In 1909 a young 17 year old Italian immigrant arrived in New Haven, Connecticut looking for the American Dream. Like so many before him, his first job was in a factory. The hours were long, the work tedious. In short, he hated it. This was NOT his dream of what the New World could offer.
Disheartened he returned to Italy only to be caught up in the horror of World War I, a nightmare recorded by Hemingway in his epic novel, A Farewell to Arms. Yet the dream of a better, self-directed life still haunted Pepe.
Once again he came to America and began selling his "tomato pies" off of a special headdress in New Haven’s Wooster Square Market.
After many sales, he was able to but a wagon from which he sold his pizzas. He did so well with his tasty pizzas that he was able to lease a nearby bakery and in 1925 turned it into the first "Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana".
There he originated the now famous New Haven-style thin-crust "apizza". It was and is baked in a coal-fired brick oven. Originally, Frank Pepe only made two varieties of pizza: the "tomato pie" (tomatoes with grated pecorino romano heese, garlic, oregano, and olice oil) and " Anchovy Pie"..
The piece of land which Pepe's restaurant was located was actually owned by the Boccamiello family. They later forced Frank Pepe leave so that they could start their own pizzeria, which they renamed The Spot.
In response, Pepe moved his restaurant next door to The Spot. In the alleyway between The Spot and Pepe's, Boccamiello's nephew Bear would open clams and sell them on the half shell to those walking by.
Pepe's restaurant also began serving clams on the half shell but in their bar. It was only a matter of time before he decided to put the clams on their pizza.
The Pepe white clam pie is simple - just crust, olive oil, oregano, grated cheese, chopped garlic, and fresh clams. Today the restaurant will serve the pizza with or without mozzarella cheese, but they try to discourage customers from ordering it with mozzarella because they feel that it makes the pizza too heavy and rich.
They are also adamant on using freshly shucked clams as opposed to canned clams; if fresh clams are not available then they will not serve the white clam pie. Three men are employed by Pepe's just for shucking the clams on location. Since its invention, the white clam pie has become the signature pizza of pizzerias in New Haven and a must-visit culinary destination.
But if one is unable to travel to New Haven for a taste of Pepe’s amazing creation, try making its ‘cousin’ right in your own neighborhood complete with fresh clams and no mozzarella.
Frank Pepe’s Fantastic White Clam Pizza Pie
- Naples-style pizza dough
- 36 Taylor Manila clams
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Make the pizza dough at least 24 hours ahead.
- Rest the dough on the counter until it comes to room temperature, about 1 hour.
- Move an oven rack to the lowest position.
- Preheat the oven to 500 for 30 minutes.
- Bring 4 cups 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.
- Shape the dough and place it on the pizza pan .
- Place the clams on the pizza crust, leaving a 1-inch border.
- Sprinkle with the Romano, oregano, pepper, and garlic.
- Drizzle the olive oil over the toppings.
- Bake the pizza for about 15 minutes, until the crust is deep brown and the toppings are bubbling.
- Check underneath with a metal spatula to ensure the bottom crust is deep brown too.
- Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes.
- Cut it into 8 wedges and serve.