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  • Nikhil Dhawan

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza!

It's April 25, and we're exactly 41 days into the lockdown. The first lockdown that is.

Before Covid, Reema and I dabbled with ordinary cooking but never really attempted anything too "out of the box." In the first few days, we realized that two of the things we missed most about pre-Covid life, besides humans, were traveling and eating unique foods.

For example, locally, we missed the Spicy Bird from Umami Burger and the Kimchi Quesadilla from Alibi Room. Internationally, we were craving the pasta we ate in Italy, shawarma's from Greece, and the list goes on.

Today's story picks up on day 41. By this point, we've already made burgers, pizzas, pasta, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, enchiladas, fish, and so on—those stories to be shared soon.

But first, one thing Reema had been missing for a while now was home. She was missing the fam and craving her childhood favorite nostalgic deep dish pizza from Giordano's in Chicago. We thought to try getting it shipped, but the website showed it was out of stock.

Finally, we thought, "Hey, why don't we try making it?" By this point of quarantine, we had made several meals that all turned out surprisingly tasty, giving us the confidence to keep pushing our limit. Reema has a history of cooking and baking, but I would consider myself an amateur. I'm a regular person just like any of you, who realized that I had the time and patience to follow directions and make some yummy food.

After pulling up several different recipes online, we settled on our top two. The first was from Sally's Baking Addiction, and the second was from Savory Tooth. The total time it would take was 4.5 hours, which seems intimidating, but luckily the actual work is about an hour. Most of the time is for the dough to rise and eventually bake.

If I was in your shoes, I'd start the process of getting the dough ready a few hours before you plan to eat. That way, the prep and assembly flow more smoothly.

Step one was funny because we had just gotten some groceries delivered. Remember, this was early COVID when you had to unpack everything at the front door and sanitize all of it before you put it away. It was late afternoon on a Sunday, and Reema had started wiping down the groceries.

I was about to help when she asked, "Do you want to start with the dough? Because it needs to rest and rise." Now, I was obviously down because I love challenges, but I was surprised that she was trusting me with the dough. I asked, "are you sure, dough?" Did she really want to put her deep dish pizza dreams in my ability to pull off the dough? She responds, "I suck at the dough, and you're randomly really good at it."

Surprised, I put on an apron (it's the best because you can keep wiping your hands on yourself) and started to familiarize myself with the recipe. Let's be honest, between you and me, I had no idea what I was doing. I had NEVER used active yeast in my life. When she said I was good with dough, she was referring to the pasta making classes we took in Italy, but that was partly because I find kneading to be enjoyable (and therapeutic). And probably the vino!

For the next few minutes, all I did was follow directions and make some minor adjustments. Firstly, I was using a recipe that made two pizzas. We were only making one because we only had 1 springform pan (I didn't even know it was called that until this very day). So I had to cut the recipe in half. Secondly, we always try to substitute for healthier options wherever we can, for example, using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. Or, in baking, using coconut sugar instead of white sugar.

For the sake of this post, I'll share the recipe for 2 pizzas. If you decide to make more or less, you can adjust for quantity. If you're just reading for fun, you can still read the ingredients and preparation to get a sense of the journey. Happy salivating!

Ingredients for the dough (for TWO pizzas):

3 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I sub'd 2 of the cups for whole wheat)

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 and 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 standard packet of Red Star)

1 and 1/4 cups slightly warm water (no more than 90 degrees, otherwise it will kill the yeast)

1/2 cup of unsalted butter, divided (I used Kerrygold-1/4 cup melted, the other 1/4 cup at room temp)

Olive Oil for coating

Preparation for the dough:

Baking this type of pizza is like a science experiment. You put in the different powders, add water at a specific temperature, and then a certain amount of butter at a particular temperature.

The first step is to melt the 1/4 cup of butter in the microwave and let it cool. You'll need it soon, but don't want it too hot; otherwise, it will kill the yeast. Also, preheat your oven to 250° (121 C); once it reaches 250°, turn it off. You'll need a warm environment for your dough to rise, so the oven should be ready when step 1 is complete.

