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~A Slice of Hometown Pie -- My Hometown Pizza Pie~

IMG_9978When I was three, my parents built a home in the suburbs of Tamaqua, PA -- Hometown, PA. Hometown, was/is a community of mostly one-story ranch and bi-level homes that is best described as where the post-WWII generation built their dream homes in the latter 1950's, 60's and 70's -- homes with one or two car garages or an occasional car port, well-maintained lawns with backyard patios, swing sets and badminton nets, barbecue grills, etc. -- a great neighborhood to raise kids.  Amongst other things, Hometown had its own fire company, elementary school, a couple of gas stations, a diner, a small hotel and restaurant with a doctor's office on the top floor, a great drive-up place to buy burgers and hand-dipped ice-cream, a weekly farmers' market, a bowling alley, and, a pizza place -- all five-minutes from home, no matter where you lived.

It was an idillic lifestyle -- a real slice of Americana.

6a0120a8551282970b027880189f70200dIt's worth mention, nine-out-of-every-ten-times, I mix and first-proof my pizza dough in my bread machine.  The bread machine, in 55 minutes from beginning to end, does a superb job with pizza dough, and frees up my hands to prep ingredients for the toppings.  Feel free to proof your yeast, mix, knead and proof your dough in the traditional manner, but, don't tell me it's better. It's simply a different method producing the same result.  

Hometown:  Complete w/a signature "upside down" pizza.  

Vitale's restaurant.  What I write in the following paragraphs are the recollections of a girl (me) who's family of four ordered Vitale's pizza often -- and we adored it.  That said, they are the recollections of a girl (me) from elementary school through to high school, so, they span just shy of two decades.  Vitale's operated for almost 50 years, and, as I recall, the famous "upside down" pizza remained, sort of, for the most part, unchanged.  That said, after moving out of the area in 1974, I began serving my own version of Vitale's pizza, as per my recollections of what it looked and tasted like, so, no criticisms please.  Their recipe remains a secret to this day.  Mine does not.

169177953_10208288972459527_2048124597350509320_nVitale's Country House, an Italian-American restaurant and pub, located on Route 54 in Hometown, PA, opened in 1959.  Besides their unique "upside down pizza" (cheese on the bottom and sauce on top), great pasta dishes and classic dinner favorites like veal parmigiana and lasagna, they were known for steaks, veal chops, lobster tails, and steamed clams too -- my dad loved the clams, my mom loved their veal. My brother and I were there for the pizza.  In the early 1960's a fire caused the restaurant to close, but, the owner, Louie Vitale rebuilt and reopened, until sadly, it closed its doors permanently in 1994. Their recipe for their pizza crust, sauce, and toppings was, sadly, never shared. My recollections are:

IMG_9987Vitale's pizza crust was thin and crispy -- not super-thin and cracker-like, simply thin and crispy. The cheese(s), common to the era, would have been limited to provolone and/or mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan, so, that's what I use -- not too much, not too little, just enough.  The sauce was dark in color, deep-flavored and not too sweet, probably a slow-simmered cooked sauce -- not too much, not too little, just enough. The sauce got dolloped on top of the cheeses, and, for a period in time, was "smooshed" around with a spoon to spread it atop the cheese as best one could -- somewhere along the line the "smooshing" stopped and the sauce remained in dollops (which I honestly didn't like as well).  A light sprinkling of powdery Parmesan went on top, along with a sprinkling of oregano -- I assumed it was oregano because small shaker-type containers of oregano could be found on every table (along with Parmesan cheese) throughout the restaurant -- simply oregano.

My version of Vitale's Pizza -- the way I remember it.

IMG_9870For the dough for two 12-round thin-and-crispy light-and-airy pizzas:

3/4  cup + 2 tablespoons flat beer or water (Note:  I like the yeasty-flavor that flat beer adds to the crust, but, water works just fine.  Your choice.)

1  tablespoon olive oil

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon dried oregano

1  teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1  packet granulated yeast

For the toppings:

6-7  very-thin (paper thin) slices provolone cheese per pie

1 1/4-1 1/2  cups shredded mozzarella cheese per pie

3/4  cup pizza sauce per pie

1-1 1/2  tablespoons finely-shredded Parmesan cheese per pie

a sprinkling of dried oregano leaves per pie, for seasoning pizza 

IMG_9876 IMG_9876 IMG_9881 IMG_9881 IMG_9885~Step 1. Place the beer and olive oil in the the bread pan of the bread machine.  Add the all-purpose flour, followed by the sugar, salt and optional oregano.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine bread or bread machine dough, it's very important to always add the wet ingredients (anything liquid or pourable) first and the dry ingredients last.

IMG_9887 IMG_9887 IMG_9891 IMG_9891~Step 2. Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close lid and push the "select" button.  Choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push "start".  When the machine signals the dough is done (it will have risen once too), remove pan of dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes.

IMG_9934 IMG_9934 IMG_9939~ Step 3. Place 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of olive on each of two 12"-round pizza pans and use a paper towel to oil the inside surface of the pans.  Use a few drops of olive oil to lightly oil your fingertips and use your fingertips to turn the ball of dough out of the bread pan and into your hand.  Divide the dough in half, then place each half onto a prepared pan.  Allow the dough to rest on the pan about 15-20 minutes.  Note:  This 15-20 minute rest will make dough easy to pat onto pizza pan. Using your fingertips and a light touch, pat and press dough across bottom of pan.  I do this in 3 parts taking 5-10 minutes, allowing dough to rest 3-4 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.

IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9952 IMG_9952 IMG_9952 IMG_9960~Step 4.  To top the pizza, arrange 6-7 very thin slices provolone cheese in a single layer across the surface of each pie. Scatter 1 1/4-1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella over the provolone on each pie.  Using a tablespoon, dollop the sauce, atop the shredded cheese, onto each pizza.  Using the tablespoon and a light touch, "smoosh" the sauce around over the cheese or don't -- your choice, but, I like it "smooshed".  Sprinkle the Parmesan over the the sauce, followed by a sprinkling of oregano.

IMG_9964~ Step 5.  Baking one-at-a-time, place a pan of pizza on pizza stone on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 10 minutes. Using a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (via a pot holder or mitt), tilt pan and slide pie off the pan onto the stone.  Continue to bake for 3-4 more minutes.  Crust will be nicely-brown and nice-and-crispy on the bottom and cheeses will be bubbling up through sauce. 

Transfer to a wooden or high-heat-safe board & slice:

IMG_9967Thin crust pizza waits for no one -- slice & serve ASAP:

IMG_9979A Slice of Hometown Pie -- My Hometown Pizza Pie:  Recipe yields 2, 12"-round pizza pies/6-8 slices each.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; bread machine; paper towel; 1, 12"-round pizza pan; paper towel; tablespoon; pizza stone; large metal spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack; pizza wheel 

6a0120a8551282970b017c3545a504970bCook's Note: On New Years Eve 2012, my husband reminisced to me about a pizza he used to eat when he was growing up:  Pioneer Club Pizza. He asked if I would try to replicate a version of this thin-crust pizza, which was unique in itself, and, to his hometown of Jessup, PA. Developing a recipe for something that you've never seen or tasted, as well as a product that hasn't existed for 30 years, is:  tricky business.  I began by asking Joe to write down his recollections of the Pioneer Club and their pizza.  He did, and, after a few attempts on my part: ~ A Blast from Jessup PA's Past:  Pioneer Club Pizza ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021


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