This is my Grandma G, circa 1970-something. You can tell it was 1970-something because of the way she’s rocking that paisley dress, and by my Uncle Tom’s sideburns in the background. Check out his sweater vest.
My cousins and my kids call her Nonna, her name is Lena (short for Angelena), but my brother and I have always known her as Grandma G. She was born in Chicago to immigrant parents, and didn’t speak a word of English when she got to school. She said all the kids made fun of her and called her stupid and dirty and that’s why, when my dad, aunt & uncle were little, she only allowed them to speak English. And that’s why I don’t know Italian. So don’t make fun of people just because they don’t speak the same language as you. It’s mean and ignorant.
Now, anyone who knows my grandma also knows that she used to make the best pizza on the planet. It’s a fact. It’s also a fact that no one is able to duplicate it. She has taught me so much about cooking over the years, and has even tried to teach me how to make pizza. And I tried. I really did. But I have come to this place in my life where I am accepting my limitations, one of them being I will never be able to make Grandma G’s pizza. At least not like she does.
And, believe me, it’s not because she had some recipe hold-out. You know these cooks. There are some who will simply not share a recipe, or, if they do they leave out some secret ingredient or step, so that no one will be able to make whatever-it-is as good as they can. Grandma isn’t like that, and neither am I. We like to share. We’re nice people that way.
Grandma G’s pizza is made in a pan. You spread olive oil in the pan, stretch the dough out and add your ingredients—in a decorative and properly spaced fashion, so that each bite will get you something yummy. Here is a pretty good attempt, but still not quite the same:
This is a recipe I found online. The woman does a video tutorial and is just so…grandma-ish. You’ll love her. Here’s a link: MaryAhearn.com; John’s favorite pizza.
My grandma used to do this thing where, when the pizza was almost done, she would slide the whole thing out of the pan, right onto the oven rack, to make the crust crispy. I tried to do that once. It was a disaster. Don’t ask.
I think part of the problem, and this was Grandma’s idea, is that the water here in the desert is different than it is in the Midwest. That and the whole humidity thing. Back in Chicago, you can make your dough early, let it rise, punch it down and let it rise again, form it into whatever bread or pizza you are making and then let it rise AGAIN before baking. Here, the triple-rise kills the dough. Or at least it does when I do it. I’m not a professional by any means, but I’ve been playing around with this whole dough situation for going on 20 years now.
So I kind of gave up on trying to make Grandma’s pizza, and went about how to make Heidi pizza. My inspiration came from the 2nd-best pizza on the planet: Red’s Tavern in Harvard, Illinois. Bonnie (Red’s wife) makes her pizza sooooo thin, it’s like a crispy cracker. And its just soooooo yummy. I tried many, many times to make a crispy-cracker-thin pizza that was still yummy, and…I failed, many times. Until…
UNTIL…I found this magazine:
Forget the pie. If you find this issue in a yard sale or library bin, GRAB IT! It has the best pizza recipe EVER, and it’s EASY! Better yet, here’s the link: Fine Cooking Create Your Own Pizza Oh my gosh, you are going to love it, you are going to Thank me, so I will just say you’re welcome now: You’re Welcome.
Their recipe is a “Create Your Own.” They give you options, based on your personal tastes, and you make the pizza however you want. Here’s the skinny on the crispy-thin crust, from my experience.
- 1 ¾ Cup warm, not hot water (100℉)
- 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil (yes, EXTRA VIRGIN*) he he that olive oil is inexperienced.
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 ½ tsp. yeast (I just use a whole packet, which is 2 tsp., works fine.)
