Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza – Cooks Illustrated

I love Valentines Day. I really do.

I don’t understand the seemingly widespread dislike of it (at least judging by my Facebook feed this year!) and the accusations of it being ‘commercialised’ and ‘invented by card shops’ as it clearly isn’t, it dates back to the Middle Ages!  I especially don’t understand people who say “I don’t need a set day to tell my other half I love them.” Fair enough, none of us do. Or we shouldn’t. Me and Ben say I love you every day, often multiple times a day, but still we enjoy a chance to celebrate our love and spoil each other. And, I love the idea that lots of other couples all around the world are doing it at the same time.

So, V-Day 2012. Bit of an annoyance as it was a Tuesday night, possibly the most un-romantic day of the week. But we made it work. We decided against going out for dinner and paying extortionate amounts for a lame-o set menu with a ‘free’ glass of lukewarm bubbly and opted instead to stay in with a home-cooked dinner. I’d had an idea in my head for quite some time and I decided Valentines Day would be the perfect time to put it into action.

When we were in Florida in October we unwittingly ordered a pizza one night that would go on to become the pizza by which all other pizzas would be judged. It was a Chicago style, deep dish stuffed pizza from Giordano’s; original cheese with added pineapple (don’t ask, it’s Ben’s favourite pizza topping…) and when it arrived we were a little gobsmacked:

 

The thing was huge! And so heavy! I swear it weighed at least half a stone. We forced down a slice each while staring in horror at the side order of mozzarella sticks that had seemed like a good addition when we ordered, before admitting defeat. The rest of the pizza (and the mozzarella sticks…) were carefully placed in the fridge in our hotel room for the next day. The only problem was, we were never really hungry enough for it! Largely due to the amazingly huge American portion sizes. Sadly, we had to throw the majority of the remainder away! (Ben bravely managed to squeeze in a slice late one afternoon.)

We haven’t stopped talking about that pizza since. Unfortunately, it seems you cannot get a deep dish stuffed pizza over here for love nor money so it was becoming clear that my only option would be to create it from scratch myself – a nerve-wracking concept as the only time I’d made pizza dough was at school! A depressingly long time ago.

A couple of weeks before Valentines Day I was so excited about my big plans that I designed a little menu for the evening and gave it to Ben whose face lit up when he read it. I added a spinach and artichoke dip for a starter, (another hard-to-find favourite from our holiday!) Mickey rice krispie treats for dessert (these need no introduction for hardened Disney fans but if you are not, have a look here) and a dress code of ‘Disney’ which we actually didn’t really follow as we decided to dress up nicely instead.

On the Monday night I was in the kitchen for three long hours preparing most of the food, so that I could enjoy a nice relaxed evening with my sweetie the next night. Up first was the dough. I had my beautiful pink Macbook Pro on the side with about 8 tabs open, all holding different blogger’s versions of the Cooks Illustrated recipe, plus a YouTube video of the pizzas being made. You know, just in case.

Here is the Cooks Illustrated recipe that I followed, kindly posted by Thirty Bucks a Week. I chose it firstly because it seemed to be universally popular with multiple accounts of successful recreations, and secondly because it made two 9′ pizzas which coincided nicely with my Mum’s two 9′ cake pans.

First up, all the dough ingredients went into the bowl of my Mum’s brand new super shiny KitchenAid where they were mixed into a lovely plump ball.

I left it to rise for an hour while I got on with prepping the other two courses. When I took it out it looked like this – unintentionally heart-shaped, how quaint!

Next up was the laminating – spreading a thin layer of butter on the dough and then rolling it up to make the dough flaky, buttery and crusty. Mmmmm. Worked perfectly!

I split the dough in two, rolled them into perfect little ovals and placed them side by side in a bowl in the fridge where they would sit patiently  overnight, awaiting their grand reveal on V-Day.

Fast-forward 24 hours…

Ben arrived at my house and we decided to get the evening off to a good start by cracking open a bottle of bubbly (interestingly, the reward at my works Christmas Party for being the proud owner of ‘Highest Hemline!’) and toasting our love 🙂

Then it was time to get down to business! I removed the laminated, risen dough from the fridge and rolled both balls out into discs. I then impressed Ben immensely by managing to whip the dough onto the cake tins first time using the classic rolling pin trick. Genius!

I flattened the dough into each cake tin and it fit perfectly. Check out that hiiiiighhhh crust!

Domestic Goddess.

It was shortly after this photo was taken that a minor disaster happened. I went into the fridge to get the mozzarella out to start layering on the dough…and there was not a shred of mozzarella in sight. Oops! We must have left it in Ben’s fridge…at his house…15 minutes away by car when you haven’t had the best part of half a bottle of champagne. I started to panic with visions of a cheese-less deep dish pizza and a ruined Valentines Day.

But, I needn’t have worried. Ben to the rescue! Before I could say ‘lets just use cheddar’ his trainers were on, coat zipped up and he was out the door and halfway up the street on the way to the shop. I wandered nervously around the kitchen while he was gone, sipping my champagne and silently praying that the shop (Tesco Express) would sell sufficient amounts of grated mozzarella (the C.I recipes calls for a pound of the stuff!)

In no time at all he was back, two bags of grated mozzarella AND a bonus ball of buffalo mozzarella, “because it was cheap.” God I love you. We were back in business!

