NEWS ITEM: Harrisburg, Pa. -- Mobsters have infiltrated pizza and cheese operations in 54 Pennsylvania towns and cities, committing arson and murder and costing governments millions of dollars in lost tax revenues, the state Crime Commission said.

Based on its investigation of more than 75 Pennsylvania operations, the commission estimated pizza and cheese businesses with mob ties failed to report at least $25 million in income each year, and probably more . . .

THE NEWS account made me think back to simpler days when pizza meant just one thing -- it was Tuesday in my house. That was the night we had what was then called tomato pie.

My Irish mother picked the recipe up somewhere along the line from Italian relatives on my father's side and even back in those tasteless bud days I had a suspicion that she wasn't paying much attention when all the ingredients were told to her.

My mother, to take her off the hook, prepared meals for 12 three times a day on very little money without many of the aids we use today in our kitchen.

The crust she baked was about as thick as a slice of bread; a tomato sauce, usually used for spaghetti, was spread over the top and covered by a thin slice of provolone cheese. That's the way my father liked it. All I can say is it was food.

Pizza certainly wasn't an "in" food in those days. Even in many Italian households, recipes for pizza kind of lay dormant in kitchen drawers as easier things became available at grocery stores, such as hot dog, hamburgers, whatever.

When geography began to be shoved across our school desks, quite a few of us of Italian extraction accepted the fact that the building in Italy that tipped to the side was the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

It wasn't until the war years in the Navy, while our ship was tied up to a dock in San Francisco, that pizza showed up again in my life. A fellow sailor from the Bronx, with a sudden craving for pizza, spent an afternoon poring over the Yellow Pages and calling Italian restaurants looking for the ultimate pizza.

Still thinking my mother's pizza was really pizza, I was pleased when he couldn't come up with a place that sold it.

Then, shortly after the war, we were playing basketball when one of the team members suggested we go for pizza and beer at a non-Italian sounding restaurant near Boston called the Half Moon.

Though still suspicious of this dish, I went along and was delighted to find that the chef had remembered more ingredients than my mother had. It wasn't bad.

The pizza sort of took off as a national delight and more daring chefs experimented with various toppings. Becoming as American as apple pie, the dish found its way into our home. It was after I was married and the kids were in grammar school and were eating their meals on the run.

Pizza became a conversation piece at parties. Toppings and thickness of the crust were discussed avidly, with everyone knowing the best place in town and willing to go to the mat to defend it.

Times Square even broke into the act. A few places had some guy standing in the window flipping and spinning the big, round, flat dough over his head.

There was Piantsadosi's Italian bakery in Astoria, Queens, where an assembly line made up the pizzas, baked them and sold them in thick, crusty squares for 15 cents to long lines of weary commuters just crawling off the subway.

One night while waiting in line I found they sold the fresh dough by the pound, bought some, stopped by the grocers for the sauce and cheese and brought it all home to make my own pizza.

Two curious daughters left their evening television offering and wandered in to the kitchen to watch. My wife just returned to her book.

The girls were eager to get their hands into it and I let them go to work slicing the cheese, pouring the canned sauce, evenly spreading the pepperoni, adding slices of green pepper as carefully as they would decorate a birthday cake.

The crusts were a little tough. The topping looked beautiful but lacked some ingredient. I knew my search for the ultimate pizza was not over.

Now you can buy pizza everywhere -- at the frozen goods counters of grocery stores in all sizes on all kinds of bases from French bread to bagels and prices have soared. If they put enough stuff on them, they can cost as much as $10.

Checking a phone book the other day to see just how many people were making money selling pizza, I found the name of a place called Delaney's Award Winning Irish Pizza Pub in Laurel. My Irish mother would have loved that.