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August 2001
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Homemade Chicago Pizza
by Pete McCutchen

OK, you need a proper deep dish pizza pan, seasoned and ready for use. I got mine at an Italian food store, and I've seen them around. If you don't have the right pan, you can't even think about it. Take good care of it, which means that you season it and, after use, you wipe it out, but don't wash it. After a couple of years, it will be black, like the ones at Giordano's. Trust me; it goes through a stage when it looks pretty gross, but it ends up really cool looking.

First, turn the oven on to about 200 degrees (Fahrenheit). Let it warm up. Before starting on the crust, turn the oven off and open the door. You want the interior temperature to be warm, but not enough to cook. Say, 80-100 degrees. If you have an alternative location that's warm and draft-free, feel free to use it. But I find the dough rises well in an oven that's warm but not on.

OK, start with the crust. Ingredients:

4 cups all purpose flour
2.5 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil.

Mix dry yeast into water, stirring it to make it dissolve. Mix remaining dry ingredients together, then slowly add water with yeast in it. Mix together. It's a bitch to do it by hand, so feel free to use a mixer or food processor. After they're mixed a bit, add in olive oil. Continue mixing until it forms a ball as you mix it. You want it to be the approximate consistency of bread dough. If it's too liquidy, add flour, if too coarse, add water.

Take out of mixer or food processor. Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding flour or water as necessary. Place in greased bowl, cover with soft cloth and put in the oven -- which, you may recall, has been turned OFF and allowed to cool. You want it to be warm for the dough to rise, not warm enough to cook it. Leave it there for about 30-40 minutes, until doubled in size. It's OK to check it after about half an hour, but don't be bothering it too much. Once it's doubled in size, take it out, and punch it. Then knead some more, for about five minutes. Then put it back, for an additional twenty minutes.

You can now turn to the sauce.

2 3.5 cup cans whole Italian Plum tomatoes, well drained.
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon pepper -- I use some stuff called "Hot Shot," which is half black pepper and half cayenne pepper
lots of oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 bay leaves
fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cup chopped onions.
Olive oil (not extra virgin)

Heat large skillet or frying pan to medium high. Add in olive oil to create a thin layer on bottom of pan. Turn off heat and add garlic and stir. Cook lightly and do not overcook. Garlic dies if it burns. Quickly add in chopped onions to soak up the heat Stir, and turn heat back on medium/low. Cook until onions glisten, or until they look right to you. Add in tomatoes and raise to medium heat. Stir. Add in salt, sugar, pepper, bay leaves, and a ton of oregano. Sorry, I do it by feel. My original recipe said 1 teaspoon, but that was not nearly enough. Cook for about five to ten minutes. The tomatoes should break up a bit, but still be chunky. Toward the end, grind in additional pepper, for a bit of zing. I also tend to toss in some tobasco sauce at this point, but I like spicy food. Turn heat off. You can let it sit with the bay leaves or you can take them out now, but don't forget to fish them out sometime.

At this point, the dough should have rested for twenty minutes. Take it out, and roll it out onto a large, surface, lightly coated with flour. Now, start to roll it out. It won't seem like it's enough to cover the top and bottom of the pizza, but it is. Roll it until it's very thin -- thin enough to cover the bottom of the pan, with enough left over to cover the top. You don't have to worry, at this stage, about making it round, but you do have to worry about having enough left over to cover the top. It will be very thin, but the dough rises during cooking. Getting it the right thickness really a matter of judgment and experience; it takes a couple of tries to get the hang of it.

Once the dough is sufficiently spread out, carefully lift it up and slide the pizza pan underneath. Spare dough should hang over the edges. Take a look -- ask yourself whether you have enough on the outside to cover the top. If not, extricate the pan and thin it some more. If so, press dough so that it fits snug into the pan, particularly around the edges. Brush dough lightly with olive oil.

Now is the time to stuff the pizza. Add in about three 8 oz packages whole milk shredded mozzarella cheese. No, this is not diet food. Then add stuffing. This can be pretty much anything -- the top layer of crust will seal in moisture, which means weird things like shrimp actually work. However, I prefer the traditional favorites: spinach, sausage, or pepperoni. Some folks like mushrooms with their spinach, but I'm not a mushroom lover. If you use something greasy like Italian sausage, you probably should cook it for a few minutes first, so as to reduce the grease level. (You can do this while fixing the sauce.) If you use spinach, wilt it ever so slightly, so you can pack enough in. Layer in the stuffing, and be generous. COVER the bottom of the pan. Once you've added the theme ingredient, spread three more 8 oz. bag of mozzarella cheese over it. Also add about 8-12 oz shredded parmesan or romano cheese. You can experiment with different cheese mixes, but I've found that it works best of the prime ingredient is mozzarella

OK, now it gets a bit tricky. You have, at this point, a deep dish pizza pan filled with dough and a bunch of stuffing, with spare dough hanging over the edges, leaving a sufficient supply to cover the top. Take a knife and cut around the outside, removing the dough hanging out over the edges. Take this leftover dough and form a perfect ball. If you haven't left yourself enough, well, you're pretty much screwed. I suppose you could empty out the pan and start over, or make more dough, but, either way, it would be trouble. So hope you left enough.

Now is the time when you worry about the nice circular shape. Press the ball down flat and thin it out, making it circular and exactly the same size as the top of the pan. Yes, it really is easier said than done, but the little secret is that, if you can't make it perfectly circular, surgery is possible. Once you've got it spread out to the right thinness, cover the top of the now-stuffed pizza. Wet your hands and make a seal with the edges of the crust already in the pan. If you weren't able to make a perfect circle, you may have to cut a spare strip or two from where it hangs over to seal gaps elsewhere. Don't worry; even if it looks sewed together like Frankenstein's monster, nobody will notice in the final product. But it's VITALLY IMPORTANT that the top be sealed all around. Once you've sealed the top, again brush with olive oil. You don't want extra virgin, because it has too low of smoke point.

Once you've got the seal, spread the tomato sauce liberally over the top of the pizza. You may have tad left, but not much. Do not put cheese on the top; it will burn black and be gross.

Now pop it into a preheated 500 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown. After it's done, remove and let rest for about five minutes before attempting to cut.


This page was last updated August 7, 2001.

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