Gigio’s is Evanston’s oldest pizzeria, serving traditional pizza and other dishes made from quality in-house ingredients since 1968. This unassuming local eatery is the stomping ground of head chef Mike Andino, who took over at Gigio’s after attending culinary school at Kendall College and serving as head chef at Oak Park’s Trattoria 225. Andino gives insider tips to help you make the best pizza you’ll ever craft in your apartment kitchen (or beyond).
Dough: “A truly good pizza starts with the dough,” Andino says. If you’re wondering whether there’s a secret to expert dough, you may be surprised to learn that perfect dough is mostly achieved using sheer intuition. “It really just has to feel right,” Andino says. Still, there are a few standby techniques that are sure to result in reliably delicious, people-pleasing dough. “Use fresh yeast rather than dry yeast,” says Andino. “The flavor is better — it’s more responsive and you know exactly how much to use, unlike dry yeast.” You’ll know the dough is ready to bake when it is soft but not sticky and pliable enough to stretch without ripping. Stop kneading at that point, form the dough into a sphere, brush with a bit of olive oil and place in a covered container in the fridge to let rise. When it has risen, stretch out the dough as thin as possible.
Sauce: Pizza sauce is a simple but overlooked factor that can change the whole flavor of your pizza. Andino recommends using the canned tomato variety of your choice for sauce. “The key is to keep it minimally processed and adjust to taste,” he says. That means taking canned tomato and mixing in basic flavorful ingredients like fresh garlic, olive oil, basil and a pinch of salt to form a tasty base that won’t overwhelm other flavors.
Cheese: When it comes to cheese, “a little bit goes a long way,” says Andino. “Even when it doesn’t look like enough cheese, it is.” So sprinkle sparsely, and to make a pizza like the pros at Gigio’s, sprinkle a bit of Parmesan atop the sauce before adding shredded mozzarella. But you don’t have to limit yourself to these classic cheeses.“I like to add a little provolone, and sometimes even Brie,” Andino says.
Toppings: A plain pizza pie can be a masterpiece, but toppings often steal the show. Before you pile them on, follow these essential tips to avoid some common mistakes and get the extra gourmet edge for your pizza.
Fatty meats like bacon should always be cooked before topping and the fat should be drained, says Andino. “If you don’t do this, your pizza will be really greasy.”
Similarly, pre-cook mushrooms before topping to get the most flavor out of them. “Throw some in a sauté pan with a little olive oil and add in garlic at the end,” Andino says. But don’t overcrowd the pan — “the mushrooms will start to boil in their own juices, which you don’t want.” If you like sausage on your pizza, Andino recommends making your own. It’s easier than you might think: “Just chop up Italian sausage links and mix with fennel, garlic, salt and pepper.” As for pepperoni, it’s best to spring for pre-packaged or Italian deli fresh-sliced brands.
Cooking the Pizza: Pizza assembly is a delicate balancing act. It’s important that there’s an “almost even ratio of cheese to sauce to crust,” says Andino. “Too much cheese makes the pizza salty, messy and difficult to eat. Too little cheese makes the pizza dry.” Everyone loves cheese and toppings, but exercising some restraint puts you in the same league as Italian pizza-makers, “who just sprinkle on a little cheese and toppings.”
Before cooking your pizza, get the oven as hot as possible. Use a floured, upside-down cookie sheet to slide the pizza onto the oven racks. Cook the pizza “hot and fast” for about 10 minutes. Remove the pizza and sprinkle with your choice of cold toppings, like arugula and other herbs. “I like a mix of rosemary, parsley and thyme,” says Andino. Wait a minute or two, and then slice.
“Just play with different recipes,” says Andino. “Find things that work for you.”