BOOK EXCERPT

New Haven White Clam Pizza

From "Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food"

Roadfood experts Jane and Michael Stern (Todd France)

Excerpt from "Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food" by Jane and Michael Stern. Copyright © 2005 by Jane and Michael Stern. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company. Buy the book from amazon.com

Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven makes white clam pizza only when tiny fresh littleneck clams from Rhode Island are available. When the supply runs out for the day, that's the end of it.

Shortly after discovering this pizza, we went back to Pepe's, waited in the inevitable line for an hour, and got our booth--only to be informed that the kitchen had just run out of clams. That shortage caused us to learn to cook. Over the course of a weekend, we bought a pizza peel and stone, figured out how to stretch a bomb of dough, and made the first of what seem like several thousand white clam pizzas.

If you plan on baking more than the occasional pizza, it makes sense to do as we did and invest in a pizza stone and a baker's peel to slide the pizzas in and out. This recipe calls for both, although it is possible to use a cookie sheet (if you can tolerate less than brittlecrisp crust).

THE DOUGH
 1 package dry yeast
 1 teaspoon sugar
 1 cup warm water
  2--2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
 2 teaspoons salt Cornmeal

THE TOPPING
 3 large garlic cloves
 3 tablespoons olive oil
 1 dozen just-shucked littleneck clams
 1 teaspoon dried oregano
 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

MAKE THE DOUGH:
 Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of the warm water in a small bowl. Stir the remaining 3/4 cup water into 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt, and when the yeast is bubbly, add it, too. Stir it all together and turn the dough out onto a floured board. Let the dough rest while you clean and oil a large ceramic bowl.

Knead the dough vigorously for a full 15 minutes, adding flour if necessary to create a silky dough. Return it to the bowl and cover it with two tight layers of plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours.

Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Punch down the dough and flatten it on a lightly floured board. Pounding with the heel of your hand, carefully and methodically work the dough into a circle no more than 1/4 inch thick in the center, rising to a 1/2- inch ring around the circumference. Sprinkle a baker's peel generously with cornmeal and put the circle of dough on it. Cover it lightly with a sheet of plastic wrap (so it doesn't dry out) and let it rest while you open the clams.

MAKE THE TOPPING:
 While the dough is resting, mince the garlic and let it steep in the olive oil. After the dough has rested for 10 to 12 minutes, brush on the oil and garlic, leaving the half-inch circumference untouched. Spread the clams around the pie with a dash of their own juice. Sprinkle on the oregano and cheese.

TO BAKE:
 Use the baker's peel to transfer the pizza to the preheated stone in the oven. (The cornmeal will act as miniature ball bearings to help it slide neatly onto the stone.) Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is light brown. Remove the pizza, slice, and serve with beer or soda and plenty of napkins.
 MAKES ONE 12-INCH PIZZA, 2 SERVINGS

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