Pizza. This crusty Italian pie has become one of the most popular foods in the world. And, everywhere pizza is made a different approach is taken. From the crispy, thin crusted, simply topped, New York style, to the hearty, cheesy, thick crusted pan style pizza of Chicago, to the “specialty gourmet” pizzas that originated on the west coast, and infinite others, pizza is one of the most diverse food offerings to share a single name.
Pizza’s humble beginnings can be dated all the way back to the 6th century B.C., when Persian soldiers baked a simple flat bread on their shields which were placed over top of camp fires, topping the bread with cheese and dates. In the following centuries this simple, easy to prepare food became popular in Rome, and evidence of shops that bear a striking resemblance to more contemporary pizzerias has been found in the unearthed ruins of Pompeii which date back to the year 79 A.D.
Pizza didn’t reach the U.S., though, until the early 20th century, when an Italian immigrant, Gennaro Lombardi, is widely known to have opened the first Pizzeria in New York City in 1905.
Pizza later spread to the “second city.” In 1943, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza was created by Ike Sewell at his now well-known establishment called Pizzeria Uno (which later became a nation-wide chain).
In 1945, American soldiers that had been stationed in Italy during World War II returned, bringing a taste for the savory pie with them — so much so, that a mere three years later, in 1948, a niche was found, and the first “kit” was produced that allowed pizza to be made at home, called “Roman Pizza Mix.”
The popularity of pizza in the U.S. really took off in the 1950s, however. Americans really started noticing pizza when Italian-American celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Jerry Colonna, and Joe DiMaggio all could be seen enjoying pizza. Then, in 1957 frozen pizzas were introduced by the Celentano Brothers, and could be found in local grocery stores. Soon afterward, pizza became the most popular of all frozen foods.
Pizza has had a long and, for the most part, illustrious history. From its obscure beginnings as a simple food for soldiers on the march, to its modern incarnations where just about anything goes, pizza will continue to be enjoyed the world over.
Now, after that long-winded overview of my favorite pie, here’s my version!
Chopper’s meatball deep dish pizza
For the dough
- 1 pint water
- 3/4 ounces active dry yeast
- 1 pound 12 ounces flour
- 1/2 ounce sea salt
- 3/4 teaspoon corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
Whisk water, corn syrup, and sugar together until fully dissolved. Then add yeast, and whisk until yeast is also dissolved.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt.
When the liquid mixture looks “foamy” on top, add to the dry ingredients, and then add the oil.
Fold the ingredients together until all of the flour is hydrated. Then knead for 20 minutes, and mold into a large ball.
Clean out and dry the bowl, then apply a thin coat of oil with a paper towel. Then rub another thin coat of oil on the ball of dough and place in the bowl, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
While the dough is resting and rising, make your sauce, meatballs, and grate your cheese ;-)
For the meatballs
- 1/2 pound ground pork butt
- 1/2 pound ground beef round
- 1/2 pound ground lamb shoulder
- 2 teaspoons dry basil
- 2 teaspoons dry parsley
- 2 teaspoons dry thyme
- 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 5 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed
- More bread crumbs for coating
Work all ingredients together with your hands, making sure not to be too rough.
When everything is fully combined, portion into 3/4 to 1 oz balls, and set aside.
Place 1 quart of vegetable oil in a pot over medium high heat, and have a bowl of bread crumbs ready (about 1/2 a cup will do).
When the oil is hot enough to fry, roll your meatballs in the bread crumbs in batches, and lightly fry them, just enough to get a crust on the surface, but not enough to thoroughly cook them.
For the sauce
- 2 cans whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 each medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon dry basil
- 1 tablespoon dry oregano
- 2 teasoons dry thyme
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
Put a medium sized pot over medium heat, and add 2 tbl of olive oil.
Crush the tomatoes by hand in a bowl and set aside
Add onions and garlic, and sweat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the aromas start to become pungent and the onion turns translucent.
Add herbs, and sweat another minute, then add red wine.
Reduce the mixture by about 1/4, then add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for about 10 minutes, then puree the sauce (I use a stick blender), and bring back to a simmer.
Add sugar, and season to taste.
There, that’s all the components. Though, you may want to add some vegetables to your pie as well.
Now, I really like Chicago style, deep dish pizza. And the best part of making it is that you don’t really need a pizza stone (though having one would still be nice). All you really need is a good cast iron pan.
Preheat your oven to its highest possible setting (most just say “broil” which is fine, but if yours goes up to 550 F, you’re good to go).
By now your dough should be well rested, and about twice its previous size. Turn it out of the bowl, and “punch” it down to get rid of any oversized air pockets. This should be enough dough to make two or three ten inch pizzas.
For that size you’ll need 10 oz of dough, rolled thin enough to line your pan from edge to edge, and all the way up the sides as well.
Then ladle in your sauce and spread evenly, make sure not to add too much, or your crust will be soggy.
Now, here comes the first layer of cheese. Since Mrs. D is lactose intolerant, we scoured the cheese aisle at our local market to find something we could use, and we did! There’s a wonderful Greek sheep/goat cheese called Kasseri, “the melting cheese of Greece.” Mrs. D was jubilant. Anyway, layer on about 1/2 a pound over the sauce, then add your condiments, in this case split meatballs, mushrooms, black olives, and red onions, and fresh roma tomatoes.
Place your panned creation in your oven and cook for 15 minutes, or until the crust turns a deep brown. And, there you have it. Pizza a ‘la Chopper!