Driftless Pizza

Feature Stories Summer 2011 Issue

Driftless Pizza

By Theresa Marquez | Photos By Jim Klousia 3

My adventures with pizza started when I was young, growing up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. I am forever grateful that mom liked to cook and was curious and experimental. Although she was not Italian (she was Polish, Russian, German and Austrian) she set out to perfect the local pizza. And we, her eight kids, were her guinea pigs.

Mom had pizza rules. First, she always used her own homemade sauce made with tomatoes she grew, oregano and olive oil. She canned 50 quarts a year. Second, her dough was simple flour, water, salt and yeast that she claimed she kneaded for 40 minutes (really mom?) and let rise twice. Mother never rolled out her pizza dough. Instead, after letting it rest, we put the dough on a well-oiled cookie sheet with sides and stretched it over the pan.

As one might expect, I raised my two children on homemade pizza. And like me, my now adult kids took up the art of pizza making. In February of 2009, my son Zachary and I went to Italy; Napoli was a primary destination and diving deeply into Pizza Napoletana was our mission. Pizza Napoletana never came up while I was growing up because, most likely, the Italians in my neighborhood weren’t from Napoli. But today, what city doesn’t have a pizza restaurant that brags a genuine wood-fired oven?

Traditional Pizza Napoletana is a very thinly stretched round crust topped with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh buffalo milk mozzarella. The pizza is baked for a mere 60 to 90 seconds in a stone oven with an oak-wood fire. The results are at once crispy, chewy and exceptionally fragrant.

Back in the States, what is a person to do when they crave a Pizza Napoletana and the closest replica is 120 miles away in Madison? (As it turns out, there are three restaurants in Madison that make pizza in the authentic Neapolitan style, and one of them meets the strict guidelines of the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) certification--see last page of this article.) The answer: Build your own fire and grill.

Here in the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin, we have adopted our own “identity preserved” pizza: Driftless Pizza. We have our own standards, albeit not nearly as strict as the VPN certification!

And while our Driftless Pizza is grilled over an open fire, and though it takes longer than 90 seconds to cook, you won’t be disappointed when you take a bite, hear the delectable crunch of the crispy crust and enjoy the smoky marriage of cheesy toppings.

Ingredients to Assemble: 

  • Yeast or sourdough starter
  • Organic unbleached white flour
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Salt
  • Tomato sauce
  • Olive Oil
  • Basil or Oregano
  • Fresh Mozzarella or a combination of aged provolone, aged mozzarella, Muenster, or chevre
  • Aged Parmesan Reggiano or other delicious aged hard cheese
  • Other toppings of your choosing (optional): mushrooms, sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pesto, onion and garlic (preferably caramelized)
  • Cornmeal


  • Fire pit or Weber grill
  • Wood for the smoky flavor (see the grilling section for using coals)
  • Large cutting board or a wooden pizza peel large enough to accommodate a 12-14-inch round pizza
  • Oven mitts
  • Good spatula that can take heat

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