Given how ubiquitous pizzerias are in this country and this state, a Martian or a time traveler might come to the conclusion that we ate nothing else. There are probably more pizza parlors per citizen in the United States than in Italy. So perhaps it is no surprise that “the best pizza”, it is a hotly debated issue. Arguments concerning the merits of brick ovens, wood-burning ovens or charcoal-fired ovens contend with the adherents of thin, medium or thick crusts. Then there is Pizzeria pizza versus homemade. And we haven’t even whispered the word “anchovies” yet. Connecticut has developed its own pizza nomenclature. In this state alone, an alternative word for the pie is apizza, pronounced ah-beetz.
Pizza has a cyclical history. It was originally a fast food sold on the street by vendors with warming trays in wooden carts. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples, which is credited as being the world’s first pizzeria, was built by one such street vendor who constructed his pizzeria’s oven with the volcanic stones of Mount Vesuvius in the mid 19th C, is still in operation. When the soldiers returned home from WWII with a taste for pizza and other Italian staples, their popularity spread across the country. In recent years, pizza has once again become a fast food available from food trucks on the streets of cities.
While it is generally conceded that the first U.S. pizzeria was opened in New York City in 1905, Connecticut has played a significant role in the development of our taste for pizza. In 1925, WWI veteran Frank Pepe, born on the Amalfi Coast, opened his Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven. His first offerings were an anchovy covered crust and one called “plain” which meant the crust was sprinkled only with Pecorino Romano. Tomato sauce played no role. Eleven years later, Frank built a tile-covered, coal-burning pizza oven with temperatures up to 650ºF. Using high quality local ingredients, Frank invented the famous Connecticut “white clam pie”. Two years later, Frank’s nephew, Sally, opened another pizzeria. Between the two restaurants, the pizza options began to include mozzarella, tomatoes, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, onions, peppers, olives, and pepperoni. Both restaurants are still making their pizzas today to the great pleasure of their customers
Thanks to a burgeoning interest in the homemade, both the tools and the necessary ingredients for great pizza are available everywhere. It is not, however, necessary to spend a lot on fancy equipment. Pizza stones produce lovely results, but are not necessary to gain the incredibly delicious flavor of a homemade pizza straight from your oven. The wooden paddle used to slide the pizza from assembly platform to oven is called a peel. It is awkward in the hands of an amateur. You can produce a scrumptious pie with a simple metal pizza pan. You can, but don’t have to make your own crust. Local groceries sell frozen pizza dough. But making the dough is half the fun, so don’t deny yourself the pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl5X3mEzETU
October is National Pizza Month. You have a whole month to practice a few. I threw away my first attempt at dough. My second dough was much better. An Italian friend listened to the instructions I was following and laughed. Forget the 500º plus oven. Forget assembling the pie on the counter, transferring first to the peel paddle and then to the preheated pizza stone or pan. You can stick with the more traditional tomato sauce and mozzarella or can experiment with all that fresh produce we have now. Here are a few more video links with a bit more practical assistance to offer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbkfDqA8yKg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5fmWs5EJDA .
In our recipe today, Tri-Pizza Perfetto, the dough is from one offered in the New York Times by Roberta’s in Brooklyn. The toppings are divided into three groups in hopes of pleasing everyone around the table, one third is vegetarian with a tomatillo salsa verde base, one third is pepperoni, mozzarella on a tomato sauce, and the final third is a tomato sauce topped with sausage and Pecorino Romano. As always the entire point is to produce healthy food that tastes good and is fun to make.