Now, grab a big mixing bowl and toss in the flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast. Since it's dry, you can just use your hand or a wooden spoon to mix it up. If you have a hand or stand mixer, then you can set it on low. The first couple of times we made it, I used my hands to knead, but now we have a stand mixer, making things easier.

After blending the dry ingredients together, add the warm water and the 1/4 cup of melted butter. Continue with a mixer on low for 4-5 minutes, or knead by hand until the dough is soft and agile.

This is where things become surprisingly simpler than one would imagine. Lightly grease a large mixing bowl with olive oil, and place the dough inside, turning it so that all sides are coated in the oil. Cover the bowl tightly with aluminum foil and put it in the oven (make sure the oven is off but warm). Close the oven and let the dough rise for 1-2 hours or until it doubles in size.

Now, cross your fingers and do a silly dance in your kitchen; remember the yeast is alive and active. You should be too! By the way, if you're not already drinking wine or listening to an Italian cooking playlist, now would be an excellent time to take a deep breath and bust out the goods. Cheers! Salute!

If you completed this step well before eating, then take the next 2 hours to chill or finish up anything else you'd like. The subsequent steps can be completed during the 1-hour rise that takes place after this round.

Continued Preparation for the dough:

Once the dough has risen to double its size, remove from the oven and lightly flour a large work surface. Remove from the bowl, but keep the bowl and foil to the side to use again. Place the dough on the floured work surface and gently press down the dough, removing any air bubbles, while spreading it to a 15x12 inch rectangle. Remember that other 1/4 cup of unsalted butter that we brought to room temperature? It's time to spread that all over the dough. I usually use as much as I can to cover the dough, but I don't manage to use all of it, so no pressure! Save it for later.

Now, roll up the dough into a log and cut it in half. Form the dough into balls and place back into the greased bowl. Cover with foil and allow it to continue rising in the refrigerator for another hour. Crazy, huh? So much rising!

Moving on to the next components of this yumminess. After sanitizing and organizing the groceries, Reema started making homemade tomato sauce. We're saucy folk, and we enjoy our deep dish hot and wet, so we definitely upped the quantity. Reema's favorite from Chicago is spinach and cheese, but we only made one pizza the first time around, so we thought we'd make half of that and half with guanciale. That's basically spicy salami cut up and tossed about on a cast iron skillet until it becomes crispy.

Let's start with the tomato sauce. If you know what flavors you like, make whatever adjustments necessary. We love herbs, spices, and dipping sauce for the side, so we doubled everything, but I'll share the original recipe for now.

Ingredients for the sauce (we doubled everything):

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (We used Kerrygold)

1/3 cup of onion, grated

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (tone this down if you can't handle spice)

3 garlic cloves (minced)

1 Box of POMI Chopped Tomatoes (26.5oz)

1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

Preparation for the sauce:

Bust out a medium saucepan and place butter inside over medium heat, allowing it to melt. Once melted, add the grated onion, salt, oregano, and red pepper flakes. After about 5 minutes, the onion will start to brown, then add the garlic, tomatoes, and sugar. Turn the heat down to low-medium and allow it to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until it's fragrant and thick. Remove from heat and set aside until it's ready to be used.

The main components of the pizza: the dough, and sauce, are well on their way now. What remains is the filling. I'm sharing 3 types of filling, but the tomato sauce and dough are only for two, so pick what sounds good and make accordingly! The spinach recipe is from Savory Tooth, and the guanciale recipe we made up on the spot, inspired by a meal we had in Italy. The third is a ground lamb variation that we made on our most recent attempt. It's quickly escalated to one of my favorites!

Ingredients for the spinach (Full Pizza):

8 ounces baby spinach (we've used frozen and fresh, so it's up to you)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Olive oil for sauté purposes

Preparation for the spinach:

Brush some olive oil on a sauté pan to begin. Add the spinach, garlic powder, oregano, basil, and salt. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until it's shrunk and ready. Don't forget to drain the spinach in a colander to avoid the pizza becoming soggy.

