I am not sure that this is the “for real” school pizza recipe I grew up eating, but I can tell you this Grandma Pizza recipe with vodka sauce (or drunken grandma pizza!) for the pizza sauce is absolutely out of this world delicious!
Read on to learn some history about Grandma pizza–where it originated and what sets it apart from other types of pizza. This is a long one, so feel free to use the Table of Contents below the first photo to jump straight down to the recipe.
I also have a couple of recipes for vodka sauce on the site, should you want to make your own: a traditional vodka sauce and a short cut creamy vodka sauce.
Another great pizza recipe is my bacon and pickled pepper pizza.
For ease of browsing, here are all of my bread and roll (including pizza) recipes in one place. Thanks for stopping by!
Fast Food Cafeteria
There were two cafeterias in our high school. One was the meat and vegetable “standard” high school cafeteria of the early 1980’s, complete with plump, mostly pleasant, hairnetted lunch ladies serving up homemade green beans and corn bread, meatloaf and chicken.
The other was the fast food cafeteria. Burgers and dogs and pizza, oh my. All with a side of fries with nary an actual vegetable in sight, unless you counted the fries and the ketchup.
Guess which cafeteria I ate in?
If you guessed the traditional cafeteria, you are wrong. I wanted nothing to do with the vegetables, and pizza and fries for lunch every day for two hundred school days a year sounded like heaven to me. I used to tear off a tiny corner of my ketchup pack and paint a stripe down the center of each of my limp fries. I was odd that way. Or meticulous, depending on how you look at it.
Even when I taught school as recently as ten years ago, I was a huge but secret fan of the school pizza. The only thing about it that was Italian was the name.
I think it’s pretty much just a cheeseburger in pizza form: ground beef, cheddar and fake mozzarella on a foldable crust, but there’s just something about it. Something near and dear to my fast food cafeteria-loving heart about school pizza.
Once I left education though, I never pined for school pizza. I honestly never really even thought about school pizza until last week.
We recently went to our favorite local Italian restaurant, and I ordered the tortellacci: meal-filled tortellini on steroids swimming in vodka sauce.
I decided there and then that I’d save as much of that luscious salmon-hued sauce as I could so I could make another dish with the leftovers. When our server stopped by to ask if we needed boxes, I explained my plan.
He told me that they have a pizza they sell on weekends called the “Grandmother’s Pizza” that uses vodka sauce instead of pizza sauce along with ricotta cheese.
I didn’t hear anything else he said because I had lapsed into a fugue state dreaming of using vodka sauce on pizza.
Grandma Pizza: A History Lesson
Having just found out about drunken grandma pizza, I hied myself over to The Google to ask it about it, and I found quite a few references to it, including this article about grandma pizza from Bon Appetit from October of 2014, What’s a Grandma Pie? And Where Can You Find One?
From that article, I learned that the grandma pizza recipe most likely got its start on Long Island and that it’s very difficult to find it outside the region. How, then, did our local Italian place end up serving it? Easy.
La Piazza is owned by a New York Italian family. Next time I go back, I’ll ask them if they’re also from Long Island. I bet the answer will be yes.
I also found this great article by Food Dude Extraordinaire David Rosengarten from August of 2013 that traces the history of grandma pizza and its movement from Long Island and out into The City over the last fifteen or so years: Za-Za-Zoom: The “Grandma Pizza” Forges Ahead in New York.
Here’s a quote from the article that made me well up:
“Yeah, we make Grandma Pizza,” he told me. “But not all the time. Sometimes the spirit of my dad walks in, and we make it.” –Stephen Vanacore, owner of Mimi’s on 84th St.
What Makes a Grandma Pie a Grandma Pie?
The basic rules seem to be:
- thinner than a Sicilian pizza but made in a pan liberally spread with olive oil
- not a ton of toppings
- usually a fresh, uncooked or quickly cooked sauce
My version of vodka sauce pizza “Grandma Pie” hits two of those three criteria since the sauce is cooked for a pretty long time. Still, the overall impression is lighter since the crust is thin but crispy on the bottom (thanks to the oil) and still a little chewy on the top and it doesn’t have a ton of toppings.
Pizza a Taglio
When I posted a photo of the pizza I made on instagram, my friend Viviane from Chocolate Chilli Mango commented that I had made “pizza a taglio,” or pizza by the slice, the kind that one might purchase as a street food snack while strolling along the streets of Italy.
