Between growing up in New Jersey and living in Rhode Island, the states with, respectively, the largest number and percentage of Italians, I have eaten a lot of very, very good pizza. Truly fine thin-crust pizza can only be gotten in such Italian strongholds—New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, New Haven—as anyone who has had to, say, move to the middle of the country, knows. Pizza dreams always come back to that one little place that is pizza perfection for you: the right amount of black on the bottom of the thin crust, the subtle slick of oil on the top, the moderate smear of properly salted, unsweetened sauce, the restrained yet optimum amount of good cheese, browned here and there to perfection.
For as long as I can remember, Friday night was pizza night at my house: first, in New Jersey, the order of four large pizzas from a local pizzeria for our family of eight; then, in college in Rhode Island, going out for pizza on a Friday night off-campus; later, making my own every single week, a Friday night ritual. I don’t make it every Friday anymore. But I make it a lot. And lately, I’ve been making it frequently, because for the first time ever I don’t feel as if I absolutely must make my own crust or forego pizza altogether. Now in Rhode Island, pizza can be a simple matter of assembly.
A lot of good impromptu food is about assembly of great purchased products—think antipasto platters—and most dishes, including pizza, are the result of assembly of various components in the end. But first you usually have to make or cook them. Now in Rhode Island, with the exception of the truly simple and lightning-quick matter of the sauce, you don’t. You can make a true Rhode Island pizza—indeed, a more-Rhode Island-than-ever pizza—with some special products from our local producers of artisan food products.
The foundation, literally, of this Rhode Island pizza is the fresh, thin, oval pizza shells from Olga’s Cup and Saucer, now available in some local markets. Though Olga started out in Little Compton, it was not until she moved to Providence and put together a professional operation that the food began to meet my food-snob standard; with the offering of this pizza crust, I would have to say that I am now impressed. Pizza every day! Thank you, Olga.
But that is just the bottom line, or at least, the bottom. Now we also have a very good, properly salted, creamy mozzarella from Narragansett Creamery, also now available at a market near you (Thank you, Louella). And we’ve always had chouriço. So in making my Rhode Island pizza, I thought: why not substitute a good handmade chouriço for pepperoni? Not that you can’t get terrific pepperoni here, but why not push the envelope on the Rhode Island theme?
This turned out to be a very good thought. Here is how to assemble your very own Rhode Island pizza. And if you don’t live or summer here, as always, I’m sorry. But do come visit.
A Rhode Island Pizza
Partially cooked, the Olga’s shells already have a generous amount of cornmeal on the bottom; they come in packages of 2 and freeze beautifully. Commercial chouriço will yield more oil than handmade, similar to commercial pepperoni. Serves 1 as a meal, 2-3 as appetizer.
For the sauce
1 15-oz can imported Italian tomatoes, preferably Pastene™
1 T olive oil
In a medium skillet, heat the oil. If the tomatoes look watery on opening the can, drain them; if not (Pastene’s usually do not), put them right into the hot oil. Likewise, if the tomatoes seem hard (Pastene’s usually are not), cover the pan for a minute to soften them. Cook the tomatoes over moderately high heat for 2-3 minutes, chopping them with the edge of a wooden spoon, until they are broken down and a sauce begins to form. Lower the heat and cook at a moderately low simmer for anywhere from from 2-3 to 10 minutes more, depending on the tomatoes, until you can drag the spoon across the center of the pan and create a liquid-free tunnel. The sauce should be completely cohesive but not dry; be careful not to overcook, as the sauce will continue to lose some moisture on cooling. Near the end of cooking, add salt very gradually, just enough to take any acidic edge off to yield a true, sweet, round tomato flavor; again, this will depend on the tomatoes. Do not muck it up with a lot of dried herbs. Remove from the heat. Let the sauce come to room temperature before using.
1 Olga’s pizza shell
1 8-oz Narragansett Creamery mozzarella
2-3 T freshly grated parmaggiano reggiano
¼ lb (about ½ link) hot chouriço, skin removed, sliced very thin
1 tea oregano (optional)
extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)
Place the shell on a baking sheet or peel (if using a pizza stone); you can sprinkle it lightly with cornmeal, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Spread it thinly with sauce; if you make the above amount, you will have 3 or 4 tablespoons left over, which you can refrigerate for another use. Slice the mozzarella thinly while cold (a wire cheese cutter is good for this), and arrange around the shell on top of the sauce; follow with the thinly sliced chouriço. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and the oregano if using. Bake until the cheese is lightly browned and gently bubbling, the crust is golden-edged, and you smell pizza. Home ovens vary widely; if you can get your oven hot, this will take 5-8 minutes, so start checking after 5. If not, it may take as long as 15 minutes. You want to remove your pizza before the bottom gets too dark or the cheese and sauce lose too much moisture; it should still have a gloss.
Remove from the oven and, if you wish, drizzle-sprinkle a tiny bit of extra-virgin olive oil on top. Transfer to a board and let sit for a minute or two; using a pizza cutter or very sharp knife, cut it into pieces and serve, with hot pepper if you like. Enjoy the real thing.