Make Your Own Tavern-Style Pizza with a Recipe from 'Cook's Country'

Daniel Hautzinger
Chicago tavern-style pizza from 'Cook's Country.' Photo: Joe Keller
Photo: Joe Keller

A new season of Cook's Country begins airing Saturday, September 7 at 12:00 pm.

Non-Chicagoans think of Chicago-style pizza as deep dish, and only deep dish. But as city-dwellers, especially South Siders, know, there's a whole other style of native pizza that's in many ways the opposite of its more famous cousin: tavern-style pizza, also sometimes known as party-cut or even just thin-crust pizza. Exemplified by such institutions as Vito & Nick's, Home Run Inn, and Marie's, it features a crisp crust, sauce and cheese spread to the very edges of the pie, and a distinctive cut where the slices are square. 

While you probably have a favorite joint to visit for tavern-style pizza, sometimes it can be fun to try your own hand at a classic food. Cook's Country may not be from Chicago, but they know what they're doing when it comes to perfecting recipes. Try their Chicago Thin-Crust Pizza, as they call it, here. 

Chicago Thin-Crust Pizza

The trick for making an ideal Chicago Thin-Crust Pizza at home was to make the dough in a food processor. Because of the high speed of the blade, the processor brought the dough together quickly, which prevented too much gluten from forming and kept the crust crisp. A no-cook tomato sauce—a combination of canned tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, and dried spices—and shredded mozzarella sprinkled all the way to the outer edges covered the dough. And finally, we baked the pizza until the edges were crisp and dark.

Using cold water keeps the dough from overheating in the food processor. A pizza peel is the best tool for moving the pizza in and out of the oven, but you can also use a rimless baking sheet.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

For the Pizza:
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Cornmeal
12 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
12 ounces (3 cups) whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

For the Sauce:
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

Directions

1. For the pizza: Process flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in food processor until combined, about 3 seconds. With processor running, slowly add cold water and oil and process until dough forms sticky ball that clears sides of bowl, 30 to 60 seconds.

2. Transfer dough to lightly oiled counter and knead until smooth, about 1 minute. Shape dough into tight ball and place in greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. One hour before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, set baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

3. For the sauce: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

4. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter, divide in half, and gently shape each half into ball. Return 1 dough ball to bowl and cover with plastic. Coat remaining dough ball lightly with flour and gently flatten into 8-inch disk using your fingertips. Using rolling pin, roll dough into 12‑inch circle, dusting dough lightly with flour as needed. (If dough springs back during rolling, let rest for 10 minutes before rolling again.)

5. Sprinkle pizza peel or rimless baking sheet with cornmeal. Transfer dough to prepared pizza peel or rimless baking sheet and carefully stretch to return to 12-inch circle. Using back of spoon or ladle, spread scant 1/2 cup sauce in thin layer over surface of dough, leaving 1/8-inch border around edge. Pinch 6 ounces sausage into approximate dime-size pieces and evenly distribute over sauce. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups mozzarella evenly over sausage to edge of pie. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon oregano over top.

6. Carefully slide pizza onto baking stone and bake until cheese is well browned and edges of pizza are crisp and dark, 10 to 14 minutes. Slide pizza peel underneath pizza and remove pizza from oven. Slide pizza onto cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough, sauce, sausage, mozzarella, and oregano. Cut pizzas into 2- to 3-inch squares and serve.

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