Italians started coming to Chicago from Italy during the 1850s and by the 1940’s there was a significant Italian population of Italian immigrants and their descendants in the city. There are some stories about U.S. soldiers of Italian descent returning from Europe after World War II and experimenting with different pizza recipes, and eventually creating a deep dish pizza. The only problem with these stories is that deep dish pizza was being sold in Chicago in the early 1940’s, before the end of the war. The one story that is probably true is about a man named Sewell who created the deep dish pizza in 1943 at his bar and grill, Pizzeria Uno. It was so popular that he soon opened another place called Pizzeria Due. Soon other restaurants were serving deep dish pizza and the dish became popular. Soon Chicago became known for creating it and everyone, not just Italians, adopted it as a ‘Chicago’ food. (source FoodReference.com)
Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza
1 lb of your favorite pizza dough, at room temperature
16 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced
8 oz cooked Italian sausage, sliced thin
12 oz jar Mancini Fried Peppers with sweet onions or equivalent amount of cooked onions and peppers
2 cups marinara sauce
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a deep dish pizza pan. (My pan is 10 ½ inches in diameter)
Turn the pizza dough out into the prepared pan and use the heel of your hand and your fingertips to press it into an even layer across the bottom of the pan, then about halfway up the sides of the pan.
Bake the crust for 10 minutes.
When the crust is done baking, remove the pan from the oven and keep the oven temperature on 350 degrees F.
Add the toppings in the following order:
On the bottom of the crust place an even layer of cheese slices. Then add the sausage slices in an even layer. Top it with another layer of cheese slices. Then add the cooked peppers and onions. Top with a final layer of cheese slices. Pour the sauce over the top and spread it into an even layer, making sure it is covering all of the cheese. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the edges are golden and the filling is firm. Allow the pizza to cool for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
I make pizza just about every week at our house because I think my husband loves pizza more than any other food. It is also an economical dish and usually healthy. Between the two of us, we get 3 meals out of one pizza: two dinners and one lunch. I usually try to make our pizzas with seasonal vegetables because they make the most tasty pizzas, in my opinion. Once in awhile, we will splurge and go for the deep-dish Chicago style sausage pizza. Over the past two months, I have made the following pizzas with veggies I had on hand and I am sharing those recipes with you. The sausage pizza was a treat for my husband’s birthday.
Use your favorite pizza dough or use my easy to make no knead dough. The recipe makes enough for three pizzas and the dough stores beautifully in the freezer. I like this recipe more than any other I have tried. The overnight refrigeration adds to the dough’s great flavor and makes a crunchy but tender crust.
Easy No Knead Pizza Dough
Ingredients for the dough
- 3 cups warm water (about 100 degrees F)
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 8 cups 00 Italian Style flour or 7 ½ cups bread flour
Directions for making the pizza dough:
Pour the water into a 5 quart bowl or lidded food container. Add yeast and salt to the water.
Measure the flour with the “scoop and sweep” method. (Dip cup into flour and scoop it up. Level the cup with the back of a knife.)
Add all the flour and mix with a wooden spoon. You only need to mix it until all ingredients are combined. No kneading is necessary. (The dough will be very moist and will actually conform to the shape of the container you put it in.)
Cover, but don’t seal the lid tightly, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it begins to flatten on the top (about 2 hours).
DO NOT PUNCH DOWN THE DOUGH! This method is designed to retain as much gas in the dough as possible. After rising, refrigerate the dough in the container and use the dough over the next 14 days. Once it’s refrigerated the dough will collapse slightly and it will not rise again in the container — that’s normal.
Directions for making pizza:
Pull up and cut off a 1 1/3 pound piece of dough from the container of refrigerated pizza dough. My pizza pans are large, so I usually get 3 pizzas from a batch of dough.
Extra dough may also be frozen. I freeze two portions of dough, individually, in freezer ziplock bags. To use, defrost the dough overnight in the refrigerator.
Hold the dough in your hands and dust your hands with flour to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers.
Form a ball, by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides and rotating the dough a quarter-turn as you go.
Place the ball in an oiled pizza pan and press and stretch the dough to the edges of the pan.
Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
Place an oven rack on the bottom shelf of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
After the dough has rested, add the toppings as indicated below.
Roasted Broccoli Rabe and Tomato Pizza
- 1 large bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Mix the broccoli rabe, tomatoes and shallots with the olive oil to thoroughly coat. Sprinkle lightly with some salt and pepper.
