“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.” Anna Quindlen, American journalist and author
There was a time when I all knew of deep-dish pizza was a “pie” my grandmother used to make. It was rich with sauce and cheese and had cornmeal in the crust. She baked it in a Pyrex pie plate in an oven so hot she had to put the finished product in a steel rack to keep it from burning the table when it was time to serve it.
It was wonderful.
Not until I was a teenager did I discover the restaurant version — in a dodgy sort of place two taxi drivers opened just outside of Chicago’s Loop. A fire trap if there ever was one — I have heard the city eventually forced its relocation for this very reason — you had to make your way through narrow stairways connecting multiple levels of dining rooms in order to find a seat.
Every wall, table and even the plastic drink tumblers were covered with entertaining graffiti. People brought Sharpies and nail polish for that very purpose. Sanitary, not exactly. But, the pizza! It, too, was rich with sauce and cheese and had cornmeal in the crust. Even better, it was baked in iron skillets blackened with a wonderful patina.
So, you can imagine my delight when I discovered that Gino’s East is not only still thriving (in several one-story locations, some graffiti free) but is now serving up an amazing vegan version of this Windy City classic. It’s true. I was able to share this amazing food from my childhood with my daughters over the holidays.
And, again at home, where I somehow cobbled together a vegan and gluten-free version that the whole family could enjoy. This recipe will likely be tweaked over time, but it’s shockingly close to Chicago’s real deal. Here it is:
Iron-skillet, deep-dish pizza
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour (for gluten free) OR all-purpose wheat flour (for gluten eaters) with 1/2 cup yellow corn meal. Add 1 Tablespoon dry yeast, 1 Tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix thoroughly.
Add 3/4 cup warm water. Stir, then hand mix/knead until you have a smooth lump of dough. Cover with a clean towel and set aside in a warm place. (In the winter, I recommend putting a cotton sock filled with brown rice and microwaved to a skin-comfortable temperature underneath the bowl for faster rising.)
When the dough has risen at least a half hour (this mixed-grain dough will not rise as dramatically as a wheat-only crust no matter how long you wait), pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
While the oven is heating, add 2 Tablespoons olive oil to a nine-inch iron skillet. Swirl to coat the entire bottom of the skillet and as much of the side as you can without dripping oil. Put the oiled skillet in the oven for 10 minutes to heat. (This critical step allows the crust to carmelize.)
Carefully remove the heated skillet and place it on a burner rack on the stove. Dump the dough into the skillet. Holding the skillet handle with a pot holder on one hand, use an old-fashioned potato masher or the bottom of a Pyrex measuring cup to shape the crust so that it covers the bottom of the skillet and comes all the way up the side like a pie crust. (If you are using a wheat crust instead of gluten free, you will be able to hand shape the dough before you put it in the skillet and just tweak it when it’s in.)
Being careful not to burn yourself on the skillet, cover the bottom of the raw crust with vegan cheese (3 Daiya provolone-style slices cut in half rounds works really well) or whole slices of dairy cheese. (Putting the cheese on the bottom prevents the abundance of sauce from soaking the crust.)
Add whatever toppings you are using. (I used sauteed mushroom bits, but you can see my recipes archives for other vegan pizza topping ideas.) Top the whole thing with 1 1/2 to 2 cups good-quality pasta sauce. (I like Aldi’s organic marinara.)
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown on its top edge and the sauce looks somewhat “set.” So that slices will come out as an actual slice (I am not kidding on this one — you will have a literally hot mess), let the pie cool on a burner rack for 10-15 minutes.
Serves 4-6. Leftovers, as if, refrigerate well.