This is a new day in my State-by-State project: my first foray into the Midwest. It's not that I've been neglecting this region. It's just that, alphabetically, no Midwestern state has come up yet (you've noticed maybe that I am going in alphabetical order). And we'll be in the Midwest for a while with this series, starting with the largest Midwestern state of them all.
Official Name: State of Illinois
State Nicknames: The Prairie State; The Land of Lincoln
Admission to the US: December 3, 1818 (#21)
Capital: Springfield (6th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Chicago (largest in the state and the Midwest; 3rd largest in the US); Aurora (2nd largest); Rockford (3rd largest)
Region: Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Wild Rice
Bordered by: Wisconsin (north); Lake Michigan (northeast); Indiana (east); Kentucky (southeast & south); Missouri (southwest); Iowa (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: popcorn (snack food); GoldRush apple (fruit); white-tailed deer (animal)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: typical Midwestern foods, especially corn; Native American and pioneer foods; state-specific foods (horseshoe sandwich, shrimp de Jonghe, Chicago dog, Italian beef); also note: deep-dish pizza and hot dogs were first made popular in Illinois
Many of us have a notion of what "Midwestern cuisine" is - that it's bland, that's it's vague, that it isn't even a cuisine really. It's certainly not as easy to pin down as "Southwestern" or "Southern" or "New England" cuisine. Indiana native Marcia Adams, author of Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens, does her best to sum up "Midwestern cuisine" for people like me who aren't from this most hearty part of the country.
...[T]he backbone [of Midwestern cuisine] is the wondrous bounty of the land. We have an embarrassment of riches at our doorsteps: grains, vegetables, tree fruits, game, fish, and range-fed cattle. it is in understanding how the divergent groups in this vast region have integrated indigenous foods while retaining and nurturing their individual ethnic heritages that the true essence of Heartland cooking can be found. [Adams 1991: xi]Adams points out that Midwestern ("Heartland") food is a combination of farm and frontier, WASP and immigrant and Native American, simple and haute cuisine (remember, Grant Achatz of Chicago's Alinea is at the forefront of molecular gastronomy, as I will explore sometime during this series). Perhaps the Midwest gets a bad rap for being bland and tasteless. But I am finding out that is not. Or at least not nearly as much as I had thought.
In fact, many of the nation's favorite dishes originated not just in Illinois, but right in Chicago, the third largest city in the nation:
- the Chicago style dog, easy to find at most hot dog shops in and around the country (in Baltimore? Try Zack's). What is it? The folks at Hot Dog Chicago Style, Wisconsin-based aficionados of the legendary dog, put it out there: on your steamed frankfurter put yellow mustard, green relish, chopped onions, tomato wedges (two, please), a pickle spear, sport peppers and celery salt on a sesame seed bun.
- the Italian beef, more famous in the Midwest than around the country, is thinly-sliced beef with Italian seasonings, on a roll (likely Italian roll). The meat juices often soak into the bread.
- Even less popular outside of Chicago, but very big in the city itself, is shrimp de Jonghe (sounds more or less like "shrimp de Young"). The Roadfood.com website of Jane & Michael Stern gives a classic version of the recipe: shrimp baked with lots of butter, bread crumbs and garlic, with sherry and cayenne pepper. I did not make this for this State-by-State series, but I must make this at some point in the not too distant future.
- The most famous of all Chicago recipes, even more so than the dog, is the Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Made famous by Pizzeria Uno, it is found all over the country. And if you know how to make it, it's easy. If you don't, well then...
As with any pizza, you can put whatever toppings you want in a deep-dish one. And since it's a "deep dish" pizza you can put even more of them on, er, in the pizza. Still, I have to reinvent the wheel, so I searched everywhere for recipes. I went with a combination of two. For the ingredients, I used Deven K. Mercer's "Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza" DKM (as I think he prefers on his website) measures out his ingredients exactly, for the dough and the pizza toppings. I ended up cheating and bought pre-made dough from Trader Joe's, which I know is not authentic, but for my first attempt I tried to make it easy on myself. For the equipment, I used Jeff's Recipes' website for deep dish in a cast iron skillet. The reason: I couldn't find a deep dish pizza pan anywhere (this is Maryland after all), and it was faster to just use a large cast iron skillet. He suggests a 12" skillet. This worked well for me.
So for my ingredients, I used:
* pizza dough - if you use pre-made, buy two 1-lb bags of dough (99¢ per bag), any kind but I preferred the plain variety
* olive oil (for the pan, to keep the pizza crust from sticking)
* one 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes (I used local fave Sun of Italy for about $3.50 and it was so worth it)
* several garlic cloves, a sliced shallot and a few anchovy fillets (had all on hand) - I sautéed them together in olive oil.
* 3 lbs (1 1/2 bags) of Italian cheese, mine being a mozzarella / provolone blend ($2.50 per bag, on sale)
* parmesan cheese (yes I used the granulated stuff)
* Italian mild sausage (DKM says that Italian sweet sausage is a Chicago fave but I could not find this. I got one fresh for about $1.50)
* pepperoni (one package of Ciao brand for about $3)
Before assembling anything, turn your stove up to 500° and just let it warm up. You need your oven to be hot. You will turn it down once you put the pizza in the oven.
The first part is to let the pizza dough come to room temperature before putting in the skillet.
Douse the skillet with oil and get ready to press the dough into the skillet.
You may find, as did I, that the dough does not want to stay in place. If that happens, rolling it out may be your best bet, unless you know how to toss it in the air. I don't.
Press the dough into the skillet, making sure to prick the bottom and circumference with a fork.
When in place, the rest should be easy. Add your crushed tomatoes first.
Next lay most of your cheese on top.
I then added other ingredients as desired: the Italian sausage, crumbled and sautéed; the pepperoni; the shallot/garlic/anchovy mixture (my sister did not appreciate the anchovy), and the parmesan. Add anything else as you desire.
Next, place the cast iron skillet in the oven and turn the temperature down immediately to 475°.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, until the cheese is browned.
Jeff of Jeff's Recipes says that the pizza should slide right out after cooling for about 10 minutes. After about 20 I still couldn't pick up the skillet, so I put a large plate over the top, turned it over, and then did it again with another pan that I used to store it.
I might have just cut it in the pan, but I really didn't want the pizza toppings leaking all over the cast iron.
My first attempt at deep dish pizza was sort of messy. I don't know how solid the insides are supposed to be, but cutting it made it ooze all over. The pizza, while delicious, tasted better to me the next day. It was just a beautiful tasting pizza, that's for sure. Part of that may be the deep dish - it holds so much stuff.
Adams, Marcia. Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens. Clarkson Potter: New York, 1991.
Hot Dog Chicago Style. "So What Exactly Is a Chicago Style Hot Dog?" Hot Dog Chicago Style,
copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Mercer, Deven K (DKM). "Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza". PizzaMaking.com, copyright 2005, All Rights Reserved.
Jeff's Recipes (Jeff). "Deep Dish Pizza – Cast Iron Style". Published May 8th, 2007. Jeff's Recipes, copyright 2006 - 2009, All Rights Reserved.
Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. "Shrimp de Jonghe". Roadfood.com, copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Illinois" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Illinois".