For this week’s Gastro Fridays, I’d like to chat about my latest food studies class on the pizza. I was excited about this week’s topic because everyone likes pizza and I knew I wouldn’t have to try too hard to get the students’ attention. But as a food nerd, I get excited because the history of pizza in the U.S. demonstrates an important trait of U.S. cuisine, and that is our ability to take food from other countries, recreate them, and popularize them around the world. U.S. cuisine is so varied and undefined that I’m stoked when I can share a concrete trait of it with my students. Yeah. TOTAL food nerd. Careful, or I’ll hurt you with my arcane knowledge of British medicinal foods, fool. The burger started in Germany as a steak, we threw it in a bun, and the world rejoiced. Same thing happened with the hot dog, the doughnut…I could go on and on listing popular American foods, but you get the idea. Pizza originated in Italy as a flat bread served with few toppings, maybe some garlic, herbs, a bit of cheese, by street vendors. It was originally food for the working population who often did not own a kitchen, but eventually it became adopted into the cultural identity of the country. When it came over to America, we made the crust thicker, tomato sauce more substantial, and the toppings more abundant (especially the cheese). In a few cases, we put it into a pan so it became an entire pie of pizza, and in other cases, we made it thin, long and floppy enough to fold over onto itself. Then we shipped all these new versions everywhere, and once again, the world world rejoiced, albeit a bit gassy from all that cheese. For my food studies class, I decided to teach the kids how to make pizza dough. LSince we don’t have a proper kitchen to work with, I figured pizza dough would be a good excuse to teach them how to make something, and they could take it home with instructions on how to make it. Local pizza places offer programs where kids can play with dough and make a pizza, but they are expensive and don’t really teach the kid how to do anything other than assemble a pizza. Great idea for future Pizza Hut workers, but not for my young gastronomers! Making any sort of bread dough is interesting because you never know what is going to happen, yeast being the fickle mistress that she is. Pizza dough is also really simple to make, so I figured it wouldn’t be impossible for a high school student to make.
I think I also smoked crack before I wrote this lesson plan. Teaching 20 kids how to make bread dough?! Without screwing it up, getting their hair in it, throwing it at each other, and having flour fights? You have high hopes, my friend. High hopes. The first class was a bit…chaotic, but I blame myself. I allowed them to measure out ALL of the ingredients, which took forever, and cut down on the actual class lecture/eating pizza time. The dough needed at least an hour to rise, so I was a bit worried. Also, high school students? Not the best listeners in the world. You can tell them what to do, you can put a print out of the instructions in front of them. But you give them a bit of dough to knead, and they all turn into hyper, sugar-crazed 5 year olds. ME: Once you’ve mixed the dough into a ball, leave it alone. Student A: So I need to keep mixing it? (he says as he kneads more) ME: No. Do not mix it anymore. Do not touch the dough. Student B: (mindlessly punching the dough) Okay, so I just keep kneading. ME: No. Stop. LEAVE. DOUGH. ALONE. PLEASE. Student C: I kept mixing my dough and now it is tough. Student D: Just keep kneading it. Student E: I have flour in my sock Student F: That’s because I put it there. ME: I need a beer.
In the end, almost all of the doughs rose perfectly, so I was pretty happy. For the second class, I pre-measured all of the ingredients except for the flour, and I showed the entire class how to properly measure the flour (No, filling up half a cup of flour does not equal a cup of flour…). I reminded the students to listen closely and consult their recipe if they had any questions, but to not move on to another step with my permission. I probably said this 100 times, and slowly but surely, the class caught on. The second lab went much smoother, and most of the doughs rose. Lesson learned–when teaching kids to cook, be over prepared and super organized, or chaos and flour fights will ensue. After the cooking lesson, I gave a quick lecture on the pizza, and then we dined on Chicago style pizza from Lou Malnati’s. I ended by having the students write about their favorite pizza eating or making memory. All in all, it was a pretty successful, but tiring class. ~LTG!