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Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

Extract from The Pizza Bible • By Tony Gemignani • Published by Ten Speed Press


$ $ $ $ $
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The Pizza Bible
Makes one 12-inch round skillet pizza; 6 large slices

Several years ago, my World Pizza Champions team got invited to do a pizza-throwing show at Wrigley Field—a major-league honor in a town that takes its pizza so seriously. It was a rainy afternoon, but we had fun anyway, and so did the crowd. That night, Jeff Stolfe, the founder of Connie’s Pizza, invited me to his flagship restaurant for dinner, and that was when I first tasted Connie’s signature cast-iron skillet pies. Later, I tried the city’s other famous skillet pizza at Pequod’s, and this version, which we serve at Capo’s, is my hybrid of those two styles.
It’s like a cross between a Chicago deep-dish and a Sicilian with a touch of Detroit: Chicago because it uses my deep-dish dough. Sicilian because you push the dough out in the pan (rather than rolling it), let it rise, and then bake it partway before you add any cheese or toppings, so you get a completely different texture—much lighter and puffier than deep-dish—from the same dough. And Detroit because I add a rim of crispy almost burnt cheese around the edge, Detroit-style.
One of the nice things about this pizza is that once you parbake the crust, you can let it sit out at room temperature for up to 3 hours before you top it and finish baking. That’s the technique we use at the restaurant, and it makes this pie a great choice for entertaining because you’re halfway done before the guests arrive.
If you want to serve a vegetarian version, you can substitute vegetable shortening for the lard in the pan and in the dough (see Note on Making Vegetarian Deep-Dish Dough) eliminate the sausage, and add more peppers or other sautéed vegetables, like spinach, chard, kale, eggplant, or mushrooms.
In 2014, our chef at Capo’s, Matt Molina, entered the International Pizza Challenge at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas with a cast-iron skillet pizza similar to this one—The Dillinger, made with a burnt sharp-cheddar crust and a four-cheese Hangar One Vodka Smoked Alfredo sauce, topped with chicken, artichoke hearts, red onion, roasted peppers, bacon and broccolini. He not only won the American Pan division, but also went on to win World Champion Pizza Maker of the Year.

Posted by Ten Speed Press Published See Ten Speed Press's 31 projects » © 2021 Tony Gemignani / Ten Speed Press · Reproduced with permission. · Reprinted with permission from The Pizza Bible by Tony Gemignani, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2014 by Sara Remington.

You Will Need

Medium-grind Cornmeal , for dusting 1 ball Chicago Deep-Dish Dough (see accompanying recipe) 2 tsp Lard or vegetable shortening, at room temperature 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 oz Provolone Cheese , sliced (1 slice) 4 oz Sweet Fennel Sausage(s) (see accompanying recipe) 1 tsp Finely chopped Garlic 6 oz Part-skim Mozzarella Cheese , shredded (1-1/2 cups) 3 oz white Cheddar Cheese , preferably Cabot, shredded (scant 1 cup) 2 oz Whole-milk Ricotta Cheese , preferably New York– style Polly-O or Ricotta Cream(see accompanying recipe) at room temperature 3/10 cup Sautéed Red Peppers (see accompanying recipe) ½ cup Deep-Dish Tomato Sauce (see accompanying recipe) warm Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese , for dusting Dried Oregano , for dusting Red Pepper Flakes , for dusting
1 ball Chicago Deep-Dish Dough
4 ½ g Active Dry Yeast 70 g Warm Water (80°F to 85°F) 430 g All-purpose Flour with 12 percent protein, preferably Ceresota 23 g Medium-grind Cornmeal 9 g diastatic Malt Powder 18 g Lard , cut into small pieces, at room temperature 18 g European-style unsalted Butter , preferably 82 percent butterfat, cut into small pieces, at room temperature 202 g Ice Water , plus more as needed 9 g Fine Sea Salt
Sweet Fennel Sausage
1 ½ tbsp Fennel Seeds 1 ½ tbsp Anise seeds 1 tsp Fine Sea Salt 2 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper 2 ½ tbsp Cold Water 2 lbs Medium-grind Pork shoulder 2 tbsp Honey
Sautéed Red Peppers
1 (8 ounce or 255 gram) large red Bell Pepper Olive Oil , for sautéing Fine Sea Salt
Deep-Dish Tomato Sauce
6 oz Tomato Paste , preferably Saporito Super Heavy Pizza Sauce 3 oz Ground Tomatoes , preferably 7/11 or DiNapoli ¾ tsp Dried Oregano Pinch of fine Sea Salt ½ tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil 9 oz Hand-crushed Tomatoes
1 ½ tsp Minced Garlic ¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Step 1

