Sad to say, but despite the large Italian community we have here in Rhode Island, there is no truly excellent pizza to speak of. I suppose you could say “them’s fightin’ words!” but if it’s here, I haven’t found it yet.
So where is the excellent pizza? New York City, of course. OK…maybe I’m a bit prejudiced because I grew up there and worked in a variety of pizzerias in my younger days, but there is no doubt in my mind that if you want the best pizza (or bagel, for that matter), you have got to go to the Big Apple. Everything else is simply a bad copy.
It can be confusing in New York City as there are many different varieties of pizza to choose from, some much better than others. Brick oven pizzas abound, but there are pizza lovers who won’t settle for anything less than a pizza baked in a coal-fired oven. The extremely high heat of a coal-fired oven cooks the pizza in just a minute, and imparts a crusty, charred flavor you can’t get any other way. There are only about a dozen coal-fired pizzerias in Manhattan, and many of them have been around for over 100 years, so it’s definitely a matter of making a special trip to enjoy this style of pizza. (No new coal-fired pizzerias can be built in the city, due to more recent strict pollution control laws.)
There’s the traditional thin, round Neopolitan pie, and the thicker, square Sicilian pie. Regular mozzarella or mozzarella di bufala. Domestic or imported cheese?
Many choices, but always the same answer: it’s a matter of personal taste.
But when I heard through the pizza lovers’ grapevine that there was a “new” pizza out there, one that was gaining a cult following, I needed to know about it. And more importantly, I needed to taste it!
It’s called Pizza Montanara, and there are only a few pizzerias in New York City that serve it. The one I went to is called Pizzarte, on West 55th St, and I have to say that I have now discovered the ultimate pizza.
What makes Pizza Montanara so spectacular, quite simply, is that the dough is fried in oil before they put the sauce and cheese on it, and then it is baked in a wood burning oven. It is not greasy. In fact, the frying process, which lasts only a minute, puffs the dough up and creates a beautiful pillow-like softness that I have never experienced in a pizza before.
Pillowy goodness! Its rectangular shape is probably due to the fact that they fry it in a restaurant deep fryer.
The pizza was so good that once my wife and I ate the first pie, we ordered another. Then when it was time for us to drive home from New York, we stopped at Pizzarte and ordered two to go, which we devoured by the time we got to the Connecticut border!
The Montanara is a simple pizza margherita: dough, super-fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala, topped with a fresh basil leaf. But the frying process creates a magical treat that has got me drooling all over this blog as I write it.
It’s so good, that just a few days after returning from the city, I made my first attempt at creating a montanara pizza at home. My result: pretty successful! A little crunchier than Pizzarte’s montanara, but with a little tweaking, I may just get the hang of this thing!
A little rounder (I fried it in a pan) and I sprinkled oregano on top instead of the fresh basil leaf. But not a bad first attempt!
I’m going to back to Manhattan for Thanksgiving weekend, and pizza montanara is the first food on my list!