Spread the vegetables onto 2 large baking sheets.
Roast until the tomatoes have deflated and the broccoli rabe is brown around the edges and cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Divide the mixture in half. Use one half of the roasted vegetables for the pizza and the other half as a side dish for another dinner.
For the Pizza:
- 1 lb pizza dough at room temperature
- Half of the roasted vegetables
- 8 oz mozzarella, sliced
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- ½ cup pitted black olives, cut in half
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Place the sliced mozzarella on top of the dough. Arrange the roasted vegetables evenly over the cheese. Do the same with the sliced olives.
Drop tablespoons of ricotta cheese over the vegetables.
Place the pizza pan on the bottom rack in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before cutting.
Pizza with Artichoke Hearts, Fontina Cheese and Tomato
- 1 lb pizza dough at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted (or use canned if frozen are not available)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, sliced
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 thinly sliced plum tomatoes
- 8 oz sliced Italian Fontina cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Cook the defrosted artichokes in the olive oil with the garlic, onion and the juice of one lemon until softened and the onions are caramelized. Add the oregano and black pepper.
Place the sliced Fontina on top of the dough. cover the Fontina layer with the shredded mozzarella cheese and then the Parmesan cheese.
Arrange the artichoke mixture evenly over the cheese. Do the same with the sliced tomatoes.
Place the pizza pan on the bottom rack in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before cutting.
Deep-Dish Sausage Onion Pizza
- 1 lb of pizza dough at room temperature
- Yellow cornmeal
- 8 ounces Italian fennel sausage, casing removed
- 1 cup chopped onion
- One 14 1/2 ounce can diced Italian tomatoes, drained
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- 8 ounces thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
Generously grease a 10-inch springform pan with oil. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with cornmeal.
Place the pizza dough in the prepared pan. Using oiled hands, press and spread the dough evenly over the bottom and 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the pan.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (30 to 35 minutes).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
For the filling:
In a medium skillet cook sausage and onions over medium-high heat until brown, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat as it cooks.
Drain in a mesh (or one with small holes) colander. Using paper towels, pat sausage and, then, wipe out the skillet to remove additional fat.
Return the sausage and onions to the skillet and stir in tomatoes and basil. Cook and stir until heated through.
To assemble the pizza:
Arrange the mozzarella cheese slices over the bottom of the dough lined pan.
Spoon the filling over the cheese and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the edge of the crust is crisp and golden and the filling is bubbly.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the side of the springform pan and cut the pizza into wedges.
Almost every Italian city and town has its specialties and there are regional specialties also; the end result is a huge number of local cuisines rather than a single national cuisine. However, there are some dishes that you will find almost everywhere and that are now standards among the many Italian communities scattered across the globe.
Vegetables play a large part in Italian cuisine because the fertile soil, especially in the south, provides bountiful amounts of vegetables and herbs. A typical cold salad might include raw or cooked vegetables tossed with herbs and cheese. Other popular dishes are cianfotta, a stewed dish of eggplants, peppers, zucchini and onions with basil and olive oil that is served cold. Pepperoni imbottiti stuffs red and yellow bell peppers with breadcrumbs seasoned with black olives, capers, garlic and anchovies and, of course, the famous parmigiana di melanzane or eggplant parmigiana.
There’s an old saying that “good cooking begins in the market” and never is this more true than with Italian cuisine which relies heavily on fresh produce. The most commonly used vegetables include tomatoes, garlic, onions, bell peppers (capsicum), eggplants (aubergine), cabbage, zucchini (courgettes), artichokes, fennel, mushrooms, celery, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and lettuce. These vegetables are traditionally chopped and added to baked pasta dishes, risottos and pizza or turned into salads, soups, appetizers and side dishes.
Vegetables can easily be the highlight of a meal. For example, a grilled mushroom cap filled with arugula bean salad, roasted vegetables paired with creamy polenta or a vegetable laced risotto offer substance as a main meal. With a little crusty bread and some aged cheese on the table, you also have a healthful meal. Here are some vegetable main dishes you might find on the Italian table.
Warm Farro Pilaf with Dried Cranberries
An Italian wheat grain, farro is chewy and tender, like barley but with a milder flavor. Pearled or cracked farro cooks much faster than whole regular farro and it doesn’t require soaking before it’s made. The farro in this recipe can be made a few days ahead or even frozen.
