The breeze from the Gulf of Naples softly wafts along the Via Caracciolo e Lungomare di Napoli. Combining the backdrop of Mount Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri with art, architecture and archeology, magic and romance abound.
But wait. Is it really the wood-fired pizza bringing the crowds?
Do you think when Naples pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito, Pizzeria Brandi’s chef, created a pie in honor of the Queen of Italy, he ever gave it a thought that 132 years later it would still be beloved?
The setting: 1889 Naples. King Umberto I and Queen Margherita, weary of the French cuisine they eat, are looking to be wowed by something new. Pizzaiolo Esposito makes three local specialties for the queen: One with lard, caciocavallo (a sheep’s or cow’s milk stretched-curd cheese, shaped like a teardrop, tasting like provolone) and basil; one with cecenielli (a type of white fish) and one with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil to honor the recently redesigned Italian flag. We know the winner and Pizza Margherita was born.
With the queen’s approval, pizza’s status shot up from being a street food to gracing the royal table, going from a local to national favorite and credibility as a genuine Italian food on par with pasta.
What’s your go to?
New York-style: Thin, hand tossed crust, triangle-shaped, sometimes folded in half to eat; Chicago deep-dish: 1-2-inch thick crust and tomato sauce goes on last (don’t forget the fork and knife); Detroit-style: Created when someone started using metal trays, originally holding small factory parts, to cook this rectangular deep-dish pie with the sauce on top and twice baked for perfectly caramelized cheese.
St. Louis-style: An unleavened, super crispy crust and sliced (never diced) toppings with an almost sweet sauce and instead of mozzarella, it has provel – a blend of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar – with pieces typically cut into squares. Hailing from Philadelphia, tomato pie has a thick, square crust topped with chunky tomato sauce and may have a dusting of Parmesan cheese.
For me, hands-down it’s Margherita with a thin crust. To achieve that perfect balance of ingredients is tricky. Luckily for us Tucsonans, look no further than Zio Peppe for that perfection! It starts with the divine crust. I won’t spoil the rest; you’ll have to order and enjoy it yourself. Culinary geniuses Chef Devon Sanner and Chef Mat Cable will help get us through the summer once they open, fingers crossed, next week. And don’t miss artist Ashley White’s amazing mural capturing Tucson’s food scene and City of Gastronomy designation.
Learn from the best and make pizza in Chef Mat’s May 25 Tucson Originals series Zoom class and his gift to you is already prepared dough, giving us time to make mozzarella (yes!) and tomato sauce. One lucky attendee will receive a $50 Tucson Originals gift card. With Chef Mat’s guidance, you’ll turn out a pie that would make Pizzaiolo Esposito proud.
Wishing you joy in the kitchen,
Philadelphia Tomato Pie
Recipe credit: The Redhead Baker
Yield: 12 servings
5 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups water at room temperature, 68°-72°
¼ cup olive oil, for greasing and drizzling
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, salt and yeast. In a large measuring cup, combine water and olive oil, then slowly pour into flour mixture. Mix on low speed just until combined.
2. Switch to dough hook attachment. Knead on medium speed for 5 minutes, until dough forms a ball that clears the sides of the bowl but is still somewhat sticky.
3. Sprinkle bread flour in a 6-inch square on a clean, flat surface. Scrape dough onto floured surface and pat into a rectangle. Let rest for 5 minutes.
4. Stretch dough from end to end into a long, thin rectangle. Take one end and fold a third of the dough toward the middle, then repeat with the other end, folding the dough like a letter. Lightly mist dough with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle with flour. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and rest for 30 minutes.
5. Stretch and fold the dough again, then mist with nonstick spray, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap and rest another 30 minutes. Repeat stretching and folding one more time, then rest 1 hour.
6. Line a 12-x17-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the parchment paper and using your fingers or a brush, spread it over the surface. Using a bench scraper, carefully lift dough into the pan, maintaining the rectangular shape as much as possible.
7. Using your fingertips, dimple the dough, simultaneously pressing air out and spreading the dough to fill all corners. If dough shrinks back, rest it about 15 minutes, then continue spreading. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.
8. While dough rises, preheat oven to 450° F.
9. After the dough has risen, bake for 10 minutes, rotate pan 180°, baking another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.
10. Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a wire rack. Cool completely.
6 lbs. medium tomatoes on the vine
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, grated
3 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Cut tomatoes into quarters and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.
3. In a large saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once tomatoes are roasted, add them to the saucepan and using an immersion blender, puree until slightly chunky.
4. Continue simmering, stirring frequently, until sauce is very thick and most of the water has evaporated. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Transfer to a storage container and chill.
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1. Once sauce is chilled, remove from refrigerator and pour about 3 cups over the focaccia, using an offset spatula to spread, leaving a ½-inch border on all sides. Add more sauce as needed or if you prefer a thicker sauce layer.
2. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve at room temperature.
Philadelphia Tomato Pie photo credit: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt