Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl (2004). When we lived on the Eastern Shore, littleneck clams (called “nicks”) were an everyday part of our menu. One of Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood books talked about New Haven clam pizza, Frank Pepe’s pizza in particular, and I wanted to try it.
The Gourmet Cookbook arrived in 2004 with a recipe for “New Haven-Style Clam Pizza” and I was ready. We had a baking stone for the oven, we acquired a baker’s peel, and I set out to make clam pizza. However, despite many tries I never got the hang of sliding the pizza onto the baking stone intact. Every time, my pizza would crumple sideways. This made me yell a bad word in frustration, to the point that Dick would leave the kitchen to avoid the loud cursing when he saw I was trying to make clam pizza again. The pizzas were always delicious but they never looked like normal pizzas.
Fast-forward to 2017. At The Obstinate Daughter, a great restaurant on Sullivans Island, outside of Charleston, South Carolina, the menu has a clam pizza. It contains fennel and parsley and lemon, all very tasty, but not the New Haven version I remembered from my amoeba-shaped 2004 pizzas.
So I tried again to make New Haven clam pizza. This time I did research on the internet and happily noticed a picture of a pizza sitting on parchment paper. In a flash I realized the parchment paper would solve the problem of sliding the pizza onto the baking stone. It worked perfectly.
“How to Make Frank Pepe’s Famous White Clam Pizza” by Jason Diamond on The Men’s Journal website was most helpful as I went through Gourmet’s recipe yet again. The recipe on the website was a little vague (the dough recipe is missing) but it did recommend cooking the clams for a minute in boiling water to induce them to start opening. This makes shucking the clams a little easier, though I don’t have the hang of that yet.
You can read more about the current New Haven pizza market in this New York Times story.
This recipe makes one pizza, enough to make one person very happy, or leave two people arguing over the last piece.
Our baker’s peel is a 12-inch square so the pizza was a 12-inch circle though the recipe called for a 14-inch circle. New Haven clam pizza has a very thin crust, but the 12-inch vs. 14-inch discrepancy meant that this crust is thicker. If you want authenticity, make the crust thinner.
Make the dough and let it rise
2 and 1/4 teaspoons active or instant dry yeast
about 1 and 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading and dredging
3/4 cup warm water
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
Stir together yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1/4 cup warm water in a measuring cup and let stand until surface appears creamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t appear creamy, discard and start over with new yeast.)
Stir together 1 and 1/4 cups flour and the salt in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture, oil, and remaining 1/2 cup warm water and stir until smooth. Stir in enough of remaining flour (about 1/2 cup) so dough comes away from sides of bowl.
Knead dough on a dry surface with lightly floured hands (reflour hands when dough becomes too sticky) until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 8 minutes. Form into a ball. Put on a lightly floured surface and generously dust with flour. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 and 1/4 hours.
While the dough is rising, prepare the clams, garlic, and cheese.
Preheat the oven to the highest setting (500°F to 550°F) with baking stone on the lowest rack. Allow about 1 hour to preheat stone.
Shape the dough for baking
Put a piece of parchment paper on a baker’s peel large enough to hold a 12-inch round pizza.
Do not punch down dough. Carefully dredge dough in a bowl of flour to coat and transfer to dry work surface. Holding one edge of dough in the air with both hands and letting bottom touch work surface, carefully move hands around edge of dough (like turning a steering wheel), allowing weight of dough to stretch the round of dough to roughly 10 inches.
Lay dough flat on lightly floured work surface and continue to work edges with fingers, stretching it into a 12-inch round (note that the original recipe calls for a 14-inch round).
Place the dough onto the parchment paper on the baker’s peel. Let stand for 10 to 20 minutes.
Prepare the toppings
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
18 littleneck clams, shucked (reserve liquor)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Place the clams in the boiling water for about 1 minute. The clams will begin to open. Transfer the open clams to a colander and run cold water over them to cool them quickly. Slide a knife in the crack and open them. Any clams that do not open wide enough to slide a knife into should be discarded. Put the clam meat on paper towels and discard the shells. Pat the clam meat dry. Save as much of the clam liquor as possible.
Stir together garlic and oil in a small bowl, then brush evenly over the dough, leaving a half-inch border. Arrange clams evenly over oil, then sprinkle with oregano, cheese, and some of reserved clam liquor.
Line up the far edge of the peel with the far edge of the baking stone and tilt peel so that the parchment paper and pizza slide onto the stone.
Bake until crust is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch very closely to make sure the pizza doesn’t burn more than you like it. Slide peel under pizza to remove from oven.