Monday, February 4, 2008

Unafraid of untoward heft

Many of you New Yorkers might disagree, but Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is a force with which to be reckoned. I don't believe it's possible to rank one style above the other, as they are separate -- but equal -- pizza creatures. But for every delectable pie that comes out of Lombardi's century-old oven, its thin crust spotted with coal-dusted dough bubbles, there is another emerging from the kitchens at Pizzeria Uno with no less than a pound of magnificent cheese oozing atop a thick cornmeal crust. It's enough pizza-related goodness to start a fight or, at the very least, to make your head spin.

Let's get one thing straight: there are as many "original" and "best" deep-dish pizzerias in Chicago as there are drunken Cubs fans in the bleachers at Wrigley. I love all of them (the pizzerias, that is; not the drunk Cubs fans). Gino's East is marvelous, and the graffiti-covered walls of its restaurants add a certain je ne sais quoi to their pizza experience. Giordano's is tasty, and I have many wonderful college memories of eating at the Evanston location on Sunday nights when the dining halls were closed and we all had to fend for ourselves. The only deep-disheria I never really loved was Lou Malnati's, but I suspect that's only because I didn't spend a whole lot of time there. I focus on Pizzeria Uno today only because it's the one pizzeria's recipe that I've consistently cooked at home. Though this dish is completely worthy of every pizza-related superlative you can throw at it, I'm not advocating Pizzeria Uno as the end-all, be-all of the Chicago pizza experience. Go to Illinois; eat at each and every establishment. May your bellies be full of cheese, and may your minds not be able to decide which is "best."

Deep-dish pizza is a lot like Chicago: substantial, unafraid of untoward heft, salty, weighty and real. A slice is a meal unto itself, even though it is quite easy to eat more than one slice at any given sitting. The thick crust -- crunchy with cornmeal on the outside, tender on the inside -- is laden with no shortage of mozzarella cheese, then sauced with a flavorful intermingling of tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs. The whole thing is sprinkled with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a generous drizzling of olive oil. You will note that this construction method flies in the face of other, more conformist, pizza processes, which dictate sauce first, cheese on top. That's another way deep dish is like the city of Chicago: We will do things our way, though it might be the opposite of conventional wisdom. Take the White Sox's Comiskey Park (built in 1989). They could have constructed it so that fans would have a view of the gorgeous Chicago skyline (a la Pittsburgh's PNC Park). Instead, they built it so fans had a view of the crumbling Robert Taylor Homes. As go the views beyond its outfields, so go Chicago's pizzas: unexpected and wholly original. As they should be, for a city as strong, proud and unapologetic as Chicago.

I remember digging into my first piece of deep dish back in the '80s, when my family went to the Gino's East just off Michigan Ave. while we were visiting my sister at Northwestern. (I think that location has since closed.) I recall we didn't have any pens or markers to add our signatures to the graffiti'd walls so Dad, being that good dad that he is, went to Osco and bought an array of ink options for his girls. He might have even picked up some Wite-Out, so our important scrawled missives would show up on the dark wood. We feasted, we jotted inane notes on most every surface. It was memorable, and happy.

I was a very giddy girl, therefore, when Mom purchased a deep-dish pizza pan a few years later. I was even happier when we found this recipe, from Jeff Smith's book, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American. I was ecstatic when Mom bestowed the pizza pan upon me, submitting to the reality that she never makes dough from scratch because she kills the yeast and has zero patience for kneading. (For the purposes of this post, let's agree to set aside Jeff Smith's proclivities, if we may, though I just took another look at the cover of this book and he is flanked by two Boy Scouts. I am a little creeped out now; however, I see no reason for us to take it out on the pizza.) Jeff claims to have divined the recipe to Uno's deep dish, having run it past their chef of 30 years only to receive a smile and a nod.

Whether or not this is exactly Uno's recipe is, in my book, highly irrelevant. This pizza is amazing, and is better than nearly anything you can get in any restaurant. Not a difficult dish to make, per se, but it is a little time consuming and requires some specialty equipment, including a stand mixer and two round deep-dish pizza pans. Yes, you could get away with using a hand-held mixer for the first step of this recipe and then kneading the dough by hand, but the process would be much more laborious and, I daresay, might dissuade you from making it at all. You need the deep-dish pans or 9" or 10" round cake pans that are about 2" deep; it's technically impossible to make a deep pie on a thin pizza pan. Remember that everything is easier with the right tools. Plus, if you are or would like to become a serious cook, this investment in equipment is one worth making. Your patience and diligence will be rewarded with the best deep-dish pizza outside -- and maybe even inside -- The Windy City.

So get to it. Arm yourself with some yeast and several pounds of cheese and go start a fight with a New Yorker.


Adapted from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, adapted from Gino's East Pizzeria

Please note: Though it makes the recipe much less labor-intensive, you do not need an electric mixer to make this dough. Just hand-mix the ingredients in a large bowl (a metal spoon or dough whisk works best). At the point where the recipe directs you to add the remaining flour and switch to the dough hook, just add the flour to the dough, mix a little, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough forms a smooth but tacky ball, 10-15 minutes. (The dough is tacky when it feels sticky but when you pull your hand away, the dough does not actually stick to your fingers.)

For the crust:

2 packages quick-rise dry yeast (about 5 t. yeast, if you buy your yeast in bulk)

2 c. tepid water (90 degrees)

1/2 c. vegetable oil

4 T. olive oil

1/2 c. cornmeal

1 1/2 t. kosher salt

5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

For the filling:

1 lb. sliced mozzarella cheese

1 lb. sliced provolone cheese

2 28-oz. cans whole peeled plum tomatoes (San Marzano, if you've recently come into some money)

2 T. fresh basil, chopped (or more, to taste)

1 T. fresh oregano, chopped (or more, to taste)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 t. kosher salt

For the topping:

4 T. Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, grated

4 T. olive oil

In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the yeast in the water. Whisk the yeast and the water together to make sure the yeast is completely dissolved; the mixture should look a little bubbly. Add the vegetable oil, olive oil, cornmeal, kosher salt and 3 cups of the flour. Beat for 10 minutes using the mixer's paddle attachment.

When the 10 minutes are up, add the remaining 2 1/2 cups flour and switch to the dough hook.

Knead for several minutes with the machine, until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and forms a ball. (You could do this by hand but it would be difficult; the dough is quite sticky.)

Remove the dough and the dough hook from the bowl. Shape the dough into a smooth round. Put about 1 t. of oil in the bowl, and spread it around with your fingers. Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with a layer of plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel. Put the bowl someplace warm and cozy in your kitchen to allow the dough to rise until it doubles in bulk -- about an hour and a half. After it has risen, punch it down and allow it to rise again for another hour and a half. Punch down a second time, and the dough is ready to go.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Oil two 9" or 10" pans with about 1 t. each olive oil. Divide the dough in two pieces, and begin to stretch out each piece with your fingers to get it started on its way to circle-dom. (I don't recommend throwing it into the air, unless you are particularly skilled, as this will most likely result in no dinner for you but a raw yeasty feast for the dog.) When each piece of dough is about 8" in diameter, put them in their respective prepared pans and begin pushing the dough toward the edges and up the sides. This will take a little patience, as the dough has a little bit of spring in it and wants to shrink a little. But it will conform to the pan in due time. If necessary, stop and let the dough relax for 5 minutes or so, then proceed again. Make sure it comes all the way up the sides, to the rim. It should be about 1/8" thick throughout the pan.

Mix together the filling. Strain both can of tomatoes to remove most of the liquid, then transfer the tomatoes into a bowl. Squish the tomatoes between your very clean fingers to break them up into a sort of sauce. Add the basil, oregano, garlic and salt; stir to combine.

Layer the slices of cheese like delicious, dairy tiles right on top of the pizza dough. (Place half the mozzarella and half of the provolone in each pizza, so you end up with 1/2 lb. mozz and 1/2 lb. provolone per pie.)

Ladle half of the tomato mixture on top of the cheese in each pizza; spread it around as evenly as possible, keeping in mind that the sauce is rather chunky. Sprinkle 2 T. of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino on top of each pizza, and drizzle each with 2 T. of olive oil.

Bake the pizzas on a center rack until the top is golden and gooey and the crust is a light golden brown, which should take about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the pizzas rest for about 10 minutes before you cut them, or else you will have a cheesy runny mess instead of excellently formed deep-dish slices.

Technically you could add whatever toppings you like to this pizza, but I am a purist and insist that traditional "plain" cheese is the only way to go. However, if you must add extra toppings, place them on top of the tomato mixture but underneath the Parmigiano-Reggiano/Pecorino and olive oil.

These pizzas can be comfortably cut into 8 pieces each. I always assume each person wants 2 pieces. So, I'd hazard to say this recipe serves 8 people, total. Note: Do yourself a favor: do not skimp on the cheese. Two pounds might sound like a lot (OK, it is a lot), but I see no point in going through with this deep-dish exercise if you are just going to wimp out with the dairy. Ask yourself this: what would the Daleys do? They wouldn't limit cheese amounts, that's what.

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