For the Farro
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, cut in half
- 1 celery rib, cut in half
- 1/2 small onion in one piece
- 1 ¼ cups pearled farro
- 4 cups vegetable broth
For the Pilaf
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, diced (2/3 cup)
- 1/2 lb kale, center stem removed, chopped (4 packed cups)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
To make Farro:
Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables start to brown. Add farro and stir well. Pour in broth, and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook 20 minutes or until just tender; drain. Discard carrot, celery and onion. Cool Farro.
To make Pilaf:
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté diced onion 5 to 7 minutes. Add kale and cook 5 to 7 minutes or just until wilted. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic and Aleppo pepper. Cook 1 minute, then add farro, and sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in dried cranberries and pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve warm.
Parmesan-Butternut Squash Gratin
- 1 butternut squash (2 1/2 lb)
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. Peel, halve lengthwise and seed squash; cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange with slices overlapping slightly in the bottom of baking dish.
In a 2-quart saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Add garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and butter is infused with garlic flavor. Do not let butter brown.
In a small bowl mix bread crumbs, cheese and 1 tablespoon of the butter-garlic mixture.
Brush squash slices with remaining butter-garlic mixture. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and bread crumb mixture.
Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with fork. Increase oven temperature to 425°F; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until the squash is lightly browned. Before serving, sprinkle parsley over top.
Roasted Vegetable and Bean Casserole
- 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 pounds cipolline onions, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, trimmed and peeled
- 1 bulb fennel, cored and cut lengthwise into 2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 3 cups cooked dried cannellini beans or equivalent canned, rinsed and drained
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the potatoes, onions and fennel in a roasting pan. Add the olive oil and toss well to coat.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Roast, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and beans and roast another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes and cipolline are fork-tender and golden brown. Garnish with thyme.
Deep Dish Spinach Pizza
- 1 pound fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and stemmed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 recipe quick whole-wheat pizza dough (recipe below)
- 1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup freshly shredded Provolone cheese
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/4 cup thick tomato sauce (recipe below)
Heat oil in a large skillet and add garlic; saute for 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat. Chop spinach.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9-inch round baking pan 1 1/2 inches deep and sprinkle the bottom of the pan lightly with cornmeal. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle and fit into pan. Dough should just cover the bottom and sides of the pan with no overhang.
Mix cheeses together and spread 1 cup of the cheese mixture over the bottom of the dough in the pan. Spread the spinach over the cheese, covering the cheese completely. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese over the spinach layer. Spread the tomato sauce over the spinach.
Bake in the preheated oven 20 minutes. Take the pizza out of the oven and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the pizza. Return the pizza to the oven and bake 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting.
Yield: one 9-inch deep-dish pizza, serving 6 to 8.
Quick Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
Dissolve yeast in 1 cup of water, stir in olive oil and set aside until bubbly.
Combine the all-purpose flour with the whole-wheat flour and salt in a food processor bowl. Process for a few seconds to blend. With processor running, slowly pour yeast mixture through the feed tube and continue to process until a firm, smooth and elastic ball of dough forms. If the mixture is too dry, you may have to add another tablespoon or so of warm water. If it is too soft, add a little more all-purpose flour, one tablespoon at a time.
Remove dough from the processor bowl, divide in half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate half the dough for this recipe for at least 10 minutes or up to one day. Freeze the other half of the dough for another use.
Yield: dough for two 9-inch deep-dish pizzas or two 12-inch flat pizzas
Thick Tomato Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
- 1 16-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Pinch crushed red pepper
Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add onion and garlic and cook over medium low heat, stirring, until the onion is soft but not brown. Add remaining ingredients including liquid from the tomatoes. Crush tomatoes with the back of a spoon.
Adjust heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is very thick and no longer liquid, about 30 minutes. Stir sauce from time to time to prevent sticking.
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
Slow Cooked Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
- 6 large sweet bell peppers
- 2 cups cooked brown rice
- 3 small tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
- 1 small sweet onion, chopped
- 1/3 cup canned red beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
- 3/4 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 can (4-1/4 ounces) chopped ripe olives
- 4 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 3/4 cup meatless spaghetti sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the rice, tomatoes, corn, onion and beans. Stir in the Monterey Jack cheese, olives, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. Spoon into peppers.