She said that Grandma pizza, or “Nonna’s Pizza” must be an American thing, because as an Italian, she had never heard of it.
It could be that Italian grandmothers who came to the US, and specifically to New York, pioneered this uniquely Italian American hybrid pie, Sicilian but with a faster rise. Maybe we’ll never know, and that’s fine, because wherever it came from, this style of pie is delicious.
The crust has a whole different feel to it than pizza baked on a hot stone because the bottom of the crust essentially fries in the olive oil. Instead of getting some char on it like a stone-baked pizza, the grandma pie’s crust is a gorgeous, crisp golden brown.
Is Grandma Pizza the Same as School Pizza?
What’s the connection between vodka sauce grandma pie–or any grandma pie, really–and school pizza?
There may be no real connection.
The only similarities might be that they are both baked in sheet pans and are cut into rectangles. But I like to think what happened was that a few Italian grandmothers got jobs in school cafeterias, and the rest is history.
Why not whip up a few rounds of dough and be ready to make vodka sauce grandma’s pizza (or homemade school pizza, for that matter) whenever you want?
The great thing is that you can use your favorite pizza dough recipe. Just make sure that once you stretch and top the dough that you only let it rise for maybe fifteen minutes, or maybe not at all before baking.
Make Drunken Grandma Pizza
I think you will really appreciate the deliciousness of this Grandma pizza recipe. Especially when made with vodka sauce, because who doesn’t like the name “drunken Grandma pizza?!”
Use whatever toppings you like, or make yours exactly the way I made mine. Just make one, and enjoy!
If you have questions about this post or recipe, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave a comment on the post and I will get back to you within about 24 hours.
If your question is more urgent, please shoot me an email, and I will respond within 4 hours, unless I’m asleep.
If you make this recipe and/or have enjoyed or learned from reading this post, I’d appreciate it if you could share this!
I have Convenient share buttons that float to the left on desk top and on mobile which invite you to share on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or Yummly.
If you make the recipe, please consider rating it a rating and a review. You can do this via the recipe card in the post.
Reviews really help sell the recipe, and negative reviews help me tune into what people really want to have explained better, so any ratings and reviews are helpful!
Also feel free to tag me on Instagram at @onlinepastrychef with #pcorecipe so I can find your creation. Thank you!
NOTE: The book, (affiliate link) Perfect Pan Pizzas, just came out. While this recipe is not from the book, I can highly recommend Peter Reinhart as an expert in all things bread, so do pick up a copy if you love pan pizza!
Vodka Sauce Grandma Pizza Recipe
Grandma Pizza is my new favorite pizza dough, even more favorite than Peter Reinhart's pizza dough, is the one from Revolutionary Pizza by Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau, owner of Dimo's Pizza in Chicago. I just love it. If you haven't tried it, you really should. But please feel free to use your favorite pizza recipe and your favorite toppings.
For the Dough (makes enough for two round pizzas or grandma's pies baked in half sheet pans (approximately 12" x 18")
- 8.5 oz (1 cup, 1 Tablespoon) cold water
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 14.8 oz (3 1/2 cups) bread flour (I used half King Arthur bread flour and half 00 flour)
- 5-6 Tablespoons olive oil
Toppings to Make Your Pizza Just Like Mine
- 1 cup vodka sauce
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella, (from a block--not pre-shredded)
- 16-20 slices Genoa salami
- 4-5 pepperoncini, thinly sliced and squeezed so they're not too wet
To Finish (all optional)
- coarse sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Italian herbs, fresh or dried
- hot pepper flakes
- finely grated Parmesan cheese, about 4 tablespoons
For the Dough
- Whisk together the water, salt, sugar and yeast in your mixer bowl.
- Whisk in the oil and then add the flour all at once.
- Mix on low speed until the dough comes together and then knead on medium-low speed until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. It should pass the windowpane test. If it doesn't, let it rest, covered, for twenty minutes, knead another 2-3 minutes and test again.
- Once the dough is beautiful, cut it into two equal pieces.
- Knead each piece by hand just to get rid of any air bubbles and then shape into taut rounds. Refrigerate or freeze one round for later use.
- Spread the 5-6 Tablespoons of olive oil onto a clean half-sheet tray. You won't need Silpat or parchment, just put it straight on the tray.