    Remove the dough ball from the refrigerator and leave wrapped at room temperature until the dough warms to 50°F to 55°F. This should take about 1 hour.
    Smear the lard on the bottom and sides of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (measure the skillet from side to side of the top edge). Spread the olive oil over the lard.
    Dust the work surface with a generous amount of cornmeal, then transfer the dough to the surface. Coat both sides of the dough with cornmeal, and put the dough in the prepared pan. Using the fingertips of both hands, push the dough outward from the center to fill the bottom of the pan evenly. Set the uncovered pan in a warm spot for 1 to 11/2 hours, until the dough has risen slightly.
    Meanwhile, set up the oven with two pizza stones or baking steels and preheat to 500°F for 1 hour. Place the skillet on the bottom stone and bake for 10 minutes until golden brown.
    Remove from the oven (the baked dough can rest in the pan for up to 3 hours, but remember to preheat the oven for 1 hour before continuing). Tear the provolone into 8 pieces and arrange them on the pizza, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Pinch nickel-size pieces of the sausage and distribute them evenly over the cheese. Scatter the garlic over the top, and then sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the sausage. Stack the Cheddar around the edge of the dough; you want it to rise slightly up the sides of the pan.
    Place the skillet on the top stone for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
    Meanwhile, put the ricotta in a pastry bag with a 1/4-inch opening or plain tip.
    Remove the skillet from the oven and quickly scatter the red peppers over the pizza. Place the skillet on the bottom stone and bake for 3 to 6 minutes, until the cheese around the edge of the pan is charred.
    Remove from the oven and run a long metal spatula around the inside of the pan to loosen the pizza from the pan. Then, using the spatula, and being careful not to pierce the bottom of the crust, lift the pizza from the pan and transfer it to a cutting board.
    Using a rocking cutter or a serrated knife, cut the pizza into 6 large wedges, leaving them in place. Spoon dollops of the tomato sauce around the pizza, then pipe quarter-size dollops of ricotta on each slice. Finish with a light dusting of pecorino, oregano, and pepper flakes and a drizzle of garlic oil.

  • Step 2

    Chicago Deep-Dish Dough

    Makes 27 ounces (770 grams ), enough for 1 deep-dish pizza
    I make all of my Chicago doughs with Ceresota flour, an unbleached, unbromated all-purpose flour made from hard red winter wheat. (It is branded Ceresota in Illinois and elsewhere but is sold under the brand name Heckers in the Northeast). It’s a relatively low-gluten flour in the 12 percent range that is the traditional choice of Chicago pizzerias. It’s also the flour I specify when training and certifying pizzaiolos in Chicago pizza at my school. If you can’t find it, substitute another good quality unbleached all-purpose flour for Chicago doughs.

    Some Chicago pizzas use cooked potato or semolina in the dough and no cornmeal, but my flour-and-cornmeal dough is my favorite way to go. It’s made without a starter, and, unlike most pizza doughs, its flavor and texture come more from fat than from yeast, making it a bit like a cross between a pizza dough and a pie crust. I’ve found that equal parts butter and lard make for the best flavor and texture.

    Note that this dough needs to proof for at least 24 hours; it will be even better if left for up to 48 hours.

    Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the warm water, and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds. The yeast should dissolve in the water and the mixture should foam. If it doesn’t and the yeast granules float, the yeast is “dead” and the mixture should be discarded.

    Begin again with a fresh amount of yeast and water.
    Combine the flour, cornmeal, and malt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer running on the lowest speed, add the lard and butter and mix for 1 minute.

    Pour in most of the ice water, reserving about 2 tablespoons, followed by the yeast-water mixture. Pour the reserved water into the yeast bowl, swirl it around to dislodge any bits of yeast stuck to the bowl, and add to the mixer.

    Continue to mix the dough at the lowest speed for about 1 minute, until most of the dough comes together around the hook. Stop the mixer. Use your fingers to pull away any dough that clings to the hook, and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a bowl scraper or rubber spatula.

    Add the salt and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute to combine.
    Check the bottom of the bowl for any unincorporated flour. Turn the dough over and press it into the bottom of the bowl to pick up any stray pieces.

