There were a lot of things Scott Sadowski left behind when he moved from Chicago to Washington last year -- a stifling office job, a girlfriend, and long, cold winters.
From a culinary standpoint, however, Sadowski's ties to the Windy City remain strong; one item that made the trip east was his well-worn pan for making stuffed pizza, a recipe for which the Capitol Hill resident has become justifiably renowned -- among friends and neighbors and anyone who has had a slice of the savory pie.
Why pizza? "I don't make ribs," offers the cook, in acknowledgement of Chicago's many food traditions.
Fancy it's not. Impressive and delicious it is, this 14-inch wheel plumped with alternating layers of pepperoni, mushrooms and cheese, and enveloped in a delectable thin, golden crust. The sauce, which cooks alongside the pizza and is poured over the dish only after it is cooked, is a heady blend of tomatoes, garlic, parmesan and herbs that doubles well as a topping for spaghetti, according to Sadowski.
While not exactly a last-minute idea -- the preparation and cooking time require an investment of at least several hours -- the effort is well worth the result. Sadowski, a frequent dinner host, calls the stuffed pizza his favorite casual meal. And due to its filling and varied composition, it makes for an ideal single-dish menu.
Over the years, Sadowski has improved upon the original recipe, which he adapted from that of a favorite Chicago pizza parlor. Most significantly perhaps, he's honed his pizza tossing skills. During one of his first attempts at duplicating the pizza of his dreams, Sadowski recalls, he made the double mistake of working in a freshly painted kitchen and handling the dough within range of a large bowl of tomato sauce. Murphy's Law prevailed; the blob of dough fell in the sauce, staining table, cook and walls a deep red. To add to the calamity, the pizza was meant as a meal for his grandfather.
"You kids watching at home, don't try this," says Sadowski, spinning a circle of pizza dough above his head. Beginners, he advises, might be better off using a rolling pin.
Fortunately, shopping for the ingredients for the following recipe is far less hazardous a proposition. All you'll need to have on hand to prepare Sadowski's stuffed pizza are sugar, oil (preferably olive oil), flour and salt. Sadowski says his pizza is "better with tons and tons of stuffing," although the pepperoni and olives are optional ingredients.
Express Lane list: yeast, tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, parmesan cheese, garlic, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, pepperoni (optional), olives (optional) SCOTT SADOWSKI'S STUFFED PIZZA (Makes one 14-inch pizza)
FOR THE DOUGH:
3 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 cups very warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 ( 1/4-ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
4 tablespoons oil, preferably olive oil
3 1/4 cups flour (bleached)
1 teaspoon salt
FOR THE SAUCE:
2 35-ounce cans Italian peeled tomatoes
1 29-ounce can tomato sauce
4 tablespoons oil, preferably olive oil
1 tablespoon basil
2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
5 cloves garlic
FOR THE STUFFING:
2 16-ounce packages fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 6-ounce cans pitted ripe olives, cut in half (optional)
1 pound pepperoni, shaved very thin (optional)
2 16-ounce packages mozzarella cheese
To make the dough: Dissolve sugar in water. Add yeast and proof the mixture (it should foam). Stir in oil and combine with flour and salt. Knead 5 minutes on a floured surface. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel. Let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
To make the sauce: Crush the peeled tomatoes in a colander. Drain excess liquid and discard. Mix in remaining sauce ingredients. Set aside.
Wash mushrooms and blot them on paper towels to remove excess moisture. Drain olives and set aside.
To assemble: After the dough has risen, punch it down and knead 1 minute. Cut off 1/3 of dough for the top crust and return to bowl and cover. Roll out remaining dough to extend 1 to 2 inches over a 2-inch-deep, 14-inch-diameter pizza pan. (The best pan, reports Sadowski, is one with a removable bottom.) Lightly grease the sides of the pan, but not the bottom. Alternatively, line pan with foil so that it extends out of the pan, which helps to prevent the crust from browning too much.
Fill pizza shell with layers of pepperoni, mushrooms, olives and cheese (in that order). Roll out remaining dough. Crimp bottom and top crust together, trimming off excess dough. Make several slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape while pizza bakes. Place pizza and sauce (in a separate, uncovered casserole dish) in the top portion of a 475-degree oven 20 minutes, then 20 minutes longer on the middle shelf. At this point, cover crust with foil if it begins to brown. Allow pizza to cool 5 minutes.
Ladle sauce over cooked pizza and serve.