Sharing the Pie

T he oven was set to 500 degrees and the kitchen counter was blanketed with flour when my husband and I tuned in to Pizza Making & Methods, the first class in Taste of New Haven’s Pizza in America series. It seems easy enough to grab some supermarket dough out of the fridge, stretch it out on a pizza pan, pour some tomato sauce on it and load it up with mozzarella—but you would have made at least four mistakes already, according to the evening’s instructor, Jimmy Ormrod of Zuppardi’s Apizza in West Haven.

More than 50 computers, with significantly more participants, logged on to the January 19 Zoom class, hosted in Ormrod’s own kitchen by Taste of New Haven’s Colin Caplan, who grew up eating New Haven “ah-beetz” and is now one of its biggest champions. “New Haven pizza is just so much better than any other kind of pizza,” Caplan asserts with a laugh that acknowledges the boldness of the claim. But he means it.

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For the uninitiated, New Haven pizza has a chewy, thin crust and “a base of simple, fresh tomato on it,” Caplan explains. Its crust is distinctively “charred,” which Caplan readily admits other cities would call “burned.” He prefers “licked by the fire.” True New Haven-style pizza is baked in a wood-burning oven, so you’re not going to get it exactly right at home—though a class on cooking pizza on your grill planned for next summer might get you close.

Ormrod, a fourth-generation pizza chef whose mother and aunt now run the family business, began this class on the basics by recommending brands of local dough—we’d picked ours up from the pizzeria earlier that day—and showing us how to spread it (at room temperature, please) into a proper pizza shape, using a finger-pressing technique followed by good old gravity. You can’t use that tossing-in-the-air move for New Haven pizza, Ormrod and Caplan agreed, because New Haven dough is too soft.

Ormrod ladled a simple sauce—“the tomato sauce should taste like tomatoes”—into the center of the dough and spread it with a light, circular motion, then sprinkled some low-moisture, whole milk mozzarella onto the pie, followed by a generous pinch of Pecorino Romano cheese—“one of the secrets, I think, to any good pizza,” Caplan noted. Participants observed first and then tried it themselves.

Moving slowly, my husband worked the dough as Ormrod had, then set it on a “peel”—a wooden board coated with corn meal to keep the dough from sticking—and added the sauce and the cheese. After watching Ormrod’s technique, he slid the pie onto the heated pizza stone waiting in the oven. If you’re using a pan instead of a stone, Ormrod recommends moving the pizza directly onto the oven rack for the last few minutes in order to brown the bottom.

As Ormrod prepared one pie after another, the Zoom chat crackled with questions—How many ounces of dough? Can you use semolina flour instead of corn meal?—as well as enthusiastic exclamations. “Loving this!” one participant wrote, while another maybe only half joked, “Does anyone see my kitchen smoking? LOL that can’t be normal.” Thinking like his audience, Ormrod ripped a hole in one of his dough preparations, then instructed cooks how to fix it. The biggest mistake made at our house was saucing the dough on the counter before moving it to the peel, which then became a job for four hands. Ultimately, our two pizzas were the best my husband had ever baked—especially the second pie, which included a streak of olive oil and a swirl of garlic.

Upcoming Pizza Making & Methods classes will address how to prepare favorite toppings and make dough from scratch. In addition, the Pizza in America series will include history classes on New Haven’s first pizzerias, pizza lingo, American pizza styles, pizza ovens and more as well as a screening of the locally centered movie Pizza, A Love Story.

A trained architect who also works as a historian, genealogist and college instructor, Caplan takes his pizza seriously. For him, it’s not just about dough and sauce and cheese. “I think it is important that we all find a way to learn and continue learning, and continue to have socialization,” he says, alluding to the fact that, at least for now, all classes will be run virtually. “Pizza making and cooking classes and entertainment—I mean, that’s where we can kind of come together.”

Founded in 2011, Taste of New Haven offers 14 local food tours and live classes in better times and runs the annual Apizza Feast downtown during the New Haven Grand Prix. The business “was an idea that I grabbed from Los Angeles,” says Caplan, who lived there for a time before coming home to New Haven. He wanted to bring “big city ideas to little New Haven, trying to show off our restaurant culture … We do have some of the best food in the entire country, and the best pizza in the world.”

His hope is that the second-best pizza in the world will soon be made in your own kitchen.

Pizza in America by Taste of New Haven
February 2 – April 20
$20-$75/screen/session
(888) 975-8664 | colin@tasteofnewhaven.com
www.tasteofnewhaven.com/tours

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, featuring Jimmy Ormrod and Colin Caplan broadcasting from Ormrod’s kitchen, photographed by April Amellin and provided courtesy of Taste of New Haven. Images 2 and 3 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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