Panis Focacius

Panis Focacius

By Tim Hazell

Unleavened breads with toppings are characteristic of many cultures. Citizens of ancient Greece produced a flatbread called plakountos that was enlivened with herbs, onion, cheese, and garlic. 

Persian soldiers baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields. A precursor of pizza was probably focaccia, a Roman unleavened bread known as panis focacius, to which toppings were added.

In Book III and VII of the “Aeneid,” a Latin epic poem written by Virgil between 29 and 19 B.C., Aeneas, a Trojan hero who traveled to Italy with a group who became the mythical progenitors of the Romans, was served round, pita-like cakes topped with cooked vegetables that were referred to as “tables.”

Matzo or matzah is a staple of the Passover festival, during which chametz, foods with leavening agents, are forbidden. Passover and non-Passover matzo may be soft or crisp. Soft matzo is made by hand and is similar to pita. Roman legions were accustomed to adding cheese and olive oil to their version of it.

Crusty cakes referred to as pizza were sold as street food in sixteenth-century Naples. Pizza marinara has a topping of tomato, oregano, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. It is named “marinara” because it was traditionally prepared by la marinara, the seaman’s wife, for her husband when he returned from fishing trips in the Bay of Naples.

Pizza margherita is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil. It is attributed to baker Raffaele Esposito. Legend holds that he baked three different pizzas for the visit of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889. The Queen’s favorite evoked the colors of the Italian flag—green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). 

This recipe will tempt lovers of classic pizza who are looking for a gluten-free substitute to wheat-based crust, or just enjoy experimenting! Crumbled cauliflower makes a delicious, low-calorie alternative.

Gluten-free Cauliflower Crust Pizza


Nonstick spray

2-1/2 cups cauliflower, grated (about 1/2 a large head)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1-1/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Sea or regular salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

4 cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Fresh basil leaves 


Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Grate the cauliflower using a box grater until you have two cups of cauliflower crumbles. Place in a large bowl and microwave for seven to eight minutes, until soft. Remove and let cool. Add the egg, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to the cauliflower and combine well. Pat into a 10-inch round shape on the prepared baking sheet. Spray lightly with nonstick spray, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden. Top the pizza with the tomato sauce, 1/4 cup mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Bake in the oven until melted and bubbly, another 10 minutes. Top with fresh basil before serving.

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