Know the difference between the two square pizzas
In the first few months that we were open, someone wrote a scathing review on how terrible our deep-dish pizza was. They said, “while the bottom was crispy, it was mostly dough, and seriously lacking cheese and toppings,” along with some other choice descriptions of the pie. While I now know better than to even read Yelp, as I take every bad review to heart, this was not one of them. I can tell you that we didn’t make deep dish pizza then and we don’t make it now. It is not a style that I am very familiar with, nor will I claim to know very much about. What this person was describing is our Sicilian-style pizza. Yes, Sicilians are also baked in a pan, but structured totally different than Chicago deep dish pies. The whole experience was just my first taste of how important it is to constantly educate your customers on your product.
While, at least in my mind, Chicago deep dish and Sicilian are two very different pies, there are some styles that share similar characteristics and tend to blur the lines. We’re talking Grandmas and Sicilians — two of my absolute favorites. I’ve eaten quite a bit of each and it’s always interesting to see people’s different takes on them. We sell both at my pizzeria and it is interesting to observe how a lot of people strongly prefer one or the other. While they are both a style of pizza that is risen in an oiled pan with a crispy bottom, a lot of the similarities stop there. The obvious differences being the shape of pan used and height of the pie.
My version of a Grandma pie isn’t exactly a typical one. I call it Patty style after my mom, and it is the pizza she made me growing up. It’s a thin pan pie, with cheese spilling over the edges and sesame seeds lining the bottom. We don’t rise or par bake our Grandmas. Something that I believe is not technically correct, but I’ve tried both ways and this is what I prefer. The seeds and extra virgin olive oil create an almost buttery taste, which, combined with the caramelized cheese eludes to pure decadence. The dough rises enough in the oven to create air pockets, while still maintaining a denser crust. Our Sicilians on the other hand are quite the opposite. It is a style that I have worked tirelessly on over the years and finally asked the advice of someone whose Sicilians are legendary. The one and only Chris Decker, chef/partner at Metro Pizza in Las Vegas.
They are risen for hours and then par baked. The bottom should always be crispy, providing a nice crunch to contrast the pillowy, light middle. They are rectangular in shape as opposed to the traditional square shape of a Grandma. All of our pizza is naturally leavened, AKA sourdough. The Sicilian is where you can truly taste the beauty of this method. The long rise and fermentation really accentuates the flavor and strengthens the texture. I think of Sicilians as a cloud that carries a light amount of toppings. Some people might think that since the Sicilian is thicker in structure it can hold up to more toppings. This is a valid point. However, the beauty of this pie is to taste the phenomenal flavor and structure of the dough. As such, I believe whatever it is topped with should highlight and enhance it instead of covering it up.
My favorite is when it is made into an OTP or Original Tomato Pie. Sliced mozzarella on the bottom with sauce, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Sicilian oregano and grated Parmesan on top. I cannot take credit for this. Everything I learned about OTP’s was from Tony Gemignani. As with most things pizza, he taught me the true beauty and simplicity of this pie. Tony is a pizzaiolo who sticks truly to the origins of a style of pizza. If you eat a pie at any of his places you know that it will not only be one of the best pizzas you ever have, but it will also be technically correct. I, on the other hand, like to have a base knowledge of a style and then veer off in my own interpretation of it. So, to give you a more concrete definition of what exactly the differences and similarities are of Sicilians and Grandma pizzas I thought I would ask a few people I consider to be experts.
Tony said that “the bottom on a Grandma tends to be crispier because more oil is used so it has an almost fried texture.” The perfect description of something I always try to create but never know how to put into words. Giovanni Cesarano, of King Umberto’s, agrees that it should have a crispy bottom, finishing the pie on the deck of the oven to achieve that quality. Cesarano also says that the sauce is an important characteristic of the Grandma, stating that the “traditional style toppings are an uncooked plum tomato sauce with plenty of flavor. You should be able to taste the garlic, and less cheese than a regular pie.” Gemignani also acknowledged this important fact, describing Grandmas as “more sauce centric.” As for Sicilians, Decker says that one of the most important qualities is “proof time.” This is what makes the Sicilian thicker and airier as opposed to the thinner, crunchier Grandma.
As with making any style of pizza, I believe that the fun and beauty in it is creating a product that reflects you and that you are happy with. Some people like their Sicilians with huge air pockets, others prefer them dense. I’ve had Grandmas that are soft and melt in your mouth and others as crunchy as a cracker. If you want to pile on the toppings, well that is up to you. The one characteristic of the two that any pizza maker I know will insist and judge it on is that it better have a good, crispy bottom.
In the wise words of Chris Decker, I leave you with this, “Both pizzas are fantastic when cooked with the most important ingredient of all time, love.”
Audrey Kelly is the owner and pizziola at Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, CO.