Combine spaghetti sauce and water; pour half into an oval 5-qt. slow cooker. Add the stuffed peppers. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.
Cover and cook on low for 3-1/2 to 4 hours or until peppers are tender and filling is heated through. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
- a farro-way night dreaming (flavourfuldesire.wordpress.com)
- Vegetarian Finds In January 2014 (increasingourawareness.wordpress.com)
- Tri-Color Quinoa, Corn, and Zucchini Salad (mypostgradliving.wordpress.com)
- Ask a Sommelier: How to Pair Vegetables With Red Wine (drinks.seriouseats.com)
- How to Cook Farro: Three Cooking Methods (cookthestory.com)
- Nutritious “fast food” at home: Vegetables and Rice (adventures99.wordpress.com)
- vegan bean and farro stew (simplelittlespaces.wordpress.com)
- Toasted Farro Soup with Tuscan Kale and White Beans (seattlefoodshed.wordpress.com)
Italian immigrants to Chicago faced many drastic changes in their environments and way of life. The bustling new metropolis was very different from an Italian rural village. The mass of new Italian immigrants who entered the city in the late nineteenth century, primarily men from the small towns surrounding Palermo, Sicily were either single or had left their wives and children back in Italy. Frugality was essential. Most workers saved their wages to repay initial passage money, send funds to needy family members left behind or to purchase land in Italy.
In the summers many Italian laborers lived in railroad or mining work camps where food was provided by the padrone who recruited them. In the winter, workers returned to Chicago where they frequently lived cooperatively, sharing meals and kitchen chores.
When possible, single men boarded with Italian families, a practice unknown in Italy. Boarding, freed men from the necessity of doing any of their own housework, while providing supplemental income for the families who housed them. Lodging and boarding continued in the Italian communities until immigration was curtailed by World War One.
With time, many men had a new reason to economize. As months of saving stretched into years, most immigrants decided to settle permanently in the city, so passage money was put aside for wives, children and other relatives to come to the U.S. Eventually, family members joined the men.
While wages in Chicago exceeded those of Italy, the railway and street work at which many Italian men were employed, was intermittent and low paying. Garment work, done at home by Italian women, added only a meager amount to the family income. Italian laborers did much of the grueling ditch digging and manual labor which the growing city required. Women struggled to keep house in the cramped confines of tenement flats. Small flats of two to four rooms were common. Sinks and toilets were sometimes located in yards, halls or basements and water was unavailable when plumbing froze in winter. Basement and cellar flats were common due to the large number of homes below street level and “many a kitchen floor, the only playground for the children, was cold, damp and water-soaked.”
Settlement worker Edith Abbot reported that in tenement homes food was hung from the ceilings to keep it away from the rats. The kitchen sometimes doubled as sleeping space for family members or lodgers. As late as 1925, ice-boxes were uncommon on the Near West Side and window sills were often the best means available to keep perishable food cold. As city dwellers and renters, Italians lost the option of supplementing their diets with home-grown foods. Many made valiant efforts to garden in the minuscule backyards and on the fire escapes and porches of tenement homes, where tomatoes, peppers and parsley struggled for existence in the cramped spaces.
Terese DeFalco, who grew up on the Near West Side, recalls that there was no room for gardening amidst the densely packed housing in her neighborhood. “Our garden was the alley,” she says. Most food was purchased and Italians spent a large proportion of their incomes on food. Under these conditions, lessons learned in Italy remained relevant. Diets consisting of bread, macaroni and vegetables remained the norm among Italian immigrant families. Homemade Italian bread, with its thick crust and heavy texture, provided bulk at the evening meal and stayed fresh long enough to be dunked in coffee the next morning. Working family members carried chunks of it to their jobs, along with peppers purchased from the numerous street vendors found in Italian neighborhoods or from neighborhood stores, which sold familiar Italian ingredients.
Phyllis Williams noted that one of the reasons Italians shunned the recipes taught in settlement cooking classes was that “Italians thought many of the dishes prepared were too expensive and would not satisfy hungry children.” In hot summer months, when putting on the stove would be unbearable in cramped tenement apartments, Rose Tellerino, born in 1899, remembered salads were the daily fare while macaroni was “all we ate” in the wintertime. Wine, usually made at home, continued to be drunk at meals and milk and water were not, much to the chagrin of the Hull House reformers.
