Pizza, like accents, has regional variations. The New York-style is a folded slice; Chicago gives us deep-dish with a biscuit-like crust; St. Louis counters with a cracker-thin crust and provel cheese; and three of the largest national pizza chains, Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, and Hungry Howie’s all have their roots in Detroit. And each of them is rooted in New Haven, Connecticut. Curiously, the only distinct pizza style west of St. Louis is the California pizza, which is a New-York style crust topped with local ingredients like squid and baby vegetables. Personally? My favorite is the St. Louis.
As I was working on this recipe last night, my beloved 12 year old walked into the kitchen and announced that he was not in the mood for pizza but would consent to eating take-out Chinese. Half an hour and a major episode of mom’s stink-eye later, he was glad I hadn’t listened to his (not well-developed) arguments.
I was thinking, while ignoring my poor child’s pleas for Mongolian beef, that I wanted to write about making pizza at the Valle dei Mulini under the supervision of the cantankerous Chef (“My staff, they say I am the Italian Gordon Ramsey”) Rafaele. Then realized that if I started heading that direction I’d never get back on track. Suffice it to say that some of the things I learned while cooking in Italy have been put to good use in this recipe.
A couple of notes before I get to the recipe. First, I used my convection toaster oven to bake these. While the crust lacked the wonderfully charry quality of a wood-fired pizza, it was still damn good. If the cooking gods are in your favor and you can make these in a wood-fired oven or on a grill, then I strongly encourage you to do so. A regular oven with a pizza stone is also a very fine choice. Second, the crust is an adaptation of Mark Bittman’s no-knead bread recipe. There are a million pizza dough recipes out there, but I opted to adapt this one because I suspected the combination of crisp exterior and loose crumb would make a perfect New Haven style apizza. And it did. It’s nice to be right once in a while (not that my 12 year old would ever believe me). Finally, because it is a no-knead dough, you’ll need to make the crust well in advance of your pizza-making. Plan accordingly.
New Haven Pizza
Serves 2-6 depending on how hungry you are (a pair of 12 year old boys can finish both and ask for more)
12 oz tomato sauce*
2 large cloves garlic, cut into 8 large chunks*
1 tsp salt
Pinch of dried oregano
1/2-3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat your oven, your smoker, your grill, whatever you’re using, and the pizza stone if you have one
While your dough is coming up to temperature, pour tomato sauce into a small pan and add the garlic. Bring to a low simmer, add salt and oregano, and let reduce by at least half. This should take 30-45 minutes. For the two pizzas, you’ll need no more than 1/2 cup of sauce–unless you love saucy pizza, that is. Remove garlic before using.
Shape your first piece of dough into a disk and place on a well-floured surface
Using just the tips of your fingers, working from the inside out, shape the dough into a 9-10″ circle. A true New-Haven style crust will be very thin. If you like a bit more body, make an 8″ circle. If the dough starts to fight back while you’re shaping it, let it rest for 5 minutes. This gives the gluten strands time to relax, and the dough will be easier to work with when you return to it.
Shape it using just your fingertips. If it starts to tear, repair with a bit (a tiny tiny bit) of water.
Spread half of the tomato sauce over the crust, reserving the remaining sauce for the second crust
Top with half of the Parmesan cheese
Bake in a 450º oven for 9-12 minutes. If you’re using a grill, about 7-10 minutes (give or take; keep an eye on them)
Repeat with second ball of dough
I made two pizzas from my dough. The first was the classic New Haven apizza with sauce and Parmesan. It was very, very good, in that way that simple dishes can equal far more than the sum of their parts. I would happily make it again.
The second, also very very good but in more of a bells-and-whistles way, had caramelized onions, bacon, goat cheese, and fresh mozzarella.
Onion, bacon, goat cheese and fresh mozz. Yum.
For the tomato sauce, I used some that I canned this summer because that’s just how we roll around here. I had left it intentionally thin so that I could get the most use out of it. Canned sauce, or a quick sauce made from fresh tomatoes if you have some handy will also work. Just pay attention to the reduction as there will probably be less water in it.
The recipe itself comes from Filomena, one of my favorite people in the world (though we only met once, while I was learning to make ravioli in her kitchen at Le Tres Sorellas. Sometimes, love at first sight just happens). Like true southern Italian cooking, it’s deceptively simple and highlights good ingredients, treated simply and with respect. We could add a lot more ingredients to it, but for this dish? Not needed.
That’s Filomena on the right.