Pepe’s White Clam Pizza has been called the best thing to eat in Connecticut. I can’t argue with that statement. The thin crust is topped with a garlicky mix of fresh clams, grated pecorino cheese, and olive oil and then baked in the restaurant’s coal-fired pizza oven. And it is to die for.
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For years before I ever went to Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut, my husband (then boyfriend) had been telling me about their pizza. The best pizza in the world is what he told me. Being a California food snob, I didn’t really believe it. New Haven, what?
The first time we went to Pepe’s, it was winter. It was snowing. It was really, really cold for this Bay Area girl.
When arrived, there was a line outside. As we got in line, I said “This better be good if you’re making me wait outside in the freezing cold for it.” A lady in front of us in line turned around and said “Oh, it is, honey. It is.”
One bite and I knew she was not wrong. My husband was not wrong. Turns out, Pepe’s pizza is one of the few foods that I consider good enough to be worth waiting outside in the snow for.
The thin, Napolitana-style crust bubbles and chars in the coal-fired oven. In its original form, the “original tomato pie,” it gets a light shmear of rich tomato sauce and a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella cheese.
What made Frank Pepe’s pizza so famous?
The variation that originally put Frank Pepe on the map also had anchovies (the good kind, imported from Italy) on top. But you can get other toppings like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, even chopped broccoli, too.
The most famous pizza at Pepe’s though is the white clam pizza. Its topping is a savory mix of fresh littleneck clams, garlic, olive oil, and grated pecorino cheese.
Pepe’s was the first place I ever had pizza with clams. And in my opinion, it is the best New Haven clam pizza you’ll find.
Why is it called a white pizza?
Pepe’s white clam pizza has no tomato sauce. So it’s not red. It’s white. Get it?
Is this really Frank Pepe’s white clam pizza recipe?
As far as I know, Frank Pepe and Pepe’s Pizzeria have never revealed their exact recipe. This recipe is my interpretation of their delicious clam pizza.
Nothing will ever be as delicious as a white clam pizza hot out of Pepe’s nearly 100-year-old coal-fired pizza oven, but mine is pretty dang good.
In recreating this classic New Haven style pizza recipe, I’ve taken some creative license. I’ve added bacon (it’s optional, of course) because, well, bacon is good on everything, right? Salty, smoky bacon is especially good paired with briny clams.
True to their Southern Italian roots, Pepe’s uses only freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese on their white clam pies. I like to use a combination of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan cheese.
I love the sharp bite and intense saltiness of Pecorino. And I love how the nutty undertones of the Parmesan round out the flavor, giving it depth. You can, of course, choose to use only Pecorino if you want to be true to Pepe’s recipe.
And then there’s the crust. We can’t know exactly how Pepe’s makes their thin, Napolitano-style pizza crust. Do your best to make a nice, thin crust that bubbles up around the edges in the oven.
What ingredients do you need to make Pepe’s white clam pizza recipe at home?
You don’t need a ton of ingredients to make a white pizza with clams:
- Pizza dough (make it yourself or use a good quality brand, ideally purchased from a pizzeria that makes Napolitano style, thin-crust pizzas)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Pecorino Romano cheese (Pepe’s uses only Pecorino Romano, but I like to mix it up by using half-and-half Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano)
- Fresh littleneck clams (or frozen or canned clams in a pinch)
- Fresh oregano
- Crushed red pepper
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bacon (optional, see note)
Note: It seems like everyone who tries to recreate Pepe’s white clam pizza outside of New Haven insists on adding bacon to it. I’ve never had one with bacon at the actual restaurant—I don’t think they use bacon at all there. But what the heck, bacon and clams are a delicious combination! We tried it with bacon, and I can’t say I disapprove.
How do you make a white clam pizza?
Pepe’s white clam pizza is an easy pizza to make. Once you’ve made the dough, it’s just a matter of layering the ingredients on top and popping it in the oven.
- First, of course, you have to make (or purchase) the dough.
- Preheat the oven. If you have a pizza stone, preheat that, too.
- If you’re using fresh clams, as they do at Pepe’s, you’ll need to shuck them. Using frozen, pre-shucked clams saves a bunch of time. In a pinch, you can even use chopped canned clams.
- In a bowl, stir together the clams, garlic, and olive oil. Let this stand while you toss or roll the dough.
- Toss it or roll the dough out nice and thin. I usually make 2 pies with a pound of dough.
- If you’re using two kinds of cheese, you can toss them together in a bowl, too.
- If you’re using a pizza stone, put the uncooked crust on a pizza peel for easy transfer. If not, put it on a baking sheet.
- Spread the clam-garlic-olive oil mixture over the crust evenly (dividing between the two pies if you’ve divided the dough).
- Sprinkle the cheese, bacon, oregano, crushed red pepper, and black pepper over the top.
- Bake until the crust is golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.
What do you serve with white clam pizza?
At Pepe’s the only sides are a garden salad with Kalamata olives tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with grated Pecorino Romano and a Caesar salad, also topped with grated Pecorino Romano. One of these salads, or whatever simple salad you like best, is all you need to round out the meal.
For dessert, a visit to Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop down the block for cannoli is a required stop after a visit to Pepe’s. One of these days, I’ll do my best to recreate Libby’s amazing cannoli.
- 1 pound pizza dough (enough for 2 12-inch pizzas)
- About 30 littleneck clams, 1/2 pound frozen clam meat, or 3 (6 1/2-ounce) chopped clams, drained
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 ounces freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or use 1 1/2 ounces each of Pecorino Romano and Parmesan)
- 4 strips bacon, cooked until brown and crisp and then crumbled
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 475ºF. (See note about using a pizza stone.)
- Shuck the clams if using fresh and chop them.
- In a bowl, stir together the clams, garlic, and olive oil. Let stand while you prepare the crust.
- In another bowl, combine the two types of cheese, if using both types.
- Stretch the pizza dough into 2 12-inch circles.
- Spoon half of the clam, olive oil, and garlic mixture over
each crust. Sprinkle half of each type of cheese over each pizza. Top each with half of the bacon, half of the oregano, and half of the crushed red pepper. Grind some black pepper over the top.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown
- Serve immediately.
If you're using a pizza stone, you'll want to preheat it in the oven for an hour or so before cooking the pizzas.
Amount Per Serving Calories 711Total Fat 37gSaturated Fat 8gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 26gCholesterol 70mgSodium 1663mgCarbohydrates 62gFiber 3gSugar 2gProtein 33g
Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.