The Italian communities of Chicago were enriched by a phenomenon all too rare in their towns of origin, voluntary associations. By the 1920’s the Italians in Chicago had church and school-oriented clubs and sodalities that worked at fundraising, as well as special-interest organizations, sponsored by the settlement houses. The Holy Guardian Angel and Our Lady of Pompeii served the Italian community. On the near Northwest Side, a varied community of Baresi, Sicilians and others grew up around the Santa Maria Addolorata Church. Perhaps the most colorful Italian sector was in the 22nd Ward on the city’s Near North Side. It was known as, “Little Sicily”, and this neighborhood was home to some 20,000 by 1920.
World War II changed everything for Italian Americans. It Americanized the second generation. The G.I. Bill opened up the first possibilities for a college education and the first opportunities to buy a new suburban house. Other government policies, such as urban renewal, public housing and the building of the interstate highway system combined to destroy their inner-city neighborhoods. First, was the building of the Cabrini-Green Housing Project, which destroyed the Sicilian neighborhoods in the Near North Side in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Then, came the construction of the expressway system on the near south, west and northwest sides which dislodged additional Italian families and institutions including many churches and schools.
Today, some 500,000 Italian-Americans, about the population of a medium-sized Italian city, live in Chicago. Though the group has been in the city for about a century, it maintains a lively array of civic, religious and cultural institutions and organizations that provide a sense of ethnic identification and recognition in a manageable area inside the larger metropolis. Because these institutions perform the functions of allocating recognition and ethnic identity, they will not die or fade quickly from the scene.
Source: University of Illinois at Chicago and Jane Addams Memorial Collection
Taylor Street, in the Near West Side, became the hub of the Italian community, most notably, because of Jane Addams’ Hull House that was established to educate and help assimilate European immigrants and because of Mother Frances Cabrini, who started a school and founded two hospitals in the Italian community. Although parts of the Italian neighborhood were torn down when road construction and the University of Illinois at Chicago were completed in the 1960’s, numerous Italian and Italian American clubs and organizations helped maintain a strong sense of community.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, established in 1910 and the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame added more culture and heritage to the area. Major events include an Italian Street Festival in June and Taylor Street Festa Italiana in August. Italian food and regional specialties from the area’s restaurants, entertainment, merchandise from Italy and children’s activities are part of both celebrations. Festa di Tutti I Santi, a fundraiser for The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, is held in August.
Taylor Street is the main dining area in Chicago’s Little Italy, anchored with favorites like Pompei (1531 W. Taylor St.), opened by Sicilian, Luigi Davino, in 1909, Pompei has remained a family run business ever since, but don’t expect to find deep dish here: the pizza is still Sicilian style.
For a neighborhood specialty, stop at Al’s Beef (1070 W Taylor St.); Chicago’s well-known Italian beef sandwich was created here in 1938 and has grown from a humble depression era street food to a legendary Italian staple. Order yours with Italian sauce and eat it standing wide-legged and leaning over the counter.
There are many neighborhood grocers, but Conte Di Savoia (2227 W. Taylor St.) has been the neighborhood specialty market since 1948 and continues to serve the area.
Opened in 1908, Salvatore Ferrara’s Italian pastry legacy lives on today at Ferrara Bakery (2210 W Taylor St.), where the baked goods have been pretty well perfected over its century-plus existence. When Ferrara Bakery opened its doors over a hundred years, it was a staple in the Italian community of Chicago. Backed by a strong immigrant work ethic and an American public infatuated with pastries and confectionaries, Salvatore Ferrara opened a pastry shop on Taylor and Halsted Streets, with a candy shop located roughly a mile away on Taylor Street and Ogden Avenue. While the candy aspect of Ferrara’s business has boomed, distributing worldwide, the pastry shop maintains a more modest reputation. Forced to relocate due to the construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Original Ferrara Pastries resides in the old candy distributing facility at Taylor and Ogden.
The Food of Chicago’s Little Italy
If you’re craving deep dish, head about 15 minutes north of Sicilian Little Italy and pay a visit to Uno Pizzeria (29 E Ohio St.), home of the famous Chicago style pie.
Chicago pizza is a not your typical pizza. When Pizzeria Uno founders, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, invented it in 1943, they weren’t trying for true Italian. They believed Chicagoans needed something more substantial: deep dish pizza, which is more a casserole than a flatbread. It grew so popular that they opened a second location, Pizzeria Due, across the street in 1955.
