When in New Jersey’s capital city, don’t bother trying to find the best slice of “pizza.” In Trenton, the “tomato pie” is king, a thin-crust, chewy round pizza whose most defining characteristic is the unusual placement of the tomato sauce: it’s on top.
Unlike more traditional pizzas, where you run the risk of pulling all of the cheese and toppings off of your slice in one gigantic cheesy mass on the very first bite, the Trenton tomato pie places its emphasis on the tomatoes. As regular readers know, we believe that before a pizza place can be celebrated for putting mashed potatoes or Thai satay-marinated chicken on their pies, it’s important to show competency with the humble plain cheese slice. That careful balance of crust, cheese, and tomato seems to be one of the trickiest to pull off, and is too often glossed over in favor of using flashier ingredients.
Not so on the Trenton tomato pie, where crushed tomatoes are placed front and center over a latticework of mozzarella cheese. The cheese bakes directly onto the thin crust, cooked at a high heat so that it crisps while remaining chewy, and preventing any of that dreaded topping slippage. The tomato sauce, a coarsely pureed mixture of San Marzano tomatoes (and ideally, nothing else), is applied in heavy dollops, so that each bite is a little different. The goal isn’t to have even amounts of sauce and cheese in each bite; on a Trenton tomato pie, big bursts of acidic sweetness from the chunky tomato sauce are perfectly balanced with stretchy tendrils of mozzarella cheese on a lightly charred crust. The round pie is traditionally cut into squares using a knife, resulting in uneven, differently-sized shapes.
The style, pioneered by Trenton’s own “Papa’s Tomato Pies” (which also holds claim to being the oldest continually-run pizza restaurant in the country) and “De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies,” is one of the oldest in the country, and unless you are willing to make the pilgrimage to New Jersey, one of the toughest to taste for yourself. Until now.
Trenton Tomato Pie
Makes two large pizzas
- 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour (plus more for dusting, shaping dough)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 cups part skim shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 14-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, whole peeled
Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a big mixing bowl. Use a wooden spoon to gradually incorporate water. Mix by hand and form into a ball. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with plastic and let rest in a warm spot for eighteen hours. It will double in size, and bubbles will develop. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface, and divide into two equal portions. Fold each dough ball over on itself, seam side down, and let it rest for an hour under a damp kitchen towel.
Place pizza stone in oven on top rack, in topmost position, and preheat at your oven’s highest setting for one hour. Ours maxes out at 550 degrees.
Pulse tomatoes in a food processor until nearly smooth, with some chunks remaining, about 4-5 one second pulses.
Sprinkle cornmeal on your work surface, and roll dough out to approximately 1/8 – 1/4 inch.
Top each pizza with 1 cup of the cheese, leaving plenty of dough showing through. You do not want an even blanket of cheese on this type of pizza.
Use a spoon to dollop tomato sauce onto pizza surface, again leaving space between each spoonful.
Use pizza peel to transfer pizza to hot stone. Set oven to “broil” on high.
Watch your pizza carefully; it should only take 4-6 minutes to cook. Some blistering and blackening is good. Cut into squares and serve.