Anatomy of a Pie

We get the lowdown on the basic elements of our favorite savory pie from two local experts.

We get the lowdown on the basic elements of our favorite savory pie from two local experts: Gary Bimonte, co-owner and grandson of the namesake of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (founded in 1925, now with nine locations, including Yonkers), and Mike Abruzese, chef and cofounder of Polpettina in Eastchester and Larchmont.  


Dough/Crust

Neapolitan 
Finely milled “00” flour creates a thin, crunchy Neapolitan-style crust with a slightly chewy interior after fermenting for days. “You can stretch the dough out with your hands or use a rolling pin. We do ours by hand,” Bimonte says.

New York-Style
New York-style’s pliable crunch doesn’t prevent its signature fold-and-eat method. “We don’t over-knead the dough, because that would make it too hard,” says Abruzese, who uses American flour, for soft, light, thin crusts that ferment in one day. “If I held it in my hand, it would droop slowly.” 

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Pan Pizza
From square Sicilian pies to rustic Grandma slices to buttery Chicago-style deep dish, pan pies come in many styles. Across the board, the dough is typically bready (to support lots of toppings), and baked until golden and extra crisp. 


Tomatoes

San Marzano
Grown in the volcanic soil of Italy’s Valle del Sarno, these sweet tomatoes are prized as the ultimate tomato for pizza. “If you have the perfect tomato, you don’t need anything else,” says Abruzese, who uses crushed San Marzanos on Polpettina’s red-sauce pies. “I find in over 42 years doing this that a plum Italian tomato is far superior to a California tomato,” says Bimonte, who tests batches of canned San Marzano tomatoes every year to choose the season’s best.

Fresh Tomatoes
While canned tomatoes are preferred for sauces, fresh tomatoes are typically sliced or cut into chunks and added to white pies, where they add bright acidity and retain a semi-raw texture. 

Cooked Sauce
The calling card of every corner pizza joint, cooked sauce is typically made from crushed canned tomatoes and includes garlic and spices. The resulting thick, sweet sauce is often used as a base for sturdier New York-style or pan pizza.   


Mozzarella

Buffalo mozzarella
Made from the milk of domesticated water buffalo, this mozzarella is considered to be higher-quality and better-tasting than mozzarella made from cow’s milk. It’s brighter white, softer, moister, and easier to tear.

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Fior di latte or “flower of milk” mozzarella 
Made from ultra-fresh cow’s milk, it’s smooth, extremely fresh, a little tangy in flavor and has excellent melting characteristics. 

Pasteurized mozzarella (whole-milk or low-fat)
Bought in a block, sliced, or shredded, pasteurized mozzarella is the preferred cheese on American pizza for its low moisture and melting ability. Abruzese favors low-fat mozzarella, sliced on a deli machine, not shredded. No need to blot off oil with a napkin on his classic slice (whole milk, while having a more buttery-rich flavor, may release some fat during baking, which results in an oily appearance). Abruzese also layers the cheese on first — before the sauce — to sink into the crust and prevent sogginess, resulting in a crispier crust. 

Burrata 
A creamy cow’s-milk cheese similar to mozzarella in appearance and flavor except for a soft, milky center made of mozzarella curd and cream. A decadent cheese option on a pizza. 


The Oven

Gas
Abruzese favors old-school Bakers’ Pride gas-powered ovens for cooking pies at least 750° for 4 minutes. “There are inconsistencies in maintaining the same level of heat throughout the day with other methods,” he says. “We’re into simplicity and consistency.”

Wood
Some chefs brag about their Acunto wood-fired ovens made in Naples — great for thin, crunchy crusts cooked in just 2 minutes. Frankie & Fanucci, Burrata, and Wood & Fire are among the county restaurants cooking pies with wood-fire.   

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Coal
Bimonte prefers his coal-fired brick ovens, which retain heat best. “Coal provides a dry, intense heat that seals the flavors in,” he says.

Grill 
An anomaly in Westchester (Rhode Island is where grilled pizzas reign), Coals in Port Chester/Bronxville is the top choice for pies that are hand-stretched and grilled above an open flame. The resultant crust is crisp outside yet tender and even a bit chewy inside.

 

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