Ingredients for the guanciale-pork (Full Pizza):

4-6 oz any brand of spicy salami (or whatever uncured meat you like)

Oil for cooking

Preparation for the guanciale:

Thinly cut the salami (each round can be cut into 3-5 pieces). Sprinkle oil on a cast iron skillet, let it heat over medium-high. Add the salami and let it cook, tossing occasionally. In about 4-6 minutes, it will become darker. We don't like it too crispy, so I set out a plate with a paper towel on top and let the guanciale drain. If you want it extra crispy, you can keep it on longer.

Ingredients for the ground lamb (Full Pizza):

3/4 lb of ground lamb (we always get 1 lb and have leftovers with the sauce!)

3 teaspoons of fennel seeds

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

Salt to taste

Preparation for the ground lamb:

Oil a pan over medium-high. Add the lamb and let it cook. Break it up and toss often, allowing it to cook evenly. Within 5-7 minutes, the lamb should be cooked. At this point, move some of the lamb around to create an open space on the pan. Tilt the pan to allow the oil to enter the empty space. Now, add the fennel seeds, oregano, and basil. Let the herbs toast in this oil for 2 minutes, tossing occasionally. Now combine the lamb with the spices and salt to taste. Add 2 cups of the freshly made tomato sauce to the lamb and let it simmer.

All the hard work is paying off, so let's slow down on the story-telling and speed up the eating process. Next, we'll assemble, bake, and finally EAT! Speaking of baking now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 425°. Can you imagine me salivating the first time we made this? It definitely takes patience :)

Ingredients for the assembly:


Tomato Sauce


4 cups of thickly grated mozzarella (or fresh balls for the lamb)

Parmesan for garnishing

Crushed red peppers for garnishing

Oregano to taste

Fresh basil to taste

Preparation for the assembly:

By now, the dough balls have risen in the refrigerator and should be a little puffy. Roll each one out on a lightly floured work surface, working them into 12-inch circles. Use a rolling pin if needed and place over your 9x2 inch deep dish cake pan (or springform pan). Use your fingers to press though dough gently into the pan, making sure it is nice and tight-fitting inside the pan. Brush the top edges of the dough with a little olive oil, which will give the crust a nice sheen after baking.

Let's begin filling! The lamb pizza has a slightly different assembly, so don't follow these steps for that one. For the spinach or guanciale, start by putting some of the cheese and then adding the filling. Add some more cheese, then sauce based on your preference. Finish the pizza's by sprinkling parmesan to taste.

Now, for the lamb pizza, start by filling the meat. Leave a little space between the top of the crust and how much you fill. Then top with mozzarella balls and basil to taste.

Place the cake pans on a large baking sheet (not required, just in case anything spills-which it usually doesn't). Bake for 20-28 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. We baked it for about 25 and gave it a peak, then let it bake for another 2 minutes.

We're almost there! Remove from the oven when the desired bake has been reached. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes, then slice, take a bite, and soak it all in. Take a moment to realize that you made a deep-dish pizza with your mind, body, time, and effort!

Reema and I were insanely impressed with our turn out the first time. The second time was average, maybe because we went in with higher expectations, but the third time was the best! Don't be too hard on yourself if it didn't turn out the way you hoped, but try and see what it might be that could be adjusted. Personally, I think this was one of the most challenging recipes we've ever pulled off. Maybe one day, we'll serve it at "Quarantine Cafe."

It's funny that we made this pizza back in April. But before I even got around to writing this story, we went and ate the actual Giordano's Pizza. In mid-October, Reema and I hopped in a car and drove cross-country to Chicago and surprised her family! I'll save the road trip stories for another post, but we ate Giordano's twice on that trip.

I'd love to know if you're planning on attempting this pizza at home or how it turned out if you've already made it. I'm also happy to answer any questions you might have.

Lastly, let me know if you would try it at "Quarantine Cafe!" I hope you enjoyed this window into our chef adventures; much more to come! What cooking story do you want to read next?


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