I caught the cooking bug early in my childhood. As a kid I had a lot of positive food influences, including a big garden in my yard where I learned to harvest and can vegetables, lots of gourmet magazines and cookbooks, and my mom. My mom is both a practical and creative cook with a sense of adventure. Both of my parents were from small towns, so they were never exposed to the sophistication of big-city fine dining, but good, simple, healthy food was always a part of our family’s life.
My mom stayed at home until my youngest brother was born. Until that point, she spent most of her time taking care of us brats and working the homestead. A big portion of that “taking care of us” time was spent cooking. When my mom cooked, she cooked big–and I mean physically. There were five of us in my family, four of us boys with big appetites. I’m sure that the need to feed a crew of that size good food had something to do with my mom purchasing the Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza Maker Kit back in 1978.
The pizza kit came with a deep-dish pan, a special clamp to pull the hot pizza out of the oven, and a recipe book. That book–with grease splotches and pencil and pen tick marks next to the ingredients, compiled over years of use–holds some of the very first recipes I ever prepared on my own. The recipes for the incredibly savory, cheese and onion dough that makes up the two blankets of aromatic crust and the slightly sweet, not-too-chunky sauce with just the right amount of oregano will always have a place in my repertoire.
Sometime, probably around the time I was 11 or 12, when my mom started working outside of the home, I was left with the task of looking after my two younger brothers. It was during this time that I began taking an interest in some of the cooking shows that were on television and reading through our library of cookbooks, magazines, and recipes to make lunch for my brothers and eventually, dinner for my parents. I began to really enjoy the process of cooking. I loved handling the ingredients, chopping things, and watching the recipes evolve into a finished product. Most of all, I loved sharing my food with other people and seeing their reactions when eating it. To a kid with the blessing of his mother to have full range of the kitchen, what better thing to cook up than a hulking, stuffed, deep-dish pizza?
And so this recipe became the “stuffed of legends.” Not to be confused with my wife, Chelsea’s, “Stuffed of Life.” Although I haven’t made this recipe in at least 20 years, I’ve always had a place in my heart for it. I’ve told Chelsea about it a million times, and it has always been one of those things that I’ve promised to make for her. She finally got her wish–and helped in the preparations–and I got to experience the sight, smell, texture, and flavor of the pizza once again thanks to my mom, who brought the recipe book to me this past weekend. If you want the recipe you’ll have to visit our pleasant house. In all seriousness, it’s a simple recipe, and if this post inspires you to roll up your sleeves and make a deep-dish at home, you can use any pizza dough recipe or store-bought dough, your own sauce recipe, or even store-bought sauce (I recommend Pastorelli).
One note: The original pizza kit is from Sassafras Enterprises, Inc. in Evanston, Ill. Via email last weekend, the founder of the company informed me that the original Sassafras pizza-making kit was the influence for the many products that her company now specialises in–children’s products for baking–and Sassafras strongly believes “that there is a resurgence in home cooking and kids are leading the way!” I would have to agree.