Ok my friends I want to admit up front that I was born in Chicago, and while my family has roots in Northern Michigan (I have had the advantage of being both a “city kid” and a “country kid”), when it comes to where the best pizza in the world is made I’m going to scream CHICAGO! Now I understand that the folks in New York are just as passionate about their “New York” style pizza as they are about the Yankees. I have been to New York many times and I have to admit they have some pretty good pizza there, but nothing compares to the deep dish style pizza that was born in Chicago in 1943.
Italy, and particularly Naples, is generally accepted as the birthplace of the modern pizza. Many cultures used different types of flatbreads with a variety of toppings but it was in Italy where the combination of tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh cheese were combined to create the ultimate street food. As Italian immigrants landed in New York, Philadelphia, and eventually Chicago they brought with them the recipes for the pizza they enjoyed at home. The earliest commercial American pizza probably appeared in New York around 1900. The crust was thin and was the pre-curser to today’s New York Style pizza which has a thin crust made with a high gluten flour and is baked in a very hot oven directly on a stone or floor of the oven. This creates a charring of the crust on the surface but still leaves the crust soft enough to fold over itself when eating it.
In 1943 the history of pizza was forever changed by a couple of entrepreneurs from Chicago. Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened a pizzeria called Pizzeria Riccardo and later renamed it Pizzeria Uno. Originally planned as a Mexican restaurant, the two eventually agreed to make it Italian. Working together with their bar manager Lou Malnati and Chef Alice May Redmond, the first Chicago Deep Dish Pizza was born. Unlike the previous thin crust pizzas which were eaten with your hands, the deep dish pizza was more pie like and required a knife and fork to eat it. It was baked in a steel pan rather than on a stone and when served was more like a meal than a snack. Today some of the most famous pizzeria’s in Chicago including Pizzeria Uno, Pizzeria Due, Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s, and Pizano’s all trace their roots back to this original pizza parlor.
There are several things that set the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza apart. The dough itself is made from a combination of white flour and semolina. The semolina helps create a unique texture and crunchiness to the crust. Once the dough has risen, it is pressed into a round steel pan (much like a large cake pan). The pan is oiled with olive oil and dusted with corn meal before the dough is pressed into the pan. It is important that the dough is pressed up the sides of the pan as well. The dough itself is not really thick (except around the outer edge) as you are really just trying to make a shell to hold the ingredients. Once the dough finishes rising in the pan, the pizza shell is “par baked” (much like a pie shell) and then chilled. This stops the yeast reaction and helps create the desired structure in the finished crust. In a deep dish pizza, the mozzarella cheese is the first ingredient placed in the well of the crust. This is to protect the cheese from burning when the pizza is baked in the hot oven. After the cheese, the vegetable toppings are added on top followed by a layer of sweet homemade Italian sausage. Some additional parmesan cheese may be added before the crushed tomato sauce is then poured over the top. The tomato sauce on the top insulates the other ingredients from direct exposure to the high heat in the oven. Commercially these pizzas are baked in ovens as high as 600 degrees F. Unlike a pasta sauce which may be simmered for several hours, on this pizza the tomato based sauce is not “pre-simmered” and has a distinctly fresh taste.
Now I have some good news for you. You don’t have to travel all the way to Chicago to enjoy Deep Dish Pizza! In our new Recipes Across America cookbook we have a Taste Of Home recipe for Chicago Deep Dish Pizza that is an amazing “home version” of the famous Chicago pizza. If you want to make this recipe more authentic you can swap out 1 cup of the all purpose flour for 1 cup of semolina flour. You may have to make some minor adjustments to the amount of water used if substituting. I also like using crushed tomato instead of diced tomatoes. Try making your pizza in a round spring form pan and don’t be afraid of adding lots of filling. The photo shown in this recipe shows the pizza thinner than an actual deep dish pizza. Enjoy!!
- 2 to 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- 1 package (1/4 ounce) quick-rise yeast
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
- 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, well drained
- 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups (12 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1 pound Johnsonville® Mild Ground Italian Sausage, cooked and crumbled
- 24 slices pepperoni, optional
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, optional
- In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, cornmeal, yeast, sugar and
- salt. In a small saucepan, heat water and oil to 120°-130°.
- Add to dry ingredients; beat just until moistened. Stir in enough
- remaining flour to form a soft dough.
- Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about
- 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the
- top. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes
- In a large skillet, cook and stir mushrooms in 2 teaspoons oil over
- medium-high heat until tender. In a small bowl, mix the tomatoes,
- tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic and seasonings.
- Generously grease a 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan or dish with the
- remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Punch dough down. Roll out into a 15-in.
- x 11-in. rectangle. Transfer to prepared pan, pressing onto the
- bottom and halfway up the sides of pan. Sprinkle with 2 cups
- mozzarella cheese.
- Spoon half of the sauce over the cheese (save remaining sauce for
- other use or use for dipping). Layer with the sausage, sauteed
- mushrooms and, if desired, pepperoni; top with the remaining
- mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
- Cover and bake at 450° for 35 minutes. Uncover; bake about 5
- minutes longer or until lightly browned. Sprinkle with basil if
- desired. Yield: 12 servings.