I am about to upset a few Chicagoans by saying that I haven't warmed to the city's signature deep dish, stuffed pizza. I know where it gets it's name...one piece and I'm stuffed. It also takes forever to actually get delivered to my doorstep, especially when I continuously seem to order it on monsoon-like evenings when the delivery man is bound to be late. This is not acceptable for greedy people who need a speedy pie.
Nope. I like my crust thin and crispy, like a pie in Rome that I had in a no-frills pizzeria in the Trastevere neighborhood. Pizza may have been invented elsewhere in Italy, but this pie was unforgettable. Straight from the wood burning oven, it's paper thin crust was adorned with a few delicious toppings, sizzling cheese, a hint of garlic and a black olive thrown into the middle as it's final crowning glory.
I know I'm on dangerous ground here as there are some seriously obsessed pizza aficionados that travel far and wide for the best slice. I'm just a self-confessed pizza lover. So much so, that I'm not going to throw my allegiance towards any pizza in particular. I've had great pies in Italy, New York and even London where a pizzeria was dangerously located across the street from my flat and right next door to my local pub, The Shakespeare. When tallying the geniousness of the Shakespeare, the fact that La Barca was just next door AND you could get your pizza delivered in the pub after several hours of boozing always pushed its score over the top.
La Barca's pizza will live long into my memory. Most of my family and friends have eaten a few slices in the pub with Martin and I. A night in the pub with pizza always made the list of things to do when we had visitors in town from all over the world.
When we moved to Chicago, our local pizzeria was high on the the "missed list" so we started making our own. Some times we make our crust from scratch, other times I buy the herb flecked ready to roll dough from Trader Joe's and some of their fat free pizza sauce which is delicious. If you don't have a good pizza sauce available, consider using some fresh pesto that you can buy at any super market in a variety of different flavors. We place the ingredients on the big chopping block and throw on some Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma (which always makes me cry and Martin associates with the World Cup Italia 90.)
The recipe below is one that we make most regularly at home. You can mix and match any of the toppings to use up what you've got fresh in the fridge. Here's one that we made in Michigan when my cousin, Lauren, decided to make her own dough for the first time. We pulled out some fresh thyme from the market and used up all of the fresh vegetable my Aunt Michelle had lying around. Everyone got to make their own.
One thing to note about Martin and his special pizza- he was known at university as "the tuna kid." His idea of cooking is making toast. He's quite happy to keep out of my way in the kitchen (or to start hovering around at the last minute when I'm trying to get things on the table.) One night, last winter, we made this pizza together and it has since been known as his specialty.
If you're looking for a simple, no-fuss pizza dough recipe, try Nigel Slater's. I adore Nigel and own several of his books, including his charming autobiography, Toast- the story of a boy's hunger . He writes for The Observer in London and his food articles and contribution to Food Monthly is something that I miss dearly (along with all of the Sunday papers- The Times, Style Magazine- going up/going down list I miss you!)
Makes about 8 small slices
dough for one pizza- freshly made or store bought "ready-to-roll"
1/3 cup store bought pizza sauce or pesto
handful of pepperoni
2 tbsp red chilli flakes
2 balls of buffalo mozzarella
handful of fresh basil leaves
1 cup of sliced, pitted black olives
6 small vine tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
salt and pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
handful of cornmeal for dusting
handful of plan flour for dusting
Preheat your oven to 400F. Dust your work surface with flour and make sure your hands and rolling pin are also dusted. Roll out pizza dough to desired thickness and let it rest for about 10 -15 minutes. It does not have to be round- it's supposed to look homemade! Brush a baking pan with some of the olive oil and then dust with some cornmeal. This will make the crust extra crispy on the bottom.
When the dough is ready, brush a very thin layer of sauce (not too much - you don't want soggy!) on the dough then start with your toppings. Marty likes to go in this order: sliced tomatoes, sliced olives, pepperoni, then sprinkle over the chilli flakes to your desired spiciness and season well with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, lay over whole leaves of basil and sprinkle with some freshly parmesan cheese.
Pop this into the oven for 10 minutes- start watching it from about 8 minutes onward. You don't want to over cook it, but you also don't want the dough to be too flimsy and raw in the center.
Crack open a few beers, turn up the opera and enjoy.