When I was a junior in high school, I joined the show choir.
This was both a totally expected and yet bizarrely unexpected development. In high school, I absolutely belonged to the “music kids” clique. I had been in the band since my freshman year, and played in every group available, including something called the “Hobo Band” which was exactly as ridiculous and awesome as it sounds. I joined the choir finally after spending several months singing at the top of my lungs with my friend Nathan on our commute to work, who then pushed me into first joining the concert choir, then the show choir. But I was also an overweight and uncoordinated buffoon who had foot surgery right before the start of the school year. So I not only joined this song and dance crew as a horrible dancer, I joined it as a horrible dancer with a gigantic cast on his leg. I literally managed to dance off the back end of the stage at one point, and had the risers collapse on me at another.
However, the rest of the group was very very good, and I managed to make nominal enough improvement (as well as being strategically placed in the backstage of every routine) that we were accepted to go to a competition in Chicago. This was a massive event for me at the time, and for years represented the furthest from home I had ever been. There were so many memories from the trip that lived with me for ages, including my first ever latte followed by my first espresso, my only trip to Medieval Times (which remains my favorite restaurant experience), and most relevant to today’s discussion, my only taste of Chicago style deep dish pizza.
This memory was then haunting me lately for some unknown reason, and I became increasingly determined to revisit that lost flavor. However, as should not surprise, Chicago deep dish pizza is not exactly easy to find in northern Kentucky. So I turned to the internet and looked over several recipes to get a feel for what I would be needing, then set out to make it happen, setting aside an entire Saturday for the mission. I had decided that as much as possible, I’d make the pizza from scratch myself, with homemade sauce and a homemade crust. So it was that at 10 o’clock in the morning, I was starting my dinner with this:
Two cups of warm milk, mixed with an envelope of instant dry active yeast. I allowed the yeast to sit and bloom for a half hour before I began the rest of the process.
I have freely admitted my admiration for a man by the name of Father Dominic Garramone, known by many as the “Bread Monk” who not only has a series of baking cook books available, but also his book on prayer “Bake and Be Blessed” is one of the most formative books on the spiritual life I have ever read. (check out his blog here!) So it’s no surprise he was on my mind this morning as I began baking. I took a page from his book and utilized a technique he often recommends, incorporating leftover mashed potatoes into my bread dough. Though I certainly chose a more low class version than his leftover made from scratch mashed potatoes, as I wanted to use up a packet of instant roasted garlic mashed potato flakes I had from a previous attempt to make mashed potato-breaded fried chicken. (That recipe may get posted at some point down the road, but I need to work with it a bit more) I took the warm milk and yeast mixture and added it to my instant mashed potato flakes in a large mixing bowl.
From here I’ll begin incorporating the rest of my crust ingredients. Now I’ll be honest, I don’t have an actual recipe for this. I’ve been trying to bake more often by touch and feel, which is taking some practice. I started by adding two eggs, some all purpose flour, a tablespoon or two of honey, and a few glugs of olive oil. I then started mixing using a metal spoon, ensuring that I’m scraping up the bits stuck on the sides of the bowl. As the dough comes together, I’ll add a few splashes of water and flour as needed to keep it together, letting a shaggy dough form.
Once this dough as formed, I’ll cover with a tea towel and let it sit for a few hours to let the yeast do it’s magic. I’m expecting the dough to double in size. I go sit in the living room and binge watch a few episodes of Bojack Horseman when I should be getting caught up on my Bible reading or my book club selection “A Gentleman in Moscow” which is due next Friday. I will repeatedly walk back into the kitchen to lift the towel and check on the dough, looking forward to the opportunity to start kneading.
