Literally, I have been eating pizza like this my whole life. My nonna I am sure learned it from her mom and her mom from her mom, and so forth. When nonna brought the family over from Naples, Italy, (through a marriage of convenience, I might add) in the 1950’s, the recipes and traditions came with them. Like so many first- and second-generation Italians, I am privileged to have grown up with food like this. My passion for food and cooking is a direct result of it, and this is only one of many dishes that make up a large part of my identity.
When my pop, the oldest of nonna’s children, married my mom in the early 1960’s, nonna taught my mom multitudinous recipes in hope that she would carry on the traditions. She did exactly that, and this pizza is one of them. My family had this almost every week and I remember helping my mom cube the mozzarella and spreading the sauce on it. When my pop used to take me to L.A. to visit his extended family, his aunt Franca made the same pizza for us. Every Christmas Eve, this was (and still is, actually) dinner, I think because we weren’t supposed to eat meat on that day. Besides Chuck E. Cheese for friends’ birthday parties, I honestly do not remember ever ordering a pizza because THIS was pizza.
When my mom died of ALS a little over three years ago, my brothers and I eventually got around to dividing her estate and things amongst ourselves. When the round robin had gotten to kitchen items and such, I saw my mom’s two giant 3-ring binders filled with recipes: recipes she never got to cook and ones that she wrote down but never had to look at because she had memorized them. When my turn came up again, I chose the binders of recipes. So much of my childhood is in those pages and I cannot overstate how special these are to me. If you cook with love for your kids, write it all down for them, please. It’s a gift from the heart that keeps on giving (kind of like Clark Griswold’s membership to the Jelly of the Month Club from his boss).
From start to finish, you’re looking at about three hours or so. My guess is that this pizza is unlike anything you’ve had from a restaurant or parlor. Something tells me that New York or New Jersey might prove me wrong on this, but in California, I am pretty sure I’m right.
Dough and the Ingredients
1 package dry active yeast
2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
4 cups of flour, approximately
Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the warm water.
In a big bowl, add the other cup of water, 1 cup of flour, the salt, and the oil, which will make a thin dough starter.
Add the dissolved yeast water and mix it up. Slowly start adding the flour 1/2 cup at a time and mix until you get a good kneading consistency dough.
Place the dough on a floured board and cover with the bowl for 5 minutes. Then, knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding flour on the board to keep the dough from sticking (some of it will stick a bit, but no worry). If you have kids, let them help while you coach them with a glass of vino in your hand.
After 5 minutes of kneading, shape the dough into a ball and put it in a warm oiled bowl and put more oil on top of it (you should have an oiled dough ball). Cover it, put it in a warm spot, and let it double in size, about an hour. Punch it down and let is rise again.
Once it’s risen, cut it in half and you have enough dough for two cookie sheet-size pizzas. If you only are cooking one, put the other half in an oiled bag and refrigerate for later use.
Sauce and Ingredients
1 can regular stewed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp salt and some cracked pepper
You want to make the sauce right after you set the dough to rise. You want it to sit and blend for a while.
In a bowl, squish the tomatoes into small pieces with your fingers. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir it, cover it, and let it party for a while
I made this one with mushrooms and sausage on it, but my mom only put cheese on it.
Preheat the oven to 450°.
Spread the dough lovingly on an oiled pan or cookie sheet (available pans dictate shape).
Next, cut a small ball of mozzarella into 1/2″ cubes and spread it over the dough.
Next, spread the sauce over the cheese to the edges. This is the weird part of this pizza, obviously. Most U.S. pizza is first sauce and then cheese, but this is a different idea with different results.
Here is where my mom would get it ready for the oven. If you want only cheese, drizzle it with some olive oil and put it in there.
If you want toppings, knock yourself out. I grilled up some Italian sausage (and sliced it, obviously) and sliced some mushrooms.
Drizzle it with olive oil and put it in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, checking to make sure the bottom gets crisp.
About 5 minutes before you pull the pizza out, sprinkle some parmesan or romano on it (my mom has romano only in her recipe, which means my nonna made a point of it, but we only have parm right now, so I’m sorry, ancestors. Even in death, you still make me feel guilty for something). Anyway, when it’s done, it looks like this:
See the brown crusts in between the sausages and mushrooms? That’s the cheese and this tastes better than it looks here. It will make-a you scream-a and cream-a you pants, as my pop might say in his Italian accent. Every time I have made this for people, they take a bite and look around saying, “Are kidding me with this?” I’m not.
Cut it into squares and serve.
Drinks: Beer or red wine. I had a San Miguel, a Filipino beer, which makes sense to me only.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
p.s. If you have any comments or you might want to follow this blog, don’t be shy. I want to see where this all goes.