Despite the large Italian community we have here in southern New England, there’s no exceptional pizza to speak of. I suppose you could say “them’s fightin’ words!” but if it’s here, I haven’t found it yet. (Fellini Pizza is about the best in Providence…and New Bedford’s Brick makes a good pie.)
So where is the excellent pizza? New York City, of course. OK…maybe I’m prejudiced because I’m a Brooklyn boy, and worked in a variety of pizzerias in my younger days, but there’s no doubt in my mind that if you want the best pizza–or bagel, for that matter–you’ve got to go to the Big Apple. (Even “Frank Pepe’s” in New Haven, CT is a mere stop on the way to the real deal.)
Pizza in NYC can be confusing as there are many different varieties to choose from. 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 New York City, and many of them have been around for 100 years or more, so it’s definitely a matter of making a special trip to enjoy this style of pizza.
Plenty of good, basic pizza, too: the traditional thin, round Neopolitan pie, and the thicker, square Sicilian pie, baked in that Blodgett pizza oven we all knew in our early pizza-making days.
So several years ago, when I heard through the pizza lovers’ grapevine that a “new” pizza was 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’s only a few pizzerias in New York City that serve it. The one I go to without fail is PizzArte, on West 55th, and I have to say it’s 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 they cook it in a wood burning oven. It is not greasy. The frying process, which lasts only a minute, puffs the dough up and creates a beautiful pillow-like softness that I’ve never experienced in a pizza before. Imagine a pizza cloud and you’ve got Pizza Montanara.
I’ve made Pizza Montanara at home, with some success. I poured a few inches of olive oil in a large skillet, stretched my dough into a small pie, and gently floated it into the pan. Using a spatula and tongs, I was able to flip the fried dough over after about 30 seconds, then removed it from the pan after another 30 seconds. It was golden and puffy. I quickly sauced and cheesed it and in the oven it went. But it’s a messy process I’d rather leave to the pros.
I’ll be “living the live” in New York City this weekend. PizzArte already on the list for Friday night. Looks for the photos. I can’t think of anything better than an amazing Pizza Montanara before I go on my no-carb diet next week!