Altoona-Style PIzza

I was bored and decided to try my hand at Altoona-style pizza.

It intrigues me that, on the short list of locales that can claim their own style of pizza, Altoona has become one of them. Altoona style pizza is simple: Sicilian crust, sauce, salami, sliced green bell pepper, topped by (brace for impact) American cheese.

Altoona-style pizza became famous thanks to a social media frenzy of people calling it an abomination. You might think it’s nothing but the Internet deciding to pile on a random thing, but I don’t think it’s a random. (Indeed, I think that’s rarely the case.) Altoona-style pizza became Internet famous, I suspect, because it is right on the periphery of appealing, it looks just oddball enough that it might actually work, yet the appeal is shameful, and people pile on it to cover their shame.

My opinion? It looks like something I’d appreciate in a bachelor throw-a-bunch-of-stuff-together way. But I don’t know because I’ve never tried it, and I’m not expecting to be in Altoona any time soon. So.

First step, dough. It uses a Sicilian pizza base. Sicilian pizza is not like the trendy thin crusts of Neapolitan or New York pizza: it’s basically full-on bread, almost like foccacia. A bit of olive oil is mixed into the dough as well. I whipped up a dough, let it rise about three hours in a bowl with one punch down, then about another hour in the pan. Here it is.

One thing that amazes me is how easy making bread has become. I remember when making bread meant my fingers would be muddled with sticky dough. For this dough, I mixed, kneaded it, and rose it with hardly anything sticking.

Next is the sauce. I am not a fan of tomato sauce at all, I very often get white pizza, or at most ask for light sauce. To be authentic, I did do the tomato sauce, but stayed on the light side.

(Back when I was a teenager I had some super-tasting reaction to tomatoes; if I ate something with tomato and not enough other flavors to cover it, it could trigger a reaction and I felt like there was chalk all over the inside of my mouth. Pizza with a lot of sauce, spaghetti and marinara, and raw tomatoes were major triggers. I don’t get that reaction today, but still don’t like tomatoes or tomato sauce. But I find that in modest amounts tomatoes and tomato sauce can add dimension so I these days I tend to just go light on them rather than avoid entirely.)

I used one of those humble canned tomato sauces and some of my own seasonings, not the ritzy jarred stuff. I have a few tricks to take the edge off the tomato. Heat helps a lot, so I put a bit of cayenne in it, and another secret is I’ll put in a pinch of baking soda to cut down on the acidity. Here’s what it looks like:

Then the salami. Ralph’s did not have sandwich size salami so I used these smaller slices, which probably works better honestly. They are still larger than an average pepperoni.

Green pepper slices next. Amazingly, I think this was the first time I ever cored a green pepper rather than just cut into it. (I’ve cored jalapenos though.)

And finally, the cheese. I decided to use Kraft slicese for this, as I thought it was the closest in spirit to the original recipe. (I think the original used Velveeta.) More on that decision below.

Put it into a 450 oven bake for 15 minutes. Given that this is a Sicilian pizza dough, it’s pretty good for home oven baking. Thin crust depends on getting a nice char or something, but that’s not really the right thing with a thick doughy crust, and even if you have no firm crust at all (and I didn’t) it’s still good because it’s bread.

Here’s how that looked:

It was way, way gooier than it looks here. The top of the cheese firmed up, but underneath, it was melt city. Here’s a couple slices ready to eat.

The verdict: I thought it was good, in a bachelor throw-a-bunch-of-stuff-together way.

Good: Sicilian pizza dough (we should do more of it, seriously I know it’s a lot of calories, but come on, bread is good), the salami and pepper worked for me, and the gooey consistency of the cheese.

Bad: The strong flavor or the American cheese was too much. Actually, I feel like American cheese in general is too much these days. I don’t know if I’m getting older an my taste has changed, or if the Kraft singles are getting stronger (and, I want to say, tangier) in flavor, or if its a weird change in flavor that has stuck around from when I got covid).

If I were to do this again, I’d use mild cheddar or mild provolone. Provolone probably, it goes so good with salami, and melts great. This experience has made me realize that pizza is not somethign you want strong cheese on, so the mild versions.

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