The first time I had St. Louis pizza was the summer after freshman year, when I visited Laura at her home there. We went to Imo's Pizza, where the region's distinctive thin crust, square cut pizza originated. This "square beyond compare," is characterized with its cracker crisp crust, a sweet tomato sauce, and their regional Provel cheese, which is kind of a processed cross between mozzarella and provolone.
A couple of months ago I got a trial issue of Cook's Country sent to me. It's a magazine put out by the same folks who do America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated. Their whole thing is to test the recipes with about a million permutations of all the ingredients and cooking methods and times, and then to detail the testing process before revealing the final recipe. Cook's Country specializes in weird regional American dishes. I wasn't too crazy about the selections in the issue they sent me, so I decided not to subscribe, but I did get pretty excited when I saw the recipe for St. Louis style pizza.
I showed it to Laura right away, and we of course decided to have our other St. Louis friend Matt over for a little pizza party.
St. Louis pizza
All in all, it was a fairly easy meal, since the pizza dough doesn't have yeast so we didn't have to wait for it to rise. I just mixed 2 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of salt together, and then added a cup and 2 tablespoons of water and two tablespoons of olive oil. I kneaded it just until it came together and then divided it in half. This was supposed to make two 12 inch rounds, but I had a lot of trouble rolling it out, and then I had to cook it on a piece of wax paper, which was very difficult to peel off after it had baked. It was a little bit of a mess, but it turned out well enough. However, the crust wasn't as thin or as crispy as it was supposed to be. I think maybe I should have floured my surface more.
The sauce was simple enough. The recipe simply called for mixing 8 ounces of canned sauce with 2 tablespoons tomato paste, sugar, fresh basil and dried oregano. Not cooking it at all seemed too weird, so I let it simmer for a half hour or so. I also hate sweet tomato sauce, so I only used a very scant tablespoon sugar, rather than a full one. Even this was a major concession, as I am very skeptical of the merits of sugar in sauce. It didn't turn out bad, but I'd just as soon not use it.
The cheese was 2 cups of white American and half a cup of Monterey shredded and mixed with 3 drops of liquid smoke. This was way too much cheese, but that's probably because the I couldn't roll the dough thin enough. The American/Monteray hybrid was supposed to mimic the taste of Provel, which isn't sold outside of St. Louis. I also hate American cheese, so I would change the ratio in favor of the Monteray if I made this again. The liquid smoke was a very cool product. I have no idea how they do it, but it smells just like a barbecue. So strange.
We baked the pizza for about ten minutes at 475 degrees. Cooking pizza at such a pathetically low temperature actually made me miss my horrid apartment in the Bronx. That oven was an inferno! However, all things considered I did pretty well in the trade off.
We decked out our pizza like they would at Imo's, a vegetarian deluxe with sauteed mushrooms, onions and green pepper. If we had really gone all out we would have had bacon and sausage too, but these pizzas were completely overloaded as it was. I definitely should have made larger pizzas for the large amount of toppings we were using!
I don't remember the pizza at Imo's all that well, but Matt and Laura seemed to find it a reasonable facsimile. It was definitely a fun experiment, and I might use the dough again, but I'd just as soon use my own sauce and cheese on it, you know?