, 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