Monday, May 3, 2010

Pizza Pies

I first tasted pizza pie when I was about 12 yrs old living in Rochester, NY. My friend's father was a city bus driver and he brought a large flat white box home one day when I was visiting. It smelled like spaghetti sauce. When we opened it my girlfriend told me it was "pizza pie". The pie was cold but we each took a piece and bit into it, love at first bite for me! It was a large round flat bread with tomato sauce, cheese and what looked like salami but was actually crispy pepperoni. The "Italians make it" she said. I didn't know it was supposed to be eaten hot. I had many slices at her house, always cold. She was laid up in a body cast for many months when her back was operated on for scoliosis of the spine. I used to visit her to help her with homework, play games and just keep her company. Later Kraft came out with a "pizza kit" in a box. My mother tried it out. Pretty lame, the sticky dough was hard to press into the pan. The sauce was bitter to me and the cheese was "pseudo" parmesan dust. Our family discovered the take out pizza shop, Pontillo's. It was THE place to go for pizza when I was in high school and Jr. College. I frequented that place until I left home and would pick up one on visits back home. It was pretty greasy but had good tomato sauce, herbs, pepperoni and sometimes sausage. We weren't too adventurous with the anchovies or mushrooms etc. Pizza was a snack, not a meal as it eventually became with Steve & I. My Mother,brothers, sister and I ate it late at night. No one was obese either. I guess we got enough exercise walking to and from the bus we took to go to work or school.

When I moved to San Diego, my husband to be, from Chicago, had an altogether different perspective on pizza. He told me about the deep dish specialties from Uno or Due's pizza restaurants that sounded very strange to me but I wanted to try one someday. Unfortunately the first pizza we shared when visiting his father in Los Angeles was Shakey's. I could barely eat it and washed it down with beers. It is was all that was available and it was cheap, besides I was more interested in his big blue eyes and goofy jokes-think Laurel and Hardy. One thing we had in common is a love of cooking at home. Our friends and neighbors, Sandi and Frank Kingery,  in Mission Beach, were also avid home cooks. They told us about a restaurant/deli in Pacific Beach, called Romano's, that sold pizza disks. Okayyyy, what were they? It turns out they were pressed par baked pizza doughs. They fit on the basic metal pizza pan and we embellished the heck out of them! That was the start of our "Tomato Garlic" sauce tradition from the Time Life Foods of the World book "The Cooking of Italy".
            Heat  3 Tbsp. Olive Oil in a saucepan add  1 C. chopped onion, saute until onions are soft.
Add 1 Tbsp. minced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes making sure garlic does not brown.  Add 1 can crushed tomatoes ( Steve likes 6 in 1 brand), 2 tsp. dried oregano, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper, 1 bay leaf.  If I am adding the fresh basil ( 1 Tbsp) I add it at the end of the cooking, however if I happen to have my own dried basil I will add it with the oregano etc. about 1 tsp.  Simmer sauce about 45 min. partially covered, stirring often.
Note: the Crushed tomatoes have replaced whole canned tomatoes with tomato paste added. The tomato paste tends to give a burnt flavor when used as a pizza sauce.
Steve sauteed Italian sausage that he made into little balls, drained it and tossed strips of green bell peppers in the skillet with a little more oil, again drained on a plate, next a pat of butter went into the same skillet to melt. Sliced mushrooms were added and sauteed until browned. On another plate we laid out slices of pepperoni, onion, and sometimes sliced celery. Steve grated a small 8 oz. ball of Mozzarella and about 1/2 cup of parmesan from one of those ubiquitous wedges found in every grocery store. I did all of the dicing and slicing and he loved to do the sauteeing as well as assembling the pizza. He was very meticulous as to the distribution of the ingredients. This evolved over our many years of marriage and pizza making, but this is how we started. He spread the tomato sauce on the disk, sprinkled some mozzarella cheese over it, then, started placing the sauage balls, mushrooms and peppers. Some slices of onion and celery, if used, were placed over the cooked ingredients. More mozzarella cheese, pepperoni on top and the rest of the onion slices. We like our pepperoni crispy. We put that into our little oven at 375 and opened a bottle of chianti in the straw bottle. I sprinkled parmesan cheese on when the pizza emerged from the oven all bubbly and smelling heavenly.

Soon we tired of the tough pizza disks and I think Romano's discontinued them. My friend Rosa said that her favorite pizza place in Ocean Beach, Rocco's would sell us dough. We loved the pizza there but once we could buy the dough that was the end of eating it out. After many trial and errors with sticky dough I mastered rolling it out. We coated the pizza pan with oil and cornmeal and basically made the exact same pizza only with a much better crust. That was dinner for us with half of a pizza leftover for another dinner.

One of our favorite Pizza places in San Diego was Filippi's Pizza Grotto on India Street. A large Italian family owned it and ran it. There was a grocery store in front with Italian foodstuffs, dried salt cod, great bread, pastas, canned tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and meats and cheeses as well as many unusual Italian wines and cookware. We loved that place and had many, many good times with friends there. The pizza was thick crusted with a good tomato sauce that was spiced perfectly with oregano, garlic and onion. We loaded up on the toppings and never ordered larger than a medium size. I hate large pizzas, the middle is always soggy. We also didn't like pineapple, bbq'd anything, ham, deli meats or cruciferous veges on pizza. Filipi's stayed true to the simpler toppings. They are still in operation and the family members have opened several more pizza grottos, but the original one is the best. We talked them into selling us pizza dough too!  The one son admonished me for not making my own. Someday, I thought ,I will.