- 1 ½ tsp. sugar
- 4 ½ C. all-purpose flour (OK, here’s where the dry air makes a diff. I had to cut this down to 4 cups)
Stir the salt, sugar and olive oil into the water, then sprinkle in the yeast, then—and this is the fun part—you can just dump all the flour in at once, and stir it up with a wooden spoon. Look gooey? Good. It’s supposed to. Now cover loosely with plastic wrap (you can spray it with non-stick stuff so it doesn’t stick to the dough later but no biggie). Let rise for 2 hours. OMG are you in a hurry? yeah, no sweat, this will work even if it doesn’t rise that long. I’ve even made it right before I started cooking and it was fine. Doesn’t get as bubbly and stuff, but it’s still pizza. Get over it.
The dough will rise and fall on its own, no need to punch it down. Then you can refrigerate before using, but again, you don’t have to. (Do you get the feeling that I’m a make-it-at-the-last-minute kind of gal?) The dough keeps well in the fridge and, truth be told, it’s even a little better after a day or two.
- 1 28 oz. can of peeled tomatoes in juice (San Marzano style if you can get ’em, if not, just get the store brand)
Pulse tomatoes in a food processor—or right in the can, using a stick blender—and the dump in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and maintain simmer, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes til tomatoes are reduced, and super yummy. You can use the tomatoes that have the basil with them, it comes out pretty yummy.
“But Heidi, why do I have to use whole tomatoes and then dirty up my food processor? Can’t I just buy puréed tomatoes and call it a day?”
Yeah, if you’re a total wuss, and you don’t like good pizza. I mean, why do you have a food processor to begin with? To make f*cking better food, that’s why. Just man up and do it the right way.
You can put Whatever You Want on your pizza!! YAY!!
Really, you can put whatever you want on your pizza. I like good ol’ cheese and sausage, some onions, maybe mushrooms. Just remember, with a thin crust you can’t load it up too heavy or the dough will get weighed down, and won’t slide off your pizza peel. Which leads me to…
- rolling pin
- corn meal
- pizza peel (the wooden paddle)
- pizza stone
First, place your pizza stone in the oven and heat to 450°. You don’t need an expensive stone. I got mine at Big Lots for 10 bucks. First time you use it, you have to heat it gradually—start the oven at 350, then work in increments until you can heat it to 450° for half an hour or so, the hotter the better. (Read the directions that come with your stone.)
Ok, so you have your gooey dough. Grab a handful, about the size of a peach. Place it on your floured counter, and you will probably have to pat it down into a little circle, just like when you were a kid and played with your play-doh. Sprinkle more flour as needed, then roll out the dough with your rolling pin. Keep rolling and flipping your dough over, until it is super thin. You want to make sure to flip it over and move it around, adding flour as needed or it will stick to the counter.
When your dough is about ⅛ inch thick or less, transfer it to your pizza peel which you have GENEROUSLY dusted with cornmeal. The cornmeal acts as a slider for the dough so it won’t stick to the peel. Then you put your toppings on. Sauce, cheese, and whatever else. Don’t put your toppings on before you have your crust on the peel!! You will have to just throw it all in the garbage.
This is what happens when you don’t have enough cornmeal, or part of the peel gets a little olive oil on it:
But we cooked it anyway, and even though it looked goofy, it still tasted good!
The pizza will take about 12-15 minutes to get nice & crispy. I will say, it’s still not as thin and cracker-y as Bonnie’s, or my brother’s favorite (and possibly a contender for best pizza ever): Pizza Bella in Palatine, Il., but, for a home cook who’s still trying to figure things out, it’s pretty damn good. And you know what? We never have leftovers.
I’ll be going to visit Grandma G. next week. She just turned 92! Here is a picture of her in her wedding dress:
And me in the same dress, 50 years later:
She’s an awesome lady. If you have access to a grandma, I highly recommend giving her a hug and thanking her for everything she did. Because I’m sure you don’t even know the half of it.
If I get my act together and can do it on a day when I don’t look like shit, I will have my kids video me making this so you can see the whole process. Until then, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will be happy to be your pizza Dear Abby.
*about olive oil: don’t call it E.V.O.O. Rachael Ray has some good recipes, and seems like a cool person but she bugs the shit out of me. And if you ever say YUMMO around me, I will slap you.
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