The deep-dish pie spread throughout Chicago due to several pizza makers who left Uno. The first was Uno’s primary pizza chef, Alice Mae Redmond. It is said that Alice Mae was the one who developed Uno’s dough recipe. She left in the sixties, formed a partnership with three local businessmen, including cab drivers Fred Bartoli and Sam Levine, and opened Gino’s East. Gino’s has been through several changes in ownership, but still uses the same recipe at its thirteen locations.
Chicago’s Italian beef is a sandwich of thin slices of seasoned roast beef, dripping with meat juices, on a dense, long Italian-style roll, believed to have originated in Chicago, where its history dates back at least to the 1930’s. The bread itself is often dipped (or double-dipped) into the juices the meat is cooked in and the sandwich is typically topped off with Chicago-style hot giardiniera or sautéed green Italian sweet peppers. I posted a recipe for the Chicago Italian beef sandwich last July. You can see the recipe at https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/07/10/in-the-mood-for-a-really-great-italian-sandwich/
The Chicago style dog is a steamed poppy-seed bun with a Vienna beef hot dog hidden under relish, yellow mustard, onions, tomato, celery salt, hot peppers and a pickle spear.
UNO’S FAMOUS DEEP-DISH PIZZA
Recipe shared by Uno in celebration of the 65th anniversary of Uno’s Chicago-Style Pizza.
MASTER DOUGH RECIPE
Yield: one 20-ounce ball of dough to make one 12-inch Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water (105-110 degrees F)
- 1 teaspoon. sugar
- 1/4 cup corn oil
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 12″ Deep-Dish Pizza Pan or Cake Pan
In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast with water and sugar. Add the corn oil and blend. Add the flour and salt and mix thoroughly. If using a stand mixer, mix for 4 minutes at medium speed, until the dough is smooth and pliable. If kneading by hand, knead for 7 to 8 minutes. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead by hand for two additional minutes. Add olive oil to a deep bowl. Place the dough ball into the bowl and turn it twice to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.* Let the dough rise for two hours. Do not punch it down. Spread and push the dough ball across the bottom of the deep dish pan and up the sides.
*At this stage, the dough can be put in the refrigerator and allowed to rise slowly overnight. Take the dough out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you are ready to assemble the pizza.
PEPPERONI DEEP-DISH PIZZA
- 1½ cups tomatoes, ground
- 1 teaspoon oregano, dried
- 1 teaspoon basil, dried
- 2 tablespoons Romano cheese, grated
- 5 oz. part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella, sliced
- 5 oz. provolone, sliced
- 24 ea. pepperoni slices (about 2 oz.)
In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, oregano, basil and Romano cheese. Set aside.
Lay the slices of mozzarella and provolone on top of the dough, overlapping the slices to cover all of the dough.
Spread the tomato mixture evenly over the cheese.
Dot the top of the tomatoes with the pepperoni.
Bake on the middle rack of a preheated 475° F. oven for 20-25 minutes until the crust is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Allow the pizza to rest for 3-4 minutes before cutting and serving.
Eggplant Ravioli is a specialty of Francesca’s On Taylor. Here is a similar recipe you can make at home. Francesca’s on Taylor features the earthy cuisine of Rome and the surrounding areas of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. Chicago Magazine notes, “It brings a new kind of abbondanza to an old Italian neighborhood.”
(Makes about 1 pound)
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 to 3 tablespoon lukewarm water
Put the flour, eggs, salt and olive oil in a food processor.
Pulse several times to blend the ingredients.
Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, just until dough starts to come together.
Avoid adding too much water or the dough will be too sticky to roll.
It may still look dry but can be gathered into a ball.
Gather the dough into a ball and place on a floured surface.
Knead lightly, just until the dough is smooth.
Divide in half and keep one-half covered while you work with the other.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 small eggplant, diced
- 2 teaspoons dried basil or oregano
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 3 tablespoons Asiago cheese, grated
- 1 egg yolk
- Salt and pepper
Saute garlic in olive oil over low heat about 2 minutes.
Add eggplant and dried herbs, cover and cook 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, cool, and pulse in food processor to finely chop.
Add remaining ingredients and fill ravioli.
Forming the Ravioli
Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness into strips about 4 inches wide.
Using a tablespoon, place mounds of filling 1-1/2 to 2-inches apart down the center of the dough.
