If you go down a checklist of what makes a Chicagoan, I’m still an East Coast transplant. I think no hot dog is complete without ketchup. I root for the Cubs and the Sox (unless the Sox play the Indians, then it’s Cleveland pride all the way). Soda is soda, not pop. The appeal of craft beer is lost on me–or any beer for that matter, though I’m working on it. I think thin crust pizza is where it’s at.
On a rare gluttonous occasion, deep dish calls. Some Chicagoans say deep dish is only for tourists who eat at Uno’s, and that the best Chicago pizza is the extra thin cracker-crust. Personally, I like both for what they are. A monstrous bread/cheese/stuff/sauce casserole, deep dish is a one-slice meal and most certainly has its appeal–when it’s good.
Cooked in pans as ancient as the Cubs last World Series appearance, the crust somehow comes out flaky and buttery and golden and crisp as the most perfect croissant, but with midwest heft. The reverse-layering of cheese/stuff/sauce goes to show Chicagoans’ ingenuity when it comes to food. It keeps the crust from getting soggy (the bane of all good pizza is a soggy crust, also why I don’t like NYC-style pizza), protects the cheese from burning, and is overall just one of those “Oh. Duh.” moments. As for the “stuff,” sorry, deep dish is not meant for just cheese and sauce. Peppers, onions, chunky mushrooms, spicy sausage, yesss.
It’s funny how the nine years I’ve lived in or around Chicago have made their mark on me. While I still like ketchup on my hot dogs, they seem naked and bland now without sport peppers, and I’m somewhat distraught that I can’t find them at a grocery store back home (poor misguided Wegman’s stock guy, your confusion made me sad). The difference between “downtown” and “the city” actually makes sense. Trying to navigate somewhere that the streets aren’t laid out in a nice, organized grid would confuse the hell out of me now. Holding a conversation about the Bears and actually following a game no longer makes me laugh out loud at its impossibility. I appreciate the unique pride (and gloveless pain) Chicago has in its 16″ softball games. And I will whole-heartedly come to Chicago’s defense if anyone tries to compare it unfavorably to any other city.
I love this city, my adopted home. I know it has its problems, which aren’t insignificant, but what city doesn’t? Its neighborhoods and lakefront, culture and history, quirks and perfections, and of course its food from pizza to farmers markets–these make Chicago great to me, especially when I can share them with you.
Deep Dish Pizza
This is definitely a recipe made to share with a crowd (or at least 4 really hungry people). I like to use my 12-inch cast iron pan, so I use 3/4 of the dough and freeze the rest for a tiny pizza later. If you go this route, bake for closer to 40 minutes to make sure the crust is nice and crunchy. Adapted from Cooks Illustrated.
3 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2teaspoons table salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water, heated 110-115 degrees
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Toppings (I like spicy sausage, onions, and mushrooms, precooked and drained)
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, squished up into chunks and drained well in a colander until most liquid is removed, or your preferred pizza sauce
Add yeast to warm water and proof until foamy, about 10 minutes. With a dough hook attachment, mix flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar in a stand mixer on low speed until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add water, yeast, and melted butter and mix on low speed until fully combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth, 4 to 5 minutes.
Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil over dough and turn to coat; cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in volume, 45 to 60 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to lower position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Turn dough out onto a dry work surface and roll into 15- by 12-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border along edges. Starting with the short side, roll dough into tight cylinder like a jelly roll. With seam side down, flatten cylinder into 18- by 4-inch rectangle. Cut rectangle in half crosswise. Working with one half, fold into thirds like business letter; pinch seams together to form a ball. Repeat with remaining half. (If you’re only using a portion of the dough, now is the time to freeze the remaining dough. Defrost in the fridge when you’re ready to use.) Return balls to oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in refrigerator until nearly doubled in volume, 40 to 50 minutes.
Coat two 9-inch round cake pans (or better yet, cast iron pans) with 1 tablespoon olive oil each. Transfer 1 dough ball to dry work surface and roll out into 13-inch disk about 1/4 inch thick. Lightly press dough into pan, working into corners and 1 inch up sides. If dough resists stretching, let it relax 5 minutes before trying again. Repeat with remaining dough.
Top dough with a good handful of shredded mozzarella cheese, then your preferred toppings, a little bit more cheese, then sauce, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Bake until crust is golden brown, around 30 minutes. Remove pizza from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.