Better Homes and Gardens Encyclopedia of Cooking states that this hearty food we know as pizza originated in Naples, Italy. In the 16th century, King Ferdinand enjoyed it so much that he persuaded a renowned pizza chef to bake pizzas especially for him and his court. If they had pizza-eating contests back in those days, I feel sure that King Ferdinand would have taken the crown.
I have had a lot of fun experimenting with the pizza idea in numerous cooking contests over the past 40 years. I started with a chicken pizza that tastes like a chicken pot pie. This idea won me a trip to the State Chicken Cooking Contest. I adapted this idea later for the Pillsbury Contest and won a trip to the 1974 National Bake-Off.
Next came Pizza Bubble Loaf, which placed first in a national Hunt-Wesson recipe contest. Then came my most unusual pizza ... the catfish pizza! Might sound awful, but it really tastes great. For this one, a crisp hush-puppy crust is filled with flaked farm-raised catfish, lots of cheese, and a mixture that tastes like a mild tartar sauce.
My "True Grit" Breakfast Pizza, which combined just about everything you could want for breakfast in pizza form, won a prize in Mrs. Smith's frozen pie crust contest.
My last pizza win was in King Arthur Flour's First WinterBake in Vermont. My Pizza Pretzels were a tasty pizza filling, complete with cheese, enclosed in a strip of pizza dough formed into a large pretzel. King Ferninand would probably roll over in his grave if he knew what has been done with his beloved pizza!
The following is my most recent pizza idea. This new pizza soup is so good that I couldn't stop with just one bowl. Actually, I think I ate the whole pot of soup, but it took me two or three days to do so. Believe it or not, I looked forward to each bowl. It is the perfect warmer-upper for these cool days.
PICCOLINI PIZZA SOUP
3/4 to 1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped bell pepper
1 (14 oz.) jar homestyle pizza sauce
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) diced tomatoes with garlic, oregano and basil
3 cups water
1 jar (about 4 oz.) sliced mushrooms pieces, drained
1 cup dry piccolini pasta (miniature penne)
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (not powdery Parmesan)
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Remove casings from sausage links and crumble the sausage into large soup pot. Add oil, onions, and bell pepper. The Italian sausage has a tendency to clump while cooking, so just break it apart into small pieces as needed.
When sausage is no longer pink, add the pizza sauce, tomatoes, water and mushrooms. Stir well. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and then reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 12 minutes or until pasta is tender. Stir in parmesan and mozzarella. Add black pepper to taste. Cook until cheese has melted.
NOTE: If desired, you can wait about adding the mozzarella and let each person sprinkle it over the top of individual servings.