Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pizza - the Windy City Way!!

I am a fairly nastolgic person; I can be very sentimental, mushy, and a hopeless romantic.  At the same time, I am extremely practical; I don't like to do things or hold onto things if they don't have purpose.  While these characteristics may seem to be contradictory, I think I have found ways to combine these preferences.  If you come to my house, you won't see artwork or knick knacks picked up at a flea market or yard sale, but rather my walls and shelves are covered with photographs of times gone by, precious people, and places that are dear to my heart.

Something I am looking for but have yet to find is a large, black and white print or wall canvas of the city I hold dear to my heart, Chicago.  I spent my college years living in downtown Chicago, just blocks from Michigan Avenue, the Hancock Building, and the Lake Michigan waterfront.  These four years of my life were full of so many amazing memories and crazy adventures, and I would love to have a big black and white creative print of this crazy cool city to remember it by, and to make it part of my home forever.  You know what I'm talking about, you can find them at Target in the home decor section - they have a big canvas print of Wrigley Field and a long canvas print of the New York skyline, but that's as close as I can come.  I've found some online, but I just can't justify paying $200+ for a picture of a city that's image is so firmly burned on my heart.  (That would be impractical!)  Of course, I could always make my own.  During my four years living in the windy city, I had many intentions of taking my camera and hopping around the city, taking photographs of the landscape and architecture.  But quite honestly, I was too busy studying, playing, and savoring those memories and precious friends that I took very little time to take pictures.  So you know, if y'all ever see one of those big canvas or framed prints of the Chicago skyline (a view from the lakefront would be preferable) for a decent price, I am in the market!!

Although I haven't any memorabilia to commemorate my life in Chicago, I do have something that I can carry with me no matter where this world might take me: a fondness for Chicago-Style pizza.  If you've never savored the cheesy Italian gooeyness made famous by such pizzaria's as LouMalnati's, Gino's, or Girodano's, you're really missing out!  And if you're like me and have spent enough time in the city to become a pizzaholic, you're probably missing that delicious pie about as much as you miss the windy city itself!!

Thus, in the two years since I've left Chicago, I've been on the hunt for the perfect Chicago-style pizza recipe.  While the recipe I've created is not by any means a perfect LouMalnati's classic (I haven't attempted "butter crust" - I don't even want to know what's in it so that I'll still eat it in ignorant bliss when I return for visits to the city!!) I LOVE what I've come up with as a somewhat nutritious, delicious version of a Chicago Style Pizza - Heather Style!  :)

There are two main features that give a Chicago Style Pizza it's distinctive name.  The first is crust - determined not so much by the ingredients themselves, the by depth of the pan you bake it in.  A deep dish Chicago Style Pizza is much more like a pie than the traditional, round and flat pizzas eaten in other parts of the country.  They do make and sell actual Chicago style deep dish pizza pans, but I have found you can also use a cast iron skillet or even a springform pan for the same effect.  You can also use a pie plate or a cake pan if you don't have the other options.  Once you make and roll out the crust, you just have to make sure you pull it up around the sides of the pan to create the "pie" effect.  So you really don't need any special tools to make the pizza.

Here's my Chicago Style Whole Wheat Crust recipe:

1 teaspoon White Sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon bread machine yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Just because I love to make anything easier, I always use my bread machine to make pizza crust.  It's SO easy.  You just put the liquid ingredients in first (in this case the water and the olive oil), then add the dry ingredients, saving the yeast for last.  Dig a little hole in the middle of the dry ingredients (without exposing the liquid underneath) and pour the yeast in the hole.  Choose the "dough" cycle on the bread machine and let it do it's thing!  It takes (on average) about an hour and a half this way, so you can dump your ingredients in and go!  It's amazing.  :)

The second feature that gives a Chicago Style pizza it's distinctive quality is the order and importance of ingredients.  The main and arguably most important ingredient in a Chicago Style Pizza is the CHEESE. I use mozzarella or italian blend cheeses, and have recently fallen in love with the Sargento cheese that has a touch of cream cheese in it, because it melts better.  Chicago Style Pizza is also kind of upside down in respect to how you place the ingredients in your pie.  I usually put in the meat first, then the cheese, then the veggies, and THEN the tomato sauce.

This is my personal favorite Chicago-style pizza recipe:

1 package pepperoni
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh broccoli, cut into small florets
1 bag fresh baby spinach
1 8oz bag mozzarella cheese
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained well (sometimes you can find italian seasoned tomatoes - saves some time!!)
Pizza Seasoning

I start, of course, by preheating the oven to 350 degrees, then greasing the pan really really well.  Then roll out the pizza crust into the right size for the pan.  It's kind of a guessing game, and I usually end up rolling it out about the size of the bottom of the pan (a little bit bigger if I'm feeling confident) and then stretching and pulling it up to cover the sides of the pan as well, like a pie crust.  I then rub some olive oil on the crust and baking it for about 8-10 minutes.  Take the partially baked crust out of the oven and layer the bottom of the crust with pepperoni.  Next, I sautee all of the vegetables.  I start with the spinach - I put a little bit of olive oil in my frying pan and cook it down.  It's amazing how small a whole bag of fresh spinach will get.  I set the spinach aside and then cook the other veggies I've chosen in the olive oil as well.  Use just enough olive oil to cook the vegetables, but not to make them soggy - just soft.  Once the spinach has cooled a little bit, I mix it together with the cheese, then dump the cheese and spinach mixture in the pizza pan as well, spreading it to cover all of the pepperoni.  then I add my cooked veggies.  As a final step, I cook my diced tomatoes (not too long - you don't want it to get too liquidy!) in the same pan I cooked the veggies in, adding any seasonings I think may add to the flavor.  I drain any remaining liquids from the pan and lay the tomatoes over the top of everything else.  I turn the oven up to about 400-425 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the cheese is bubbly.  OH YUMMY.

Once you have the basic idea of the entire process, it's REALLY easy to swap in your favorite ingredients.  My husband loves hawaiian pizza, so I've made this with pineapple and canadian bacon.  I've also substituted chicken or sausage for the pepperoni, and used lots of other veggies.  You can also make it without the spinach mixed in with the cheese (though I'm not sure why you'd want to) or use white crust instead of whole wheat!  Whatever you do, it's a treat for sure, and extremely filling!!!  :D

I think I may have to make a point to learn a signature recipe from every area I move to from here on out.  It could make a really interesting cookbook one day.  Or maybe I could collect local signature recipes from my friends around the world.  Do you have any recipes you'd like to share?

So go ahead - try a Chicago-style pizza!  And while you're biting into that deliciously cheesey slice of heaven, picture yourself on Michigan Avenue, sitting outside your favorite pizzaria, enjoying the sites and sounds of your favorite city.  You might just forget you ever left.  :)


Jan said...

Heather...that looks and sounds fabulous! I will have to brave it out and try this...soon! Love your blog, btw. God bless you, girl...and your bubs. Love, Jan

Melany said...

So totally going to try this!

Karen L said...

Have you gotten any Georgia recipes yet? Some good soul food?