Slackware would definitely be what you're looking for. The install and such runs at a low level and you can choose specifically what you want installed without any sort of extra software that is out-of-the-ordinary.
(If you can get over the learning hump, you're probably better off with a form of BSD. However, most people find those difficult to get running. I had this problem when I was first learning to use UNIX-based OSes.)
For more information on what it takes to have a system up and running with the bare minimum, check out http://www.gnu.org/
- the GNU Foundation. I recently noticed a page they did on GNU/Linux that will get you in the right direction.
Hope this helps
All knowledge is good; only the way it is put into action can be good or evil. - An ape from the original Planet of the Apes
Feel free to PM