Baltimore has crab cakes, St. Louis has ribs, New Orleans has gumbo, and New Haven has pizza. New Haven pizza ovens are heated with coal, which burns hotter than wood, so the iconic pie has charred, crunchy spots on the bottom and edges. Basic pies are topped with tomato, oregano, a bit of garlic, and a scattering of pecorino. Mozzarella is optional and applied sparingly. Unlike San Francisco’s artisan pizza scene, the most famous New Haven joints use everyday toppings: think bell peppers and sausage, not broccoli rabe and caciocavallo.
This recipe is my attempt to marry the New Haven-style pizza of my youth with San Francisco’s exuberantly seasonal, Neapolitan style.
- 622g bread flour (100%)
- 379g water (61%)
- 3.1g dry yeast (0.5%)
- 11g salt (1.75%)
- 19g olive oil (3%)
Mix all ingredients into a rough mass. (Since the dough cold-ferments for days, there’s no need to mix the water and yeast separately.) In a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment or by hand, knead dough until smooth (about 5 minutes). Divide into 4 pieces, each about 260g. Shape into balls and store in lightly oiled gallon-sized plastic bags. Refrigerate 2–3 days. (After 1 day, dough can be frozen.)
- Canned crushed tomatoes
- Dried oregano, salt, and sugar to taste
Mix crushed tomato and a bit of dried oregano. Add salt and sugar, a little at a time, to round out the tomato flavor. Toppings are usually salty, so the sauce should be slightly under-seasoned. Do not cook the sauce.
This sauce is all about the tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes are better than diced or whole, because they’re made from the fruits that are too ripe to be peeled. Hand-blending tomatoes works in a pinch, but over-blending will release too much water.
Shaping and Baking
- Remove dough from the refrigerator and gently re-shape into balls. Allow dough to come back to room temperature, usually 3–5 hours.
- An hour before the dough is ready, remove the top rack of the oven and place the baking steel onto the middle rack. Preheat at 500°F for 50 minutes.
- Lightly flour a dough ball. From the middle of the ball to the edges, flatten the dough with your fingertips, leaving a thin rim of untouched dough to make the crust. Anchor an edge of the crust with one hand, then stretch from the opposite side, rotating a quarter-turn between repetitions. There should be a groove between the raised edge and the flat center. (This video shows the edge stretching technique.) Once the ball is about 8 inches in diameter, stretch it to 12 inches across your knuckles. At this point, the ideal pizza has a thin, raised rim of untouched dough with a sharp transition to a wide, flat center.
- Dust a wooden pizza peel (or a piece of parchment paper) with a bit of flour and cornmeal. Transfer the stretched round and top quickly. Transfer to the hot steel, set the oven to broil at 550F, and bake for 5 minutes. The crust should be browned everywhere, with some lightly charred spots.
- Retrieve with a metal pizza peel and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before slicing. After every fourth pizza, let the steel reheat for 10 minutes at 500F.
- Low-moisture, whole-milk mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes
- Childhood classics: bell pepper, mushroom, onion, sausage, and/or pepperoni
- Zucchini and oven-dried tomatoes (dryer than fresh, but not as leathery as jarred sun-dried tomatoes), no sauce
- Confit garlic and dark greens (I like broccoli rabe and dandelion greens)
- King trumpet mushrooms and bacon
- Calabrian or Szechuan chili oil
- Over easy eggs and/or baby arugula tossed with lemon, oil, salt, and pepper, added after cooking the pizza
- Capers, olives, and fresh oregano
- Fresh chives, green onions, ramps, garlic scapes, or basil
- On a New Haven- or NY-style pizza, I don’t like fresh mozzarella—it’s too wet, and it gets rubbery when dried out.
- Vegetables should be pre-cooked or they’ll release too much water during baking. Microwaving them with a paper towel is often enough.
- Sauce gets better if it sits for an hour or so at room temperature. I sometimes make the sauce at the same time as the dough and keep it in the refrigerator.
- Test the brands of crushed tomatoes available in your grocery. In San Francisco, I like Bianco di Napoli.
- Large, deeply blackened areas on the bottom of the pizza mean that the steel is too hot. Preheat at a lower temperature, but don’t shorten the time. (I aim for some char, though.)
- If you use parchment paper to transfer the pizzas onto the hot baking steel, remove it after a minute or two. Reynolds brand parchment tolerates high heat well, but the eco-friendly brands I’ve tried burn too easily.
- Shaping the dough into tight, round balls is important to the final shape. Air pockets or gaps on the underside of the ball often turn into thin spots or tears during stretching.
- Adding fresh herbs under the cheese protects them from some of the heat.
- Despite the Tartine bread book’s claim that any good bread dough can make great pizza, I find lower-hydration, oil-enriched doughs tastier and much easier to shape.
Going to New Haven?
- Sally’s makes the best pizza, period.
- Bar is my second-favorite overall, is open for lunch, and also sells slices.
- Foxon Park white birch soda is the ultimate pizza accompaniment.
- Clam pizza tastes like gritty toes.
- The original Pepe’s on Wooster St. is pretty good, but the other locations are second-rate knockoffs.