Italian tomato pie is a type of pizza created in the late 19th century by Italian-American populations. It derives from Sicilian pizza, and is found in predominantly Sicilian-American communities. What distinguishes tomato pies from pizza is the preparation process: cheese and other toppings are added on first, then the tomato sauce.
The basic recipe for tomato pie calls for a thick, porous, focaccia-like dough covered with tomato sauce, which is sprinkled with grated Romano cheese. Many bakeries and pizzerias have their own variations. Pizza adds tomato sauce before adding cheese and other toppings while tomato pies add the tomato sauce after cheese and other toppings. It is not usually served straight from the oven, but allowed to cool and then consumed at room temperature or reheated. Like Sicilian pizza, tomato pie is baked in a large aluminium pan and served in square slices.
As evidenced by period photographs of O’scugnizzo’s Pizza in East Utica, New York, tomato pie was sold as early as 1914. Along with chicken riggies and Utica greens, tomato pie is regarded as an idiomatic part of Utica Italian-American cuisine. The Trenton tomato pie may even predate the Utica variety. Joe’s Tomato Pie (now defunct) was first opened in 1910. Papa’s Tomato Pies, whose proprietor learned the trade at Joe’s, was opened two years later in 1912.
The tomato pies in Trenton, New Jersey, are of the thin crust variety and are served hot; the mozzarella is placed on the pie first followed by the sauce.
For the pie dough
- 2 envelopes instant yeast
- 1 cup water, heated to 45°C
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3½ cups plain flour (all-purpose flour), plus more if needed
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for greasing pan
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
For the sauce
- 1½ kg vine-ripened tomatoes
- 800 g can tomato puree
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2½ tablespoons sugar
- ¾ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt and pepper, to taste
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast with the warm water and sugar. Stir to dissolve and let stand 5 minutes until it looks foamy.
- Turn the mixer on low and slowly add the flour to the bowl.
- Dissolve salt in 2 tablespoons of water and add it to the mixture.
- Pour in ¼ cup olive oil. When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium. Stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook.
- Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary. The dough should be like warm, elastic play-doh when it’s done (see note 1)
- Form the dough into a round and place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil so it doesn’t form a skin. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.
- One hour before baking, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 260°C (see note 2).
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Place the dough on the baking sheet, slide it around to coat the bottom and sides with oil, then flip dough over and slide it around again.
- Using fingertips, press dough out toward edges of pan, taking care not to tear it. (If dough resists stretching, let it relax for 5 to 10 minutes before trying to walk it out again.) Using a fork, poke entire surface of dough 25-30 times, popping any large bubbles.
- Cover pan with plastic and let dough rest for 30 minutes. The dough should become slightly bubbly.
- Place pan on baking stone (or overturned baking sheet) and lower oven temperature to 220°C. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes (or until top is lightly golden).
- Top with tomato sauce, rotate pan, and bake for another 10 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes.
- Remove the tomato pie from the pan by lifting the overhanging parchment paper and return to the rack to finish cooling (see note 3).
- Top with some grated Parmesan and serve warm or at room temperature.
For the sauce
- Preheat oven to 205°C. Slice the tomatoes in half, or quarters if they’re large. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and roast in oven for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in a large saucepan and let simmer until thickened.
- Add roasted tomatoes when they’re done and mix until there are no large chunks (you can puree the roasted tomatoes first if you want to get precise about it).
- Continue to simmer until most of the water has evaporated and the sauce is thick. Set aside for the tomato pie (see note 4).