If you have spent time in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (my hometown), your mouth is watering already. Papa Del’s is C-U’s grand culinary treasure – that delicious taste of home that almost all displaced townies dream of, and even shell out large amounts of money to have shipped to them on dry ice. Del’s is known for extreme slowness (it takes 45 minutes to an hour to bake one of their pizzas), combined with often sloppy service in an excruciatingly loud dining room. Once that slice of heaven arrives at the table, though, no one can bring themselves to mind too much.
The style of Papa Del’s pizza is almost unknown outside of Central Illinois. It is similar to a Chicago-style pizza in its deep-dishness; however, the dough is very bready, without the oiliness of a Chicago-style crust. A rich blend of cheeses and a thick, rich, garlic- and oregano-laden sauce blend alchemically with the crust. There are other examples of this local style, such as Garcia’s Pizza in a Pan, but Del’s is hands-down the best.
I was daydreaming about the wonderful flavor and mouthfeel I miss so much when I thought, hey, why don’t I make one? A quick Google search turned up this recipe at pizzamaking.com. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
When I pulled the pizza from the oven last night, Arne and I could hardly restrain ourselves. The smell was amazing. It looked amazing too, a beautiful towering brown edifice. (Rather taller and more edifice-like than a real Papa Del’s pizza, but impressive and gorgeous. Next time I may try a regular deep-dish pan instead of the springform pan.) I cut it too soon and cheese oozed everywhere – delicious, melty, tomato- and pepperoni-scented cheese.
The pizza was so good Arne literally danced with delight when he tasted it. It may not be an exact replica of Papa Del’s, but the flavors are almost perfect.
This recipe is certainly not difficult. The dough has 6 ingredients, the sauce only 4. It is something of a labor of love in that it takes 4 or 5 hours to prepare, but most of this time is spent waiting for the dough to rise – which means you can read, work, watch TV, or whatever. There’s only maybe 40 minutes of hands-on work. It’s worth every minute!
Papa Del’s Thick-Crust Pizza
Serves: 4 to 6 Time: 5 hours Hands-on: 45 minutes
4 cups white flour (sub in 1 cup white whole wheat if you have it)
1-1/4 cups milk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package (2-1/4 teaspoons) instant dry yeast
Place milk, butter, sugar, salt, and yeast into a heavy-duty mixer. Slowly add flour with machine on until dough pulls away from the side and forms a ball. Knead 5-10 minutes; cover and let rise in a warm place about 90 minutes. (Alternately, add ingredients to a bread machine and run on the “dough” setting.)
Punch dough down and let rise again 90 minutes to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
1 can (14-16 oz) crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen are best)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 tablespoon oregano
Mix in a small saucepan and simmer gently 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3 ounces sliced provolone
3 ounces sliced mozzarella
4 ounces grated mozzarella
2 ounces grated provolone
2-3 ounces grated Asiago or sharp cheddar
1-2 ounces grated Parmesan
You can use equivalent amounts of whatever mixture you want, but this blend is delicious.
Prepare whatever toppings you like. I used 6 ounces of sliced mushrooms and 4 ounces of pepperoni.
Grease a 12-inch deep-dish pizza pan or a 10-inch springform pan. Roll the dough out to fit; it should come all the way up the side of the pan. You may need to drape it over the edge of the springform to get it to stay; that’s okay.
Layer the sliced cheese over the crust. Top with just under half the sauce and half of your toppings. Cover with all the grated cheese; top that with the rest of the sauce and toppings. If there’s excess dough draped over the pan, cut it off with a sharp knife.
Bake at 425 degrees for 45 minutes. Check after 20 minutes to make sure the crust isn’t cooking too fast; if it looks very dark, move it lower in the oven and/or tent the edge with aluminum foil.
Remove from the oven and wait a few minutes (10 if using the springform pan) before cutting, to let the cheese set a bit. Enjoy!
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