If you know New Haven Pizza, then you probably know Pepe’s. And if you know Pepe’s then you probably have heard of clam pizza. And if you’ve tried clam pizza, especially from Pepe’s in New Haven, then you might not need much convincing to keep reading. But if you haven’t, and if you like clams and pizza, please just stay with me and I promise you won’t be sorry.
History tells it that this singular and often copied pizza was invented at Pepe’s, though Frank Pepe apparently doesn’t quite remember how he came up tossing clams onto pizza. There may well be roots in Italy, though these are murky as well.
I do plan on digging into the story a bit more, but truly in this case the history sort of fades into the background once you start eating. The pizza is tomato-sauce free, and while some versions (not Pepe’s) have cheeses other than then the Pecorino Romano added — such as Parmesan, or possibly mozzarella — I love the way the light dusting of salty Pecorino lets the clams and the crust have their moments in the sun.
There are plenty of moments where I am slathering sauce on my pizzas, and strewing shredded mozz over the top with a generous hand. This is a different kind of pizza.
I made it with freshly shucked clams that were roughly chopped, and if you do that you will be rewarded with that incomparably fresh briny flavor of fresh shellfish. Ooh wee.
Frozen and defrosted chopped clams are a fine second, especially if you get them from a good seafood store, though they will probably not have clam bellies included in the mix. But you can always ask. I have a container waiting in my freezer for the next round, which I bought on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, a timeless mecca for classic Italian food and ingredients. If you are a New Yorker and Little Italy has become too gentrified for you, then carve out some pleasurable hours to make a little pilgrimage to Arthur Avenue, and go hungry, and don’t go in a rush.
And if you are craving this pizza, but just have time for a supermarket run? Canned chopped and drained clams will do you just fine.
The crust for New Haven pizza is usually quite thin, and cooked until crispy, with some lovely black-brown blisters from the wood burning ovens. I used my favorite shortcut pizza dough, Wewalka’s, in this case the thin Bistro pizza dough version, which most approximates the dough used in this style of pizza-making.
And much to my delight, because the pizza is topped so lightly, the crust did in fact bubble up in a spot or two. This made me feel like my regular old oven plus my Wewalka dough were working together to get me as close to New Haven as possible, and I love them both for it.
Don’t forget the final sprinkle of finely chopped parsley, which adds color and a great pop of freshness. And unless you have a real problem with heat, the red pepper flakes are not optional.
- ¾ cup chopped fresh clams
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 package Wewalka Bistro Pizza dough
- ½ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- Red pepper flakes for serving
- Kosher salt optional
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Drain the clams, but don't dry them (you can reserve the juices for another purpose if you like; see Note).
- Mix together the freshly drained clams, 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and oregano in a small bowl.
- Unroll the pizza dough on its parchment onto a baking sheet. Evenly distribute the clam mixture over the pizza dough, leaving a ¼-inch border all around the edges. Sprinkle over the Pecorino Romano, and lightly season with pepper. Don’t salt at this point, knowing that the clams and cheese might be a bit salty (you can always salt a bit after baking if needed).
- Bake for about 14 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the parsley and crushed red pepper, as desired. Cut into wedges and serve hot, with salt on the side if anyone needs it.
Note: Homemade Clamato, Anyone?Ok, look you’re the one who skimmed down to see the note about what to do with your leftover clam juice, so don’t act so surprised. You can certainly do other things with it, like use it in a seafood risotto or pasta dish. But for some reason I started wondering about Clamato, and if it was possible to make your own. And yes, why the hell not, it is. So if you like Clamato (and getting caught in the rain), just mix together any leftover clam juice with about twice as much tomato juice, and dashes and pinches or lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, celery salt, and red pepper flakes until it tastes right to you.
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