I first met Bruno di Fabio in Columbus in 2004 when I was competing for the North American Pizza Pizzaz competition. He was making his pizza next to me and they had just called my name to go to the ovens. Our introduction began with a compliment.
Bruno di Fabio with his award-winning Pizza al Taglio at the 2009 World Pizza Championships in Salsomaggiore Italy where he won Best Pizza In the U.S.A. 2009
“Nice pie,” he said in his unmistakable New York accent, just as I had lifted the pizza up on the peel.
“Thanks, dude.” I said looking at his. “Yours looks great too.” (I was lying, I didn’t care what his pizza looked like, he was my competition and I wouldn’t have cared if he fell over dead, his head careening into his sauce bowl and his cheese flying everywhere.)
“Thank you sir, and good luck. Just one thing…”
“What?” I stopped because he looked concerned.
“Oh, nothing.” Bruno shook his head, like he was fighting with himself to tell me something important. “I know something you can do to that pizza that will save you some time and might help you.”
“Really?” I put the pizza back down on the table and stared at it. “What?”
“See that can?” He pointed to a big garbage can.
“If you throw that piece of crap in there now and you won’t have to go through the humiliation of losing to me.”
It was my first immersion in the Bruno di Fabio laugh. An uncontrollable high-pitched nasal guffaw reverberated throughout the convention hall, loud enough to turn heads as far away as 50 yards. His face turned red as he slapped me and choked out in a high voice, “J…j…just jokin’ wit ya man. Hee, hee, hee. It looks great!”
More laughs followed as Bruno gasped for air, unable to contain his hysterical joy. I smiled and muttered, “Dick” under my breath as I walked to the ovens with my pie. But when I looked over my shoulder , I couldn’t help smiling broadly as I saw Bruno doubled over in laugh-pain.
Bruno with another winning pizza in 2009, and on the stage with his gold medal and Ms. Italy for “Fastest Pizza Maker in the World,” 2