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Food Matters: That square pan is meant for more than brownies


Making Detroit-style pizza in a square brownie pan

An 8-inch-by-8-inch pan can do so much more than make brownies. That’s the idea behind Kathy Strahs’ new book “The 8x8 Cookbook: Square Meals for Weeknight Family Dinners, Desserts and More — In One Perfect 8x8-Inch Dish” (Burnt Cheese Press, $24.95), which advocates that this everyday baking pan is the perfect vessel for making food for a family. Instead of the 9-by-13-inch pan, the smaller, so-called brownie pan is perfect for baking or roasting whole cuts of meat, casseroles, enchiladas, quiches, frittatas, pot pies, lasagnas and, yes, brownies, blondies, bread puddings, cakes, bars and even cookies.

One of the highlights of the book is this Detroit-style, deep-dish pizza, which Austinites might not have heard of if not for Via 313, the pizzeria that started as a food truck and now has a brick-and-mortar location near the “Y” in Oak Hill. Via 313 still has two trailers open near downtown, and it has a second fixed location planned for Guadalupe Street, just north of the UT campus.

Strahs’ take on this deep-dish pizza requires a little foresight: You have to start the dough the night before, but the long, slow rise makes for an extra-flavorful crust. She purees a no-cook sauce in a food processor, but you could definitely use store-bought sauce if you’d like. As for the toppings, she goes with sausage and green bell pepper, but you could use whatever you and your fellow diners are in the mood for. One key to authentic Detroit-style pizza is that the sauce goes on top of the other toppings, usually with the pepperoni or other meat on the bottom, and the cheese is pushed all the way to the edge, to create a crispy top to the outer edge crust.

One note about the baking vessel: The best of these regional pizzas are baked in steel pans, not aluminum. (Common lore has it that the first Detroit-style pizzas were baked in unused oil drip pans.) You can use a regular metal 8-by-8-inch pan but avoid glass or ceramic dishes or a nonstick metal pan, which can’t withstand such high heat. You could bake the pizza at a lower temperature, but it will take longer and the edges won’t be quite as crispy. For top-of-the-line square pizzas, you can buy what are called blue steel pans online through sites such as or

Detroit-Style Deep-Dish Pizza

2 cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 tsp. instant yeast

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3/4 cup water, at room temperature

For the sauce:

1 (14.5 oz.) can no-salt-added canned diced tomatoes

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1 tsp. dried basil

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the toppings:

2 cups (about 8 oz.) shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese

1/2 lb. bulk Italian pork sausage

1/4 cup sliced black olives

1/2 green bell pepper, sliced

The night before, combine the flour, salt, yeast and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl. Add in the water and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Knead the dough in the bowl for several minutes, until the dough comes together and becomes too sticky to handle. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature overnight (at least eight hours, and up to 15 hours).

The next morning, add the remaining olive oil to an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan (without a nonstick coating) and spread it all over the bottom and sides with your hands. Punch down the dough and transfer it to the baking pan. Turn the dough over once in the pan to coat it with oil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator.

Ninety minutes before baking, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it rise and spread at room temperature. Thirty minutes before baking, make sure an oven rack is in the middle position and heat the oven to 550, if it can go that high. If not, heat to its highest, non-broil setting.

Drain the tomatoes for the sauce in a colander. Give them a good 20 minutes to drain all the excess water,which will keep your pizza from getting soggy. While the oven is heating and the tomatoes are draining, brown the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until it’s cooked through and no longer pink. Once the tomatoes are drained, blend them with the garlic, salt, basil, thyme, oregano and pepper in a food processor. Set the sauce aside.

Gently push and stretch the pizza dough into the corners of the baking pan, as well as up the sides if the dough allows. Sprinkle a handful of cheese on top of the dough. Add sausage. Sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, all the way to the edges (you’ll be rewarded with irresistible crusty cheese on the sides). Add peppers and olives, then dollop the sauce on top — as much or as little as you’d like.

Bake until the cheese is melted, browned and crusted around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the edges of the pan to help release the crusty cheese, if needed, as you lift the pizza out of the pan. Serves 4 to 6.

— From “The 8x8 Cookbook: Square Meals for Weeknight Family Dinners, Desserts and More—In One Perfect 8x8-Inch Dish” by Kathy Strahs (Burnt Cheese Press, $24.95)


From-scratch sausage balls take gluten-free cue from cornbread

I get the appeal of traditional sausage balls. Open a tube of breakfast sausage, a bag of shredded cheese and a box of Bisquick, squish the ingredients together with your hands, form a bunch of sausage balls, bake and serve. In their new book, “The Southerner’s Cookbook: Recipes, Wisdom and Stories” (Harper Wave, $37.50), the editors of Garden and Gun magazine point out that this usually results in musket-like balls that could take down a horse.

“With just a dollop of ingenuity and not much more work, you can build a better ball,” they write. Instead of using a flour-based baking mix, the editors suggest a gluten-free binder made with cornmeal and baking powder. A hint of buttermilk will add tang, grated onion and brown sugar throw in a smidgen of sweet, and a handful of herbs and seasonings mean that your appetizers don’t rely solely on cheese and the spices in the sausage for flavor.

1 cup fine-ground cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 tsp. minced fresh sage

2 Tbsp. sliced fresh chives

1 (10-oz.) block extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 lb. bulk spicy breakfast sausage

2 Tbsp. grated onion

2 Tbsp. buttermilk

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, brown sugar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, sage and chives in a large bowl. Add the cheese and toss with the cornmeal mixture to evenly coat and distribute. In a separate bowl, combine the sausage, onion and buttermilk. Pour the cornbread and cheese mixture into the sausage mixture and mix with your hands to thoroughly combine.

Roll packed tablespoons of dough into 1-inch balls and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes until bubbly, cooked through and golden brown. Makes 36 balls.

— From “The Southerner’s Cookbook: Recipes, Wisdom and Stories” by the editors of Garden and Gun magazine (Harper Wave, $37.50)

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