January 1, 2015 |

Respecting the Craft: Grandma

By Tony Gemignani

grandma style pizza, grandma, square pizzaTony G. explores the rising national popularity of this Long Island staple — Grandma-style pizza


Nearly 15 years ago I tried a grandma pizza near Bari, Italy. Ironically, it was in a pizzeria named Big Apple Pizza. I was with George Giove at his family’s pizzeria. George and his family had moved from Staten Island to Italy and opened up shop. His father, Pietro, was partners with Brothers Pizza in Staten Island, which is one of my favorite go-to spots. Back then, I was teaching George how to toss acrobatic pizzas. We shared recipes, made dough together and ate a lot of pizza. He was telling me how he heard that grandma-style pizza was becoming very popular in the New York boroughs at the same time that he was introducing it to southern Italy. He had this jar of tomato sauce, and this sauce was slightly cooked and seasoned with herbs and spices. He spooned it over his well-oiled mozzarella square pie. We talked about his sauce recipe and how that is one of the secrets. It was great.

Since then, Grandma pizzas have become popular. From its roots on Long Island and places like Prince Umberto’s, Gigantes, and others, this unique style will soon gain momentum in the Midwest and on the West Coast. They are cooked in a half-black reinforced sheet pan, are heavily oiled and feature sliced mozzarella (sometimes shredded or fresh mozz is used). These pizzas are topped with tomato sauce and cooked in a gas brick oven. You could finish it with Grana Padano, herbs, pecorino, olive oil, Parmigiano and chopped garlic. Sometimes the dry cheese can go on before. This pizza is typically shorter/thinner than your typical Sicilian. It’s great for delivery, dine in and by the slice. Typically this pizza is slightly fried more than a Sicilian because of the excess oil and thinness. I sell them at my Slice House and we always sell out.

On my recent book tour I visited Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey and ate at over 20 pizzerias in seven days. I sampled 10 Grandma pizzas and all of them were similar in style — but the sauce was significantly different each time. A couple of my favorites were Best Pizza in Brooklyn, Prince St. Pizza in Manhattan and DiFara’s. All of them were memorable.

Some of these pizzas have a very simple tomato sauce comprised of puréed or hand crushed tomatoes. Others have a super-sweet sauce or are a bit over-spiced. For example, you could use sugar, onions, onion powder, oregano and other dry or fresh herbs in the sauce. I’ve seen it several ways. Italian families always remember their grandma or mother making pizzas at home. It was always pushed out in some well-oiled pan and they would add ingredients like anchovies, olive, crushed tomato, onions or cheese.  The name literally originated from our collective grandma. It was simple, memorable and fun.

At the International School of Pizza students often ask me for a recipe for a grandma-style pizza. It’s funny because at the beginning of the course students want to learn how to make some of the hardest pizzas. Then after they have tried several styles and worked with several dough recipes, they ultimately come back to me and say, “Could you go over the grandma style again for me? It was so simple, yet it was one of my favorites.”

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the greatest.

Next month I will give you a recipe and step-by-step instructions on how to make an amazing grandma-style pizza.

RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento.  Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.