Brush a little water across the top and bottom of the strip and between the mounds of filling.
Place another 4-inch wide strip of dough over the top.
Press the dough down around the mounds of filling to seal.
Cut the ravioli into rounds or squares using a ravioli cutter, pastry cutter or a knife.
Completed ravioli can be refrigerated for a few hours before cooking.
They can also be frozen by placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing until firm and then storing in a plastic bag for 2-3 months.
Cook ravioli in salted water until they rise to the top, 3-4 minutes for fresh ravioli or 9-10 minutes for frozen.
Serve with Marinara Sauce.
Maggiano’s Baked Ziti and Sausage Casserole
Maggiano’s Little Italy is an American casual dining restaurant specializing in Italian-American cuisine that is aimed at “re-creating the classic pre-World War II dinner house featuring family size portions”.
- 2 1/2 cups uncooked ziti pasta
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 lb Italian sausages (casings removed)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup flour
- Black pepper
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 (1 lb) carton cream-style cottage cheese
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 lb mozzarella cheese, grated
Set oven to 350 degrees. F. and grease a 3-quart baking dish.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until JUST tender (do not overcook the pasta as it will cook more in the oven). Place the cooked pasta in a large bowl.
Heat oil in a skillet; add in the sausage meat and cook until browned, remove to a plate.
For the white sauce; melt butter in a medium saucepan; add the onion, garlic and cayenne pepper if using) saute for about 3-4 minutes. Add in flour and whisk for 1 minute. Slowly add in half and half cream; bring to a simmer, whisking constantly until thickened.
Remove from heat; add in 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta in the bowl; mix with a wooden spoon.
In a medium bowl mix together the cottage cheese with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, egg and chopped parsley, then season with salt and lots of pepper.
Spoon HALF of the creamed ziti mixture into the prepared baking dish, then spread the cottage cheese mixture on top, then spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top of the cottage cheese mixture.
Sprinkle the cooked sausage meat on the top.
Top with mozzarella cheese, then sprinkle paprika on top.
Bake uncovered for about 30-35 minutes or until bubbly and hot.
Let stand about 5 or more minutes before serving.
Similar to the Ferrara Bakery’s Famous Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
9 inch ungreased springform pan
For the Pan di Spagna (sponge cake): Have the following ingredients at room temperature at least 1 hour before baking: 6 eggs, lemon juice, orange zest and sherry.
FOR THE SPONGE
- 6 whole eggs, separated and at room temperature
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons sherry
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup rum, for sprinkling the cake layers
FOR THE FILLING
- 1 1/2 lbs. ricotta cheese
- 6 tablespoons rum
- 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 2 (1 oz) squares unsweetened chocolate, grated
- 1/4 cup candied cherries, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
TO MAKE FROSTING:
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 2 egg whites, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 cup toasted finely chopped almonds
TO MAKE SPONGE LAYER
Separate the 6 eggs and set the egg whites aside.
Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Beat in sugar, lemon juice, orange zest and sherry.
Beat until foamy.
Sift flour 3 times and fold into the egg yolk mixture gently but thoroughly.
Beat egg whites until foamy, add salt and beat until stiff but not dry.
Fold into yolk mixture.
Pour batter into a 9 inch ungreased springform pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.
TEST by pressing lightly with your fingertips, if the cake springs back at once, it is done.
Leave the cake in the pan to cool and invert on a wire rack.
Once the cake is completely cool, slice it into 3 layers.
Sprinkle layers with the 1/4 cup rum.
TO MAKE THE FILLING:
Crush ricotta very finely with a potato masher.
Add 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar and beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the 6 tablespoons rum, grated chocolate, chopped cherries and cinnamon.
Spread the ricotta filling over the sponge cake layers, using a 1/2 inch of filling on each layer.
Leave the top and sides of the cake plain.
TO MAKE FROSTING:
Cream butter with 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar.
Beat the 2 egg whites until stiff and gradually beat the remaining 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar into the egg whites.
Fold egg whites into the butter mixture and fold in 1 teaspoon almond extract.
Cover the sides and top of the cake with this frosting. Sprinkle nuts on the top and sides of the cake.
Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve it.
- Cleveland’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- New England’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Philadelphia’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Western Pennsylvania’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Italian American Neighborhoods – Boston (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Ybor City – Florida’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Baltimore’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Little Italy – Manhattan (jovinacooksitalian.com)