This is the part of bread baking that is actually the hardest for me. I hate letting the dough rise if I don’t have something to distract me. (Bojack is great an all, but doesn’t do the trick) Rest is all too often hard in life. Kneading the dough is great, because I can feel active and a part of the process. There’s a visceral joy I get from having my hands on the dough and smashing the flour and water particles together to form a nice strong gluten. (My vigorous enjoyment of the kneading process is a part of why my home baked doughs always come out a little on the tough side) But resting is an entirely different story. It just has to sit while some microscopic flora (or is it fauna) does all the work. Our part as the baker is just to sit and anticipate, hopefully while enjoying the yeasty smell of rising dough as it permeates the entire household.
Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan, after an hour or so, the dough had not risen at all. So I decided to take some matters into my own hands. I added some warm water and honey to a small glass, then let that sit for about ten or fifteen minutes while it got nice and bubbly, then added it to the dough with some more flour. I’m guessing when I heated the milk to make the mashed potatoes I heated it too hot and killed the yeast. I’m hoping a second dose will save the day. I’ll knead the dough a bit on a floured kitchen counter, then toss it back into a mixing bowl lightly coated in oil, then cover back with the tea towel and wait.
This time definitely does the trick, the whole house now smells like fresh bread and the dough has doubled in size. I’ll punch it down lightly, then turn back onto a floured surface to knead some more. I’m also adding in some Parmesan cheese (the cheap stuff that resembles sawdust) as well as dried oregano and some corn meal for a deeper flavor and texture. I’ll then let it sit again for a while, then get started on my sauce.
Now, I had intended to get some photos of my sauce process, but it honestly slipped my mind. I started by cutting up some sweet Italian sausage, then cooking it in the pan with a touch of olive oil and a few tablespoons of water. The water lets the fat render out of the sausage to help fry without burning the meat. Once the water has evaporated, enough sausage fat has rendered out to not only cook our sausage, but serve to cook our vegetables next. I’ll remove the sausage just before it’s completely cooked through, leaving all the fat in the pan. Next, I’ll use that fat so sweat some diced onion, carrots, and garlic. The carrots may surprise you, but I take it from some traditional recipes for bolognese I’ve used, and merely a tablespoon or two of finely diced carrots will bring some balance and sweetness to the sauce you’ll appreciate. Once the vegetables are sweated, I’ll add a can of crushed tomatoes, fennel seeds, oregano, and parsley. I should also be adding basil here, and I swear I had some but after searching through the kitchen, none can be found, so we’ll do without. Also add back in the par cooked sausage, and I’ll cook this on medium high heat until it starts to bubble, then reduce to a simmer for an hour.
Once the sauce is done, I’ll start preheating the oven to 450 degrees, then get out my favorite kitchen tool, my cast iron skillet. I’m going to coat the inside with a liberal amount of olive oil, dust with some corn meal, then set it aside. I’ll roll out my dough to be just a few inches larger around than the skillet, then place it inside. Layer directly on the dough some fresh mozzarella and provolone cheese, about a half a pound each. Shake on a liberal layer of the Parmesan cheese, then ladle in our sauce. We’ll take the sauce to just below the top of the cast iron (I was lucky enough to have made EXACTLY the correct amount of sauce!) then we’ll fold over our remaining dough to cover, making an open pie construction. Brush this extra dough with some olive oil and shake on some dried herbs like oregano, parsley, or basil (if you have it, I didn’t) and some Parmesan cheese again.
I had some extra dough, (side effect of needing to add the extra yeast) so I rolled out the extra dough and tossed it on a sheet pan, docked it, then brushed on some olive oil, dusted with some of my herbs, and a healthy sized layer of cheese. Delicious bread sticks!
Put the deep dish pizza in for about 25-30 minutes, checking every ten. If the top crust gets too brown, cover with aluminum foil and let it continue cooking. About ten minutes before it’s done, put in the breadsticks. Once everything is completed, pull and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. This will allow the pizza to set so that we can cut the pieces without the lava hot sauce flowing all over the place.
Now we’ll slice up the pizza and serve. The breadsticks were a bit dry, so I recommend melting down some butter and warm olive oil with garlic to make an excellent dipping sauce, but your carb and fat heavy dinner is now ready to roll!