My Pie, That’s Why

Doesn’t everybody love baby spinach, pineapple and mushrooms on their pizza?  Seriously?  Why not?  Weirdos.

The beauty of Cast Iron Pan Pizzas, though, as dreamt in the January & February 2020 Cook’s Illustrated, is that each pizza is customizable for each person at the table.  In the great deep-dish/thin-crust debate, these pan pizzas definitely side with the former.  Just as well, as it does allow for more toppings.

At various times, both Chicago and New York were home.  While Chicago is more fun, New York makes better pizzas.  That doesn’t prevent pan pizza from carrying the day today, though.  Moreover, in a nod to Gotham, while the crust is thick and chewy, the dynamics of cast iron cooking ensure it also is crispy.  The best of both the City on the Lake, as well as the Five Boroughs.  Ah, Madone!

It all starts with a yeasty crust, proofed overnight in the refrigerator, then pressed into the pan just prior to baking.   The crust is on the bottom only, though, as the sides are formed when cheese sprinkled around the perimeter forms a crisp, lacy wall called a frico.   In between, the sauce, mozzarella and toppings make the pie.  Here’s today’s pizza before it got all crispy-melty-gooey:Raw Pizza

Oh, and a bit “tangy” too.  Not just from the cheese, but from the sauce, freshly made from plump, sweet San Marzano tomatoes and a few other supporting herbs.  As fresh San Marzanos generally are unavailable this far from the boot, and in December, no less, the canned alternative is surprisingly good:

San Marzano Tomatoes

All for one pizza, yes, but within are tastes and textures of every variety imaginable.  The crust’s first crunch, soon giving way to a light pillow-y interior.  Just after, soft, stretchy mozzarella goodness.  The subtle snap of toppings follows, the veggies softened, but not quite subdued.  Finally, you finish with the frico‘s gossamer crackle.

A show just for the senses, but it’s the taste buds that get the real entertainment.  The yeasty base, impeccably bronzed, topped with a tart-sweet sauce humming garlic and oregano.  On to the cheese, creamy with a sustaining hint of tanginess, and finally toppings, which include the fresh spinach, the meaty, savory mushrooms, and the juicy pineapple.  Oh, and don’t forget the just grated Parmigiano Reggiano for that last tease of saltiness.

If you can think of a better way to top a pizza, have fun!  Many routes to crispy, chewy heaven.  Gonna have a tough time, though, beating pineapples, mushrooms and baby spinach.  Hey, it’s my pie.  Ayy- oh, some respect here!


Cast Iron Pan Pizza

For the dough:

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • vegetable oil spray

For the sauce:

  • 1 (14.5)-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes (*1)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pinch red pepper flakes

For the pizza:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (*2)
  • 7 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (*2)
  • additional toppings, as desired (*3)

For the dough, using a rubber spatula, stir together the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl.  Add the warm water and mix until the flour is just moistened.  Using your hands, knead the dough in the bowl until it forma a sticky ball, about a minute.

Spray a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan with vegetable spray.  Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press it into a 7-inch disk.  Spray top of dough with oil spray and cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.

For the sauce, place the tomatoes in a colander and crush them with your hands.  Allow to drain well, then transfer to a food processor.  Add the remaining sauce ingredients and process until smooth, about 30 seconds.

For the pizza, remove the dough from the refrigerator two hours before you’re ready to assemble the pizza.  First, let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Coat the bottom of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with oil.  Transfer the dough to the prepared skillet and use your fingertips to flatten the dough until it’s 1/8-inch from the edge of the skillet.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest until slightly puffy about 90 minutes.

Thirty minutes before baking, adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and preheat oven to 400°.  Spread the sauce evenly over the top of the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border.  Sprinkle Monterey Jack cheese evenly over the border.  Press the cheese onto the side of the skillet, forming a 1/2-inch wall.  Evenly sprinkle mozzarella over the sauce.  Add whatever toppings you choose and bake until the cheese at the edge of the skillet is well-browned, about 25 minutes.

Transfer skillet to stovetop and let sit until the sizzling stops, about 3 minutes.  Run a butter knife around the rim of the skillet to loosen the pizza.  Using a thin metal spatula, gently lift the edge of the pizza and peek at underside to assess browning.  It should be deep golden brown.  If a darker shade is sought, cook over medium heat for 1 to 5 minutes, checking regularly to ensure crust doesn’t burn.

Using two spatulas, transfer pizza to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.  Slice and serve.


1 – San Marzano tomatoes, if you can find them, are the best for the job.  If unavailable, plum or Roma tomatoes would be good too.

2 – Try to buy cheese by the solid brick, then grate it just before using.  The pre-shredded stuff sold in pouches is more convenient, but it’s drier and has additives to prevent it from clumping.  Consequently, cheese melted from the bagged product tends to be more rigid and not as creamy.

3 – Anything you desire would work here; just be sure not to overload the pizza.  About one cup, total, for everything works best.

If you’ve selected mushrooms (good choice!) slice them thicker than you think you’d need.  Half an inch all told should do the job.  Before adding them to the pizza, microwave them to release some of the juices, about two minutes.  Obviously, drain the mushrooms before topping.


8 thoughts on “My Pie, That’s Why

    1. Thanks, Tamara! Chalk up one more for Team Chicago. Accept, then, the cozy prospect of each slice eating like a meal. Warmth hearty enough to endure an Upper Midwest winter.

      As for the cooking method, I too was skeptical until Saturday. However, now that you mention it, I do recall from childhood Pizza Hut using a similar method to prepare its deep-dish pizzas for “Dine-In” customers.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The frikkin’ phone’s been off the hook, Crystal!

      People remember family meals beneath the red roof during the 70s and 80s, and now they’re getting all misty-eyed. Nostalgic Gen-Xers even are trying pushbutton phones to get through to us.

      I’m tellin’ ya, we never shoulda run that ad on That’s Incredible!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s