    Stop the mixer, pull the dough off the hook, and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. If there is still unincorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl, sprinkle with a very small amount of water and mix for 1 minute.

    Use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to an unfloured work surface, then knead it for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth. Cover the dough with a damp dish towel and let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

    Use a dough cutter to loosen the dough and move it to the scale. You will need 27 ounces (770 grams) of dough. You may have a little extra dough.

    Form the dough into a ball and set it on a half sheet pan. Wrap the pan airtight with a double layer of plastic wrap, sealing the wrap well under the pan. Put the pan in a level spot in the refrigerator and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

    Note on Making Vegetarian Deep-Dish Dough: You can substitute 18 grams vegetable shortening for the lard.

  • Step 3

    Sweet Fennel Sausage

    Makes 2 pounds (910 grams )
    Along with my Calabrese Honey Sausage, this one gets used throughout my menus and all through this book. Both are flavored with a bit of honey, which adds a msubtle sweetness and also helps keep the meat juicy as it cooks. Buy medium-grind pork, or even better, buy pork shoulder and ask the butcher to double grind it, first through a 1/2-inch die and then through a 3/8-inch die. If you’d like to case this sausage, follow my directions on page 56. Many people, including a lot of professionals, are surprised when I tell them that I never use cooked sausage in a pizza (unless it’s a sliced cooked link). Raw sausage, when added in the quantity and piece size I call for, cooks perfectly in the time allotted.

    Grind the fennel seeds lightly in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, leaving some texture. Transfer them to a small bowl. Repeat with the anise seeds but grind them a bit finer, then add to the bowl.
    Neither spice should be ground to a powder. Add the salt and pepper and stir in the water. Adding water will help to incorporate the spices evenly into the pork.
    Put the pork into a large bowl and top with the spice mixture. Using your hands, work the spices evenly into the meat. Add the honey and mix again.
    Cook a small amount of the sausage in a small skillet or a microwave and taste. Adjust the seasonings to your taste. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours, until cold, or for up to 2 days before using.
    For longer storage, wrap the sausage airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.

  • Step 4

    Sautéed Red Peppers
    Makes 3/4 cup (110 grams )

    Cut the sides off the red pepper. Discard the stem, ribs, and seeds. Cut the flesh lengthwise into strips 1/4 inch wide.
    Heat a generous film of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and a generous pinch of salt and stir to coat the peppers with the oil. Once the peppers begin to sizzle, cook, stirring often, for about 6 minutes, until they are tender and caramelized.
    The peppers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

  • Step 5

    Deep-Dish Tomato Sauce
    Makes 2-1/4 cups (510 grams )

    It’s best to make this uncooked sauce when you make your dough and then refrigerate it overnight so the flavors can come together.

    How to Make Hand-Crushed Tomatoes
    Start with the best canned plum or pear tomatoes you can find. I recommend Valoroso or DiNapoli brands. Or, if you have great fresh tomatoes, check out the roasting method in my Early Girl Tomato Sauce recipe on page 141. Whether you start with canned or cooked fresh tomatoes, you’ll want to rinse your hands frequently as you work, so set up your station near the sink or have a bowl of cold water nearby. Put a strainer over a bowl. Working over a second bowl, lift a tomato, pinch off the head (stem end) and any unripe areas, and let those pieces drop into the bowl. Some tomatoes may not be deep red. I prefer not to use those, but it’s your call. Open up the tomato, remove any skins, seeds, or tough sections and add them to your discard bowl. Break the cleaned tomato into small pieces or strips and put them in the strainer. Keep in mind that these will not be blended, so if they look too coarse for your taste, run them through your fingers to make smaller pieces. Continue cleaning and crushing tomatoes until you have the amount called for in your recipe. Press gently on the tomatoes to strain as much liquid as possible. Discard the contents of the discard bowl and the bowl below the strainer. One 28-ounce can of tomatoes should yield 1 generous cup (250 grams) crushed tomatoes.

  • Step 6

    Makes 1/4 cup (60 grams )
    Garlic oil is one of my favorite “secret ingredients” for finishing pizzas. It’s quick and easy to make, but it’s best made at least an hour in advance. The longer you leave it, the more the garlic flavor infuses into the oil, so I recommend making it a day ahead, at the same time you make your sauce.

    Combine the garlic and oil in a small bowl. Cover and store in the refrigerator for a day or two.

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