- Plop the dough round down on the pan and cover the whole thing with plastic wrap.
- Let the dough proof at least two hours and up to five hours.
- Preheat your oven to 500F about an hour before baking. Place a rack on the lowest setting and set a baking stone on top of the rack.
To Assemble and Bake
- Remove the plastic wrap and gently stretch out your dough to fit the pan. It should stretch easily. Press down the center keeping the edges a bit thicker. Keep at it until it fits perfectly (ish) in the pan. If it seems to be bouncing back too much, let it rest 10 minutes and then stretch it some more.
- Spread the vodka sauce evenly over the dough to about 1/2" from the edges all the way around. (I used a small offset spatula.)
- Top with all the toppings. You can put the cheeses on first or the meat and pepperoncini--however you like.
- Let rest for about ten minutes and then bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust is a beautiful burnished golden brown and the underside of the crust is crisp golden brown. If the crust bubbles up during baking (mine did a few times), just stab the bubbles with a knife.
- Remove the pizza from the oven and set the pan on a rack to cool a bit. Top with any--or none--of the optional finishes and as soon as you know it's cool enough not to burn your mouth, dig in.
This pizza reheats beautifully in the toaster oven, especially if you add a bit more grated mozzarella before toasting.
Top the pizza with any of your favorite pizza toppings. Just remember to use a light hand so all the toppings don't overpower the crust.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Nutrition InformationYield 16 Serving Size 1 slice
Amount Per Serving Calories 236Total Fat 17gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 26mgSodium 1012mgCarbohydrates 12gFiber 1gSugar 3gProtein 10g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
How will you make your grandma pizza? Let me know in the comments!
Want me to shoot new recipes and an occasional email into your inbox?
You can do that by signing up here for my newsletter, The Inbox Pastry Chef.
I’ll be seeing you!
Thanks so much for taking the time to read today. Have a lovely day.
What Others Are Saying...
Jenni, this looks fantastic and vidka sauce? There’s a thing. I will be looking to make that soon.
Jennifer Field says
You totally need to, my friend! You will love it!
Toby @ Plate Fodder says
We did it back last summer and played with the tangzhong roux. Even though it was a bit “puffier” than a Grandma should be, we thought it was still pretty slammin.
Jennifer Field says
I love the Tangzhong method! It never occurred to me to try it with Pizza because it never lasts long enough to get state! lol
Toby @ Plate Fodder says
Oops! I either erased the comment… or forgot to add it all together (I’m going with option 1) While I think the “typical” topping of crushed tomatoes is really good in it’s own right, I think the vodka sauce (one of my all time fav sauces) would be killer here. Stack 2 slices together for me and I’ll be there to snag ’em.
Jennifer Field says
Yes, I am totally standing by the vodka sauce. It is magical on pizza!
Ha, ha, Jenni! That’s how I still eat fries if I have packets of ketchup! What a great pizza! Just the right amount of tomato-ey-ness in the vodka sauce for folks who aren’t keen on straight tomato sauce, like my elder daughter. I don’t recall that we had school pizza in my cafeteria but every Thursday was Rigatoni Day. My favorite day of the week.
Jennifer Field says
Rigatoni day?! Ooh, I’d have very much enjoyed rigatoni day!
This pizza looks fantastic! You make me miss Brooklyn, which is where the very best pizza lives, and YES, the Grandma slice is my all time favorite.
It’s so simple, not a lot of fuss and I think that is precisely why it is magnificent.
Job well done, Sissy!
Jennifer Field says
Thanks, Sissy! I have 2 more balls of dough, and I’m not afraid to use ’em!
This is my go-to dinner when I have a cheese pileup in the fridge of leftover bits & pieces. I think I actually prefer the oily crispy-bottom to the more-admired classic charred-bottom style. And you know what’s REALLY good? If you have one of those perforated pizza or sheet pans, the bottom of an extra-thin grandma pizza gets supremely crackly and wonderful.
Jennifer Field says
That is one thing I don’t own. I have to be careful about all the specialty stuff since storage space is limited, but I bet a perforated pan has more uses than just for pizza. =)
I scoffed at getting one too (I live in a teensy house), until I saw what they could do for biscuits and rolls. Very much worth making space for.
Jennifer Field says
Good to know. I shall look into it (and it can always live on its side along a cabinet wall)! =)