Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pepe's seriousness about pizza sauce

Canned tomatoes with predictable behavior and excellent flavor are particularly necessary at a place like Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, one of the most celebrated pizza destinations in the country. ...

Because pizza has just three basic elements — crust, sauce and cheese — each one must be reliably perfect and perfectly reliable. To accomplish this, every fall two grandsons of Mr. Pepe conduct a blind tasting of new-harvest tomatoes from the area around Naples, Italy, that is known for producing (and canning) the best tomatoes.

“We’re looking not only for taste but for the density of the fruit, whether the texture is fibrous or weak, how the flavor changes from the beginning to the end,” said Francis Rosselli, 65, who began working at the pizzeria alongside the founder at age 14.

The Pepe sauce is not cooked, or even seasoned; the tomatoes are simply puréed with their juices before going onto the crust and into the oven. So it’s urgent that the unembellished tomatoes and juice are just right.

Last week, I sat in (but didn’t vote) at the annual tasting. First, we tried seven kinds right out of the can. Four were rejected (too weak, too strong, bland at the end), and the remaining three were carried off to the kitchen to be ground into sauce and tested immediately on an unembellished pie — no cheese or toppings, just tomato and olive oil. All three made good pizza, but we agreed that only one retained its clear, fresh tomato flavor after a turn in the 550-degree oven. ...

For Frank Pepe’s descendants, the annual tasting ritual is more than a business necessity

“It takes us back to the roots,” said Gary Bimonte, 57, the other grandson. “Tomatoes were a big part of our grandfather’s life.”
--Julia Moskin, NYT, on not just your corner pizzeria