I finally got my wish when we moved to Chicago to try the elusive deep dish pizza. We had a cat at that time, named Barley. She was a Burmese cat and very sweet. We took her on the plane with us and landed in 18* weather in January, 1973 at OHare Airport. Steve's good friend, Phil Derrig picked us up. We were to stay with him until we could find an apartment in Chicago.
He didn't waste any time whisking us and Barley to Uno's, on Ohio and Wabash streets,for my first deep dish pizza. I guess some of Steve's old buddies met us there,happy to have him back. We tucked Barley in her little airline box under the table( after the waitress got to pet her). I anxiously awaited the deep dish pie. It came in a dark deep cake pan from which they cut slices tableside. It was pretty simple and oh so delicious. The crust had cornmeal in it, then they layered slices of mozzarella, covered it with sauce and topped with raw Italian sausage and more cheese. These were baked in very high heat ovens so the sausage cooked through. You could add mushrooms too. We ate more deep dish pizzas at Gino's on Rush street and later Gino's East near Water Tower place on Michigan Ave. Uno's and Due's were usually impossible to get in to and we came to like Gino's better. We could add onions and green peppers as well as the mushrooms, pepperoni and sausage. We loved to sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes on our pizzas too, our stomachs could handle just about anything in those days.

Soon we were introduced to the Chicago "Stuffed Pizza". This was also made in a deep cake pan but the bottom crust was thinner than the deep dish and the filling was usually spinach and mozzarella cheese topped with another thin crust. Crushed tomatoes seasoned with basil and oregano were spread over the top and dusted with parmesan cheese. Nancy's was the first place I tasted this creation. It was located out west on Lawrence street in an unknown (to me) neighborhood. Another favorite was Edwardo's, a newcomer in 1979. These pizzas remind me of casseroles rather than traditional pizzas. I have made both styles by the way following the recipes in Pasquale (Pat) Bruno's Chicago Pizza cookbook that I got after I moved to San Francisco. Pat was a cooking teacher, food writer and owner of the "Cook's Mart" , a cookware store in downtown Chicago that I and my girlfriends frequented. He held cooking classes and brought in cookbook authors to teach. I met my soon to be mentor, Diana Kennedy when she taught a series of Mexican Cuisine classes. He showed up at a Food Show in San Francisco in the 80's and gave me his book. He suggested I purchase a Stone Oven pizza stone for my oven.  The absolute best piece of kitchen equipment that I still own.

So you think all we did was eat pizza in all of the fun pizza places in Chicago?? But noooo. We made pizza at home alot and even had pizza parties where we set up a salad bar plus all of the toppings for making your own pizzas in our tiny kitchen on Cleveland Ave. I ended up rolling out the dough for everyone but the toppings were pretty creative and the parties were really fun.  We found a bakery in "Greek Town" that made bread and sold dough. I guess it was pizza dough, all I know is that it was fantastic. Really supple and when baked created those bubbles in the crust that are so good. Later on, looking back I am pretty sure they used a "biga" or starter.

We had one more really fun "sort of "pizza in Chicago. I had totally forgotten about it until I was trying to think of how I could create a pizza Steve could eat now that he has no saliva and can't eat bready things. I swear it came to me in the middle of the night in a dream....Pot Pie Pizza from Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder on 2121 N. Clark St. I woke up so excited, as I really liked that place. It was across the street from the garage that the St. Valentine's Day massacre took place involving Al Capone and his cronies in 1929. A lawyer bought the 2121 building and restored it in 1972. They are still serving the Pot Pie Pizza. I Googled it as I couldn't remember the name and sure enough it came up!

This is the recipe I came up with that was really close to their pizza. It is very substantial and saucy, a good thing indeed.

                  Pot Pie Pizza
2- 5" Souffle casseroles or other oven proof bowls
1/2 # pizza dough ( I used Trader Joe's )
1/4# Italian sausage, formed into little balls and sauteed
2 c. Tomato Garlic Sauce
12 mushrooms cut in half
1/2 onion, sliced
Opt. 1 jarred roasted  pepper, sliced
4 oz. Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Parmesan cheese
     Oil the souffle casseroles, Preheat oven to 425*, divide all of the ingredients in half and start layering the mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, sausage, onions and opt. red peppers in each bowl. Ladel 1 c. tomato sauce into each to cover the vege/sausage goodies.
Cut the dough in half and roll it so it is about 1" larger than the casserole. Drape it over the bowl and let rise for 10 min. covered lightly with plastic wrap. Put pizza pots on a baking sheet.
Brush the crust with olive oil and sprinkle grated parmesan over.
Bake for 15-17 min. until dough is browned and the whole thing is a bubbling wonderful thing.

Remove from the oven. Place a plate on top of the dough and flip the casserole over to unmold it.
Serve with crushed red pepper flakes.

Steve definetely loved this! I would do this for another "pizza party" too!

Another Blog will bring this "Pizza thing" out of Chicago and into San Francisco where I learned to make really good dough!