Thin crust gains ground in deep dish city

September 30, 2009 (CHICAGO) The number of thin, Neapolitan-style pizza joints continues to proliferate in the city of deep dish. The latest: a family-run operation in the Gold Coast that was inspired by a trip to Rome to visit the pope.

Chicago has been a hotbed for thin, Neapolitan pizza experimentation the last two years. At the latest incarnation, Castel Gandolfo in the Gold Coast, a Chicago couple's dream vacation to see the Pope near Rome led to an epiphany in taste.

"I thought it was a really great pizza. First of all it was a lighter pizza, nothing that I'd ever tasted here in Chicago, so especially the fresh mozzarella was fabulous… bubbled up and had that perfect char, and it came out and it was delicious," said Castel Gandolfo's owner, Jane Jasnak.

So the first order of business when they got back home was to make their own mozzarella, which is stretched and pulled in hot water.. creating a one-of-a-kind texture. They also had to come up with a proper recipe for dough, letting it proof and rest, making sure the moisture content was adequate, before hand-forming every single pizza. The dough is gently kneaded, then tossed by hand and placed onto a wooden pizza peel. For the basic margherita, they'll add a thin layer of mozzarella slices to the top of the dough... then sprinkle on some oregano and pepper. The homemade tomato sauce is a little chunky, not too sweet, and is spooned on carefully over the cheese. Fresh basil leaves are followed by a drizzle of olive oil, and the pizza is ready to go into the super-hot oven, which burns both wood and coal, to bump up the internal temperature.

"It gives a higher temperature, yes, the pizza is cooking anywhere from, not lower than 800 degrees and it does exceed even 900 degrees," Jasnak said.

The pizzas take less than two minutes to bake; the brick oven and heat source start to immediately transform the dough and toppings into bubbly, charred pleasure. Best cut and served immediately, they are irresistible. Other creative options include an all-veggie pie with hunks of cooked eggplant and zucchini.. and another with fresh arugula and prosciutto. Two white pizzas are worth noting: neither has tomato sauce. One is topped with jalapeno and garlic-marinated shrimp, as well as fresh cilantro.. plus, a smoked salmon with capers, red onions and fresh dill. It may sound better-suited to a bagel, but this odd combo actually works on dough. Jasnak says so far, her family's goal is working out as planned.

"We had something in mind that we wanted to open here and kind of duplicate what we had out in Italy and that's what we set out to do and we did," said Jasnak.

Castel Gandolfo also makes calzones and mammoth pasta dishes, but it's the pizza most folks wind up ordering.

Castel Gandolfo
800 N. Dearborn


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