Ever since I moved out of Chicago, I've missed Gino's East pizza. In particular, I loved indulging in their classic deep dish with spicy sausage and green peppers. Don't get me wrong—the New York metro area has amazing pizza, but deep dish is basically non-existant. I've been spending the past year or so trying to make a convincing facsimile of the Gino's recipe at home. I cross-referenced at least a dozen recipes from various corners of the internet. None of them got it right. The best recipe I found was a clipping that a coworker shared with me from a recipe book of his. But that recipe still fell short on the crust. As of this past weekend, however, I am finally confident that I've crafted a recipe that is every bit as delicious, if not a bit more labor-intensive, than the average slice of Gino's East fresh out of their ovens. Here it goes:

The Recipe

Makes two 9" deep dish pizzas. If you are prepping constantly, it takes about two hours minimum. Add some extra time if this is your first attempt.

Hardware, etc.

  • 2 cake/pie pans, 9" each
  • 2 large bowls
  • 1 sauce pan
  • 1 cheese grater
  • Plastic wrap
  • 1 skillet (if sausage is a topping)
  • 1 brush (optional, but makes life easier)

Dough ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 packet OR 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • (set aside the corn oil bottle, you will need some extra later)

Sauce ingredients

  • 1 can (28 oz) San Marzano tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil and/or oregano
  • Dried oregano, to taste
  • Dried basil, to taste
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste (kosher salt recommended)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Cheese and toppings

  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, grated. Don't use the cheap stuff, don't use pre-shredded, for the love of everything holy
  • 1/4 cup parmesan and/or asiago, grated
  • 1 bell pepper (optional)
  • 1 package of spicy Italian sausage (optional)
  • Really anything else you can think of, but I usually limit it to sausage and peppers

Make the dough

Combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt in a big bowl. Heat up 1 cup of water so that it's not hot, but not room temperature either. Get it warm. Transfer the water into a small bowl. Stir the yeast and sugar into the water. You'll know the yeast is active when the mixture begins to foam and bubble—that will take about 5-10 minutes.

Transfer the water/yeast/sugar mixture into a separate big bowl. Add the corn oil. Wash your hands and thoroughly dry them.

Slowly add the flour/cornmeal/salt mixture into the wet bowl. Stir the mixture with one hand, using the other to keep the bowl stable. Keep the gooey stuff off the sides of the bowl, trying to keep as much of the mixture together as one blob. It will start to congeal. Once the dry stuff is integrated into the blob, add more. The dough is ready to rise when it's moist, but not sticky. Add flour if it's too sticky, add water if it's too dry. Knead the dough for a few minutes, but you don't have to get carried away with it.

The bowl that held the dry stuff is now empty. Using a brush, or your hand, coat the inside of the bowl with corn oil. Pat the dough into a ball, then put it inside the bowl. Cover completely with plastic wrap and set aside to let rise at room temperature for 45-60 minutes.

Make the sauce

Crush the San Marzano tomatoes in a big bowl. Chop the garlic. Chop the fresh herbs. Grate the onion - use the largest holes to avoid it being too soupy. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add onion and fresh herbs and cook until liquid is evaporated and the onion is golden brown. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, maximum 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Then bring the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes (about 2 1/2 cups should remain after the sauce reduces). Turn off the heat, and stir in olive oil, dried herbs, pepper, and salt to taste. Let sit, stirring every now and then.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, rack on the bottom.

Prep the toppings

Grate the cheeses. Cut any toppings to your liking. Keep in mind that any topping pieces should be cut into smaller pieces, 1" diameter tops. Otherwise the pizza's texture makes it hard to get a good sauce/cheese/topping ratio each bite.

For sausage, you should cook it in advance. Heat a (preferably cast-iron) skillet to medium, add your cooking spray of choice if needed, brown the sausage for 5 minutes on both sides, turning often. Add 1/2 cup water, cover the skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the sausage into 1/2 - 1" bits.

two pans with dough and cheese. One has sausage and peppers in it
Cheese and toppings first: literally the opposite of most other pizza styles
two pans with sauce on top
If you need to spread the sauce around manually, don't be shy

Assemble the pizzas

Using a brush or your hand, line each deep dish with corn oil. Don't be shy. Sprinkle some corn meal onto your work surface. Take the risen dough out of the bowl and separate into two equal halves. For each half, on your prepared surface, hand-flatten and roll out to be as large as your dishes, plus a few inches in diameter. It's easier to make it too wide than not wide enough.

For each half, transfer the flattened dough to a deep dish. Use your fingers to conform the dough to the contour of the dish, and use your thumbs to make sure that the dough goes all the way up the side of the dish without falling over the edge. Presentation counts, try to clean up any "hills and valleys" at the edges - the dough's edge should be as smooth as the curve of the dish. Try to repair any holes in the dough. Brush the dough with corn oil - not too much.

Sprinkle the grated mozzarella evenly on the dough. Next, add any toppings. Then, add the sauce and spread evenly over the top of all the cheese and toppings. Sprinkle the parmesan/asiago on top, to taste.

Cook

Cook for 25-35 minutes on the bottom rack at 425 degrees. The pizza is done when the mozzarella bubbles up to the top. Let sit for two minutes before serving.

slice of spicy sausage and peppers deep dish pizza
Spicy sausage and peppers
slice of cheese deep dish pizza
Cheese

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