The Passion of the Crust
New York Post, October 10, 2011
The centuries-old montanara pie finally makes its deep-fried presence known in NYC.
As heavy rains came down on a recent Friday afternoon in Williamsburg, former owners of Brooklyn’s iconic Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Patsy and Carol Grimaldi, were sheltered inside the bright and spacious Neapolitan-style eatery Forcella (485 Lorimer St., Brooklyn). Old jazz played over the sound system as a warm orange glow emanated from deep inside the giant mosaic-tiled oven in the open kitchen. This was the couple’s second time dining at the restaurant in the span of a week and this time, they had decided to try the hippest trend in pizza these days: a deep-fried pie called montanara.
But if you’re imagining a greasy, breaded wedge of gooey cheese and oily sauce, you’d be mistaken.
“It tasted like a pastry, almost like a donut,” said Carol, who with her husband is on the verge of opening Juliana’s, an American-style pizza shop. “The tomatoes were exquisite and the cheese, being homemade, had that nice, fresh taste. It was almost like we were sitting in Naples.”
These pies, in fact, aren’t all that different from the traditional Neapolitan style, which has burned its way across the city (and the roofs of our mouths!) for decades.
First, the dough — using finely-milled flour — is delicately kneaded and stretched into a flatter, disc shape. Then it’s flash-fried, barely taking on a white-golden hue, gently deflated and spread with toppings.
“The pizza is good when it’s juicy,” says Forcella pizzaiuoli Giulio Adriani, who gives his $10 pies two ladles of crushed tomato sauce imported from the San Marzano area before topping it off with chunks of fresh mozzarella, a little Parmesan and basil.
For the final touch, he slides it into a wood-burning oven for roughly 30 seconds, until the cheese melts and the crust gains a slightly charred, puffy cornicione (rind).
The whole process only takes a few minutes, and gives the crust a crispy yet chewy texture that eaters like Brooklynite Paul Schrodt, 23, describe as “thrilling.”
“It didn’t taste like anything I had ever had before,” says Schrodt.
But the montanara is far from new. It originated in 16th-century Naples, when pizza itself was first invented.
It was named for a mountainous area in Naples called Vomero, where poor inhabitants began frying dough at home, minus the need for electricity or a large, expensive oven. Eventually, wives of pizza makers began taking their husband’s leftover dough, frying and selling it for extra money. Today, it remains ubiquitous in Naples, sold in the streets and at proper restaurants.
“My mom made it all the time,” says Roberto Caporuscio, president of the US chapter of the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli, or pizza masters, as well as a good friend of Adriani’s. “We couldn’t wait for the fried bread.”
Caporuscio, who grew up south of Rome, now resides in the West Village near his popular Kesté Pizza & Vino, which didn’t have space for a fryer. But when Don Antonio by Starita, his new venture with mentor and renowned Neapolitan-pizza master Antonio Starita, opens in Hell’s Kitchen by the end of this year, he’ll have 2,000 -square-feet to play with, and more than enough room to serve the montanara. Their version will be topped with imported smoked mozzarella and a signature oven-baked sauce for richer flavors.
For now, you can also try variations of the deep-fried pizza at
PizzArte in Midtown (69 W. 55th St.) where a pie is $16.
“I didn’t think it would be a hit in New York City,” says Forcella’s Adriani, who made it first, as a joke, for friends before it quickly became a permanent menu highlight. He also plans to serve it at a flagship Forcella location (334 Bowery) in Nolita, which he’ll open later this month.
“I’m trying to experiment. Fried pizza can be a big step into the future.”
One big step for pizzaiuolis, one giant leap for pizza lovers.