A Slice of Heaven, Part 1

May 16, 2008

Pizza is the single most divisive culinary concept in American society.

Not the proper construction of Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, not whether or not to put ketchup on your all-beef hot dog (the answer is ‘not’, if you were wondering.), not whether or not to serve pretzels with cheese or with mustard or whatever. No, America. The sectarian conflict that haunts our nation is a fight between three mighty factions. Friendships have crumbled along these fault lines, my friends. Marriages have rent themselves to shreds: Cheese goes on top! No, sauce goes on top. Floppy crust. Crispy crust! What about pineapple? No pineapple. No pineapple.

Well, you know where my sympathies lie, and that’s with the unformatted text. I’m a Chicagoan and my heart lies with deep-dish pan pizza. But I think I have moved past hometown allegiance to something a bit closer to objectivity. It is not news that Chicago-style pizza and New York-style pizza have a rivalry as big as, oh, I don’t know – Martin Luther and Catholicism, or Sunni and Shi’a Islam. The third Mighty Faction, by that token, is California-Style Pizza, which is sort of like Sufi mysticism, and it’s all like “chill, dudes; hit some charras or something.” (see, cause it’s tokin’. By that token. … Shut up, all of you.)

What my family does, because we’re economical, is when we order pizza, we tend to order cheese pizzas. Unless Dad gets sausage. A Lou Malnati’s deep-dish sausage pizza is a frightening thing to behold. God is it delicious but what an artery-stopper. We’re talking about a good quarter-inch thick disk of sausage, about 5/6ths the diameter of the pizza itself.

But what we do, because we’re cheap, is spruce up the pizza at home. Think about this: depending on where you live or the size of the pizzas you order, it might be anywhere from 50 cents to 1.50 for a topping. Now, that topping could be garlic, it could be pineapple, and it could be Canadian bacon. The cost is all the same for you, the consumer, regardless of the ingredients.

That’s a cheese pizza from Lou Malnati’s, back home. … There might be mushrooms on there. I might have violated my own rule. But don’t think about that too hard – David’s Kitchen Axiom No. 1*: do as I say, not as I have only partially done. Save yourself a buck or three and sauté some onion and mushroom with some garlic, or wilt some spinach.

Garlic and onion. And, apparently, mushroom. Look at that. I figure that’s mushroom in there; I don’t know – I took that picture back in December. But here’s the point:

David’s Living In A Recession Tip #1: If you must order takeout, do what you can to improve it at home without incurring greater cost on yourself.

(Or if you have the time, make it yourself.) Thus. Since December, I’ve been branching out and trying to make my own pizza with the help of my friends. We hit on a dough recipe that worked, from my roommate’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (don’t ask. He won it.).

flour, olive oil, water, yeast. We used aluminum foil plates to cook the things in our dormitory’s kitchen. Next year, when my two roommates and I have an apartment, we will have Pizza Day with some form of regularity. I’m not going to hold any of the three of us to any promises on that front, but once every two weeks would be neat. Behold the dorm kitchen we wrangled with this year:

They baked, in this oven that looks sort of like a shantytown if you squint:

And when they came out, they were, well, fairly crunchy. Quite nice – it’s how I like thin crust pizza, myself (but I am not, for the record, immune to the charms of a floppy New York slice. Trust me.)

When I got home, though, about a week and a half ago, my roommate, who had shipped many of his possessions home, had not yet received the box with his Better Homes cookbook, so I had to fend for myself.

Luckily, my house has about a metric boatload of cookbooks, and I found a willing and able hand in The Great Chicago-Style Pizza Cookbook, by Pasquale Bruno, Jr. I set about making my dough, which was, as I recalled it, only slightly different from the BH&G recipe.

We’ll continue with that in the next entry: “A Slice of Heaven, Part 2”.

-D

* yeah. There’s gonna be a bunch of these. Help me keep count.

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4 Responses to “A Slice of Heaven, Part 1”

  1. Jeremy said

    I started making pizza dough just a couple of weeks ago, and I didn’t realize how easy, inexpensive and delicious it is! I believe we use the same water/yeast/flour/oil (to coat dough for easy removal from bowl) recipe. My dad and I actually made a variation of Wolfgang Puck’s Smoked Salmon pizza last night and it was out of this world! I would suggest adding salt, pepper and more dill to the “dill cream” sauce. Also, sautee-ing your own garlic, onions and mushrooms over medium-low heat gives you the best tasting vegetarian topping combo! Sauce is arguably more difficult to make, but if you want to go canned sauces, I really enjoy Vincent’s.

    The best part is, if you make your own dough and use a good sauce, you don’t have to spend a lot on the cheese (blasphemy you say!). As much as I love fresh ingredients, we used some cheap shredded cheese we had (no real mozzarella) and I still enjoyed the pizza a lot.

    Just some musings…can’t wait for part deux!

  2. David R said

    This is going to sound double-blasphemous, but I agree. I have yet to have any luck with using fresh mozzarella on pizza. When I did it at school we used half fresh and half shredded cheese – the fresh-cheese pizzas were soggy on top, and we had to dab them dry in the oven.

    It actually wasn’t that difficult to make sauce, I thought – mostly I just set some things on the stove and left it alone. But we’ll get to that when I write about it, and you can weigh the benefits of using canned over fresh (my excuse was that there wasn’t any sauce in the house. otherwise I certainly wouldn’t have made my own.)

    Also, if we’re talking about Vincent’s Clam Bar (http://anotherreason.com/vincents/index.html) on Mott St., I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jar of their sauce this deep into the Midwest. I might’ve seen a jar when I was in Zabar’s on the Upper West Side last summer, but I’m not much in the mood for having them mail me tomato sauce, though it _is_ an option.

    -D

  3. […] to approach this the way Lou Malnati’s approaches sausage pizzas, which is, as I said in the previous entry, involves a quarter-inch thick disk of sausage patted onto the […]

  4. Great post. Looking forward to seeing you write more about this topic.

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