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The Grandma Pie is the perfect pizza to make at home

Call it Grandma Pie. Or Grandma Pizza. Suddenly, one of the simplest and most homespun of Italian-American creations has become something of an anti-trendy craze, spreading from its Long Island roots to pizzerias in Brooklyn, Manhattan and beyond.

In Atlanta, O4W Pizza took on the mantle of “Home of the Grandma Pie” after several publications declared it the very best pizza in the city.

His pie beating out Neapolitan-style pizzas that had previously enjoyed cult-like devotion was a big surprise to Anthony Spina, the pizza maker from New Jersey who moved to Atlanta and opened O4W in early 2015.

“Up north, it’s a specialty pie,” Spina said. “Here it’s 70-percent of my sales. It’s crazy.”

Defining the Grandma Pie can be a bit tricky, until you’ve tasted it. One thing it’s not is Sicilian. It is square or rectangular, with a thin crust that’s chewy and crispy, but definitely not bready. The sauce and cheese are minimalist but integral to the flavor and texture. And given the short list of ingredients, it’s a perfect example of the whole being much greater than the sum of its parts.

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“In my mind, it comes from homemade Italian-style pizza from before there were pizzerias, and the tradition was carried on through generations,” Spina said. “There are people who lay claim to commercializing this kind of pizza, and there are places on Long Island that were the first to put it on the menu. But it’s still not a pie you could walk into just any pizzeria and get.”

Spina’s version employs the same fresh dough he mixes up every day for his round, thin crust New Jersey-style pies, using a special blend of high-gluten and all-purpose flour.

His sauce is a light marinara made from crushed California tomatoes that he simmers with a bit of olive oil and butter and seasons with a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper.

He makes his own fresh mozzarella from curds, and carefully constructs layers of cheese, including shredded mozzarella and pungent grated pecorino, atop the crust.

The pizza, which gets stretched and baked in a square cast iron sheet pan, goes into a gas-fired deck oven. When it comes out, the edges of the crust are brown and the sauce and cheese are bubbly. Fresh basil leaves add a final dint of aroma and flavor.

“The way I do it is from the taste of what I remember my grandparents making when I was a kid growing up,” Spina said. “My grandparents come from Naples and Calabria and a lot of my style of cooking and my ingredients are more Calabrian.

“When I bite into a slice of Grandma Pie, I feel like a little kid running around my grandparents’ house. I hear my loud Italian aunt, and my grandfather and his brothers talking, and Sinatra playing in the background. It’s my childhood right there.”

As far as attempting to make your own Grandma Pie memories, Spina is encouraging. “This is the ultimate pizza to make at home,” he said. “That’s why it’s named the Grandma Pie. You don’t need to have real pizza making skills. Making it in a pan makes all the difference.”

RECIPES

With few ingredients and well adapted to baking in an ordinary oven, the Grandma Pie may be the easiest pizza to make at home. But there are a few tricks for getting the right combination of crust, sauce and cheese to meld into delicious simplicity.

For the dough

Using bread flour, more water, and gently stretching and pricking the dough makes for a chewy, crispy crust. Proofing the dough on the same oiled sheet pan used to bake the pizza allows it to stretch on its own and makes cleanup easier.

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 cup water 1 1/2 cups bread flour, King Arthur preferred

2 1/4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons canola oil. Combine water and 1 tablespoon olive oil in 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook, mix flour, yeast, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined. With mixer running, slowly add water and oil mixture and mix until dough comes together, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-low and mix until dough is smooth and comes away from sides of bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer dough to the oiled baking sheet and turn to coat. Stretch dough to a 10 by 6-inch rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours. Stretch dough to the corners of the baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until slightly puffed, about 45 minutes. Using your fingertips, gently press dough to the corners of the baking sheet. If the dough snaps back, cover it, let it rest for 10 minutes, and try again. Do not overwork the dough!

Adapted from a recipe from Cook’s Country.

For the sauce

Though many Grandma pie recipes call for tomatoes straight out of the can, with garlic and seasonings added, Anthony Spina of O4W Pizza prefers to make a simple marinara sauce with ground tomatoes, quickly simmered, to “take the bitterness out.” Add fresh chopped garlic, if you prefer.

1 (28-ounce) can ground or crushed tomatoes, such as Cento brand, well drained

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

pinch of sugar, salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine crushed tomatoes, oil, butter, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook until smooth and just reduced, about 20-30 minutes. Adjust seasoning and hold at room temperature or refrigerate if not using right away.

Makes 8 servings

Per serving: 55 calories (percent of calories from fat, 51), 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 4 milligrams cholesterol, 241 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe from Anthony Spina of O4W Pizza.

For the toppings

The secret ingredient of Anthony Spina’s cheese mix is grated pecorino, which gives his Grandma Pie a distinctive salty, sharp edge. Fresh basil leaves scattered atop the warm pie create the final layer of aroma and flavor.

6 ounces shredded whole milk low moisture mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese

6 ounces fresh whole milk low moisture mozzarella cheese

olive oil in a squirt bottle

fresh torn basil leaves

Adapted from a recipe from Anthony Spina of O4W Pizza.

To assemble and bake the pizza

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 500. Using a pizza stone will make for more even baking.

Using a fork, prick the dough until there are small holes covering the entire crust. Layer shredded mozzarella evenly over crust, leaving ½-inch border around edges. Ladle six lines of tomato sauce diagonally across the crust and sprinkle with grated pecorino. Dot knobs of fresh mozzarella over the sauce at even intervals. Squirt a bit of olive oil over the toppings and crust and bake until well browned and bubbling, about 15-20 minutes. Slide pizza onto a rack, top with torn basil, and let cool slightly before cutting into squares.

Makes: 8 square slices

Per slice: 360 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 15 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 22 grams fat (9 grams saturated), 46 milligrams cholesterol, 649 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from recipes from Cook’s Country and Anthony Spina of O4W Pizza.

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