You don’t need mad dough-making skills for this pizza. You don’t need a wood-fired oven. You don’t even need to buy those round pizza trays. In fact, pretty much all you need is an appetite and the usual stuff you’ve got sitting in your kitchen.
That’s because this is pizza nonna-style – the kind of pizza an Italian grandmother would (and probably still does) whip up to feed a hungry family.
It’s called Grandma pizza.
You’ll find it on a few menus in Australia, including Connie’s in Melbourne and Theo & Co Pizzeria in Perth, where the Grandma offerings sport fun names such as “Upside Down Granny”, "Spicy Granny" and “Sweet Old Nanna”, although it’s very much the opposite of fancy restaurant-only pizza.
In its simplest form, a Grandma pizza is a square or rectangular pizza (so you can use whatever trays you have in your kitchen) made using a dough that gets just one rise, and then is covered with cheese and tomato sauce – usually in that order, but not always. This is a pizza open to interpretation! The cheese gets sprinkled right to the edges of the pizza, so that you get a wonderful crunchy cooked cheesiness on the crusts. And the bottom is deliciously crisp thanks to the olive oil used on the baking trays. Matt Duckor, writing for Epicurious, calls it “bone-headed-ly easy to make at home. Grandma pie is basically the crock pot of home pizza making”. Yep, it’s that easy. (And of course we’ve got a great recipe for you – more on that in a bit.)
The cheese gets sprinkled right to the edges of the pizza, so that you get a wonderful crunchy cooked cheesiness on the crusts.
Pizza & Co. owner Theo Kalogeracos, who put Grandma pizzas on his menus in early 2016, has fond memories of the simple pizza-like breads his own grandmother made.
“Growing up, my grandma never owned one pizza tray, ever. She just had baking dishes and whatever trays she had in the house,” says Kalogeracos, a former world pizza champion and author of two books on pizza. “It was thick, more like what today we call a focaccia, she used to rub oil on the dough, put a little bit of salt and oregano on it before she put any ingredients on it and I do the exact same thing.” The pizza would be topped with fresh tomato picked from the garden and served up as lunch.
Most of those who’ve chased down the origins of this cheesy pizza say the Grandma emerged from Italian immigrants and their families on Long Island, which contains the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and if you want to meet one of those who made the name famous, you can join New York pizza man Frank Pinello on a visit to Umberto’s on Long Island in this episode of The Pizza Show:
There’s more delicious Grandma pizza coming up in The Pizza Show, including Frank’s visit back to the man who taught him how to make it (catch the episode from 6.30pm Saturday 2 June on SBS Viceland, then on SBS On Demand).
The Grandma gradually made its way from Long Island to other parts of New York and then across the world.
“I first heard about the Grandma tag as a name in Vegas about six years ago,” says Kalogeracos, who travels to the US every year for judging and demonstrations, including visits to the world’s biggest pizza expo, held in Las Vegas.
In 2016, he put his own twists on the Grandma, offering them as “secret pizzas” to trial the idea (something he still does with new ideas today - regulars know to look out for flyers advertising what's new, or to ask what he's been cooking up) before adding them to the menu. Among them is the Yaya 6006 – a tribute to his own grandmother and the suburb where he spent so much time as a child, in the house where his grandmother still lives today. Kalogeracos is Greek, but has embraced Italy’s most famous food with passion for the past 25 years.
The Upside Down Granny: mozzarella onto the dough first, then topped with a rich tomato sauce and baked.
The Yaya is baked, and then, when it comes out of the oven, topped with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic. The Sweet Old Nanna – the most popular of the Theo & Co Grandmas – has prosciutto, rocket, parmesan, balsamic and mozzarella on top. The Upside Down Granny, on the other hand, harks back to the way a lot of those New York pizzerias make it – mozzarella onto the dough first, then topped with a rich tomato sauce and baked. “When it cooks in the oven, instead of the sauce being on the bottom and protected by the cheese, it’s on top, and it just gives a completely taste to that sauce,” he explains.
If you really want to get your pizza nerd on, you can delve into the difference between a home-style Grandma and what the US calls a Sicilian slice (and how some pizzerias do their Grandma). Basically, it’s to do with how long the dough is left to rise after being stretched out in the baking tray. Traditionally, Kalogeracos explains, “They would make the dough in the morning, they’d let it rise, knock it back, and it would be ready in, say, two to four hours. And that’s how my grandma would do it.” Perfect for a simple pizza topped with only a few ingredients. But some of those Italian-Americans in New York started using a longer ferment, where the dough is put in the fridge for 24 hours. “They’ve given the dough more structure and strength, so you could put more ingredients on it. Being America, they want more on top and the pizza dough can hold it.”
The Grandma is also very similar to Detroit-style pizza (coming up on The Pizza Show on June 16.)
Kalogeracos gives his fluffy, focaccia-like Grandmas a chill before baking, after the dough has had a second rise and is in the tray.
But here’s the good news, home bakers: you can have a Grandma on the table in two to three hours with Frank Pinello’s recipe.
Here are some tips for a great Grandma:
- You can make the dough and use it after it’s had a single one-hour rise, or you can store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours, until you’re ready to use it – this will give the dough a puffier texture; Just allow it to come back to room temperature before spreading it in the trays (or if your baking trays will fit in your fridge, you can spread the dough in the trays, cover with oiled cling film, and chill).
- If the dough’s a bit stiff when you go to pat it out to fill your baking trays, let it rest for 5-10 minutes before continuing.
- Coating your fingers in a little olive oil can help when spreading the dough in the trays.
- Sprinkle the cheese right to the edge of the pan and crust – “that makes it nice and crispy – you like crispy cheese, don't you?” says Pinello.
- Don’t cover the entire pizza with tomato sauce. Kalogeracos suggests using a squeezy bottle as an easy way to create lines of sauce on top of the cheese.
- All of these are just suggestions. Just like those Italian nonnas and Greek yayas, how you make a Grandma is up to you. Make fresh dough. Use up leftover bread dough. Chill the dough. Don’t chill the dough. Do one rise. Do two. Put the sauce over the cheese. Put the cheese over the sauce. Add all the toppings before you bake it. Add more toppings after you bake it. It really is a versatile, forgiving pizza that will be delicious any way you make it.
Pinello calls the Grandma “my favourite slice”. When it’s this easy to a create crisp-bottomed, cheesy pizza, we can see why.
Watch The Pizza Show on SBS VICELAND Saturdays 6.30pm, or catch up via SBS On Demand.