I made two pizzas with different fillings so we could experiment a bit. One was plain cheese with one half topped with pineapple (to recreate the magic of Giordano’s) and the other had sliced Quorn sauasges in between the (homemade!!) tomato sauce and the cheese. We layered the pizza, cheese, filling, tomato sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan, and they were ready for the oven. As they cooked, we ate our spinach and artichoke dip which I’m afraid I neglected to photograph because frankly, mozzarella-gate had somewhat thrown me off course. It was really lovely though.

In a perfect timings situation, our pizzas were ready just as we finished our dip. You just can’t make that stuff up. I left them on the side to cool for a bit as we cleared away the dip debris, as advised by my fellow stuffed-pizza-makers. This would make them easier to slice. I took the opportunity to take some photos while we waited and honestly you’d have thought they were newborn twins in the baby ward the amount of cooing and ahhing that took place as we gazed at them.

Twin number one – Sausage (odd name for a baby but this is 2012)

Crust!!

And Twin number two – Plain, half pineapple

And the finale of any deep dish pizza recipe…innards shots!

They were incredible. Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy! The crust was perfect – it tasted EXACTLY like the Giordano’s one…dare I say it, better! It was flaky, buttery and rich. Delicious. It cooked perfectly in the amount of time stated on the recipe too even though I was afraid the bottom wouldn”t crisp up, it did! The tomato sauce was probably the best one I’ve ever tasted – grating the onion and cooking it really slowly as per the recipe made it so intense and deep, I’m glad I didn’t buy a sauce like I was originally planning to.

Obviously this makes a lot of pizza so we had leftovers for the next day…and the next! Easily fed 2 of us for 3 meals.

I was so thrilled that my pizzas had turned out perfectly that I didn’t even care about dessert! Honestly, I was on a dough-based cloud 9. But, I had a boy to feed, and dessert was the cutest part!

Check out these babies 🙂

Mickey and Minnie cake pop rice krispy treat…things. In my head they were a lot more polished and less…homemade looking…but that, I think, is the beauty of them! They were super easy to make – I melted a jar of Marshmallow Fluff, mixed it with rice krispies and moulded them into tiny little balls – a very difficult task; the fluff mixture was so sticky that they just stuck to my hands and not to each other! Eventually I got them to stick, dipped them in a mixture of chocolate and cream and stuck chocolate buttons on as ears. In a stroke of genius, I added heart-shaped cupcake decorations for Minnie’s bow 🙂

They looked really cute on the plate and they were really delicious but we’d unfortunately eaten so much pizza that we could only manage once each! These also worked well as leftovers so in fact our Valentines Day stretched to accommodate the best part of the week!

Overall, a very successful Valentines Day and one of our best to date. Happy Valentines Day Ben, roll on next year!

Tortilla Pizza

And now for some actual food! For my first post I’ve decided to talk about one of my favourite recipes.

I can’t remember where I first heard of this “recipe” (if you can call it that) but it immediately struck me as a genius idea. As someone who is trying to cut down on her intake of excessive carbs (white rice, pasta, bread, thick, toasted crusty bread spread with lashings of melting Lurpak….oh) the concept of replacing said excessive carbs with slightly less excessive carbs was a welcome one.

It also needs to be said that I absolutely LOVE pizza. Any pizza, I’m not fussy or picky, as long as it has a base and a topping, I’m game. I’d possibly go so far as to say I could eat pizza 7 days a week, a dream that does not go unnoticed by my boyfriend who when asking me what I fancy for dinner has to first put up with the inevitable suggestive singsong of “piiiiizzaaaaaaaa?”

A recent obsession of mine is the surely heavensent Padana from Pizza Express.

“rich goat’s cheese, spinach and red onion with tangy caramelised onion confit and a drizzle of garlic oil”

Now I know it doesn’t sound like much but this combination of ingredients is nothing short of fabulous. The onion confit is the absolute highlight, making each mouthful deliciously sweet and tangy in contrast with the softly comforting goats cheese.

Here is a picture of this stunning delicacy:

 

 

So one night when we fancied pizza, I remembered a recipe I used to make at University that used a tortilla as the base. Obviously this is a lot less calories than regular pizza dough and as an added bonus (unusual for diet food) it is also delicious, especially if you like thin crust pizzas as it is about the thinnest crust you can get!

A word of advice – make some marks in the tortilla with a knife before you put it in the oven; the first time we didn’t do this and the tortilla blew up in the middle, not unlike a pufferfish.

The tortilla cooks for about 5 minutes til it is firm and not soft in the middle. Then, you can put on any toppings you like! Obviously following my expensive Padana obsession I have most recently been using ingredients similar to these, but in the past I have successfully used plain old cheese and pepperoni, roasted vegetables and the weird but fiercely defended ham and pineapple.

But, for a Padana style tortilla pizza, I start by covering the base with a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste.

I then caramelise onions very slowly for about half an hour til they are so soft and so sweet that I could just eat them right out of the pan.

Then, the onion confit. Sadly, the closest I could get to a “caramelised onion confit” was Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference ‘caramelised onion chutney” which was just not the same. It’s nowhere near as sweet as the Pizza Express one which is quite upsetting but I use it anyway for lack of a better alternative.

I add the spinach to the onions until it has wilted and pile it all onto the base in a deliciously messy heap.

Finally, I top with a controlled (very difficult) amount of gorgeous fresh goats cheese and put the pizza into the oven to crisp up and melt the goats cheese.

 

The end result is a perfectly acceptable imitation of the Padana, but for a fraction of the calories and (depending on how controlled you are with your goats cheese!) fat. Whats more, this fact alone makes it deliciously tempting to eat the entire pizza and not even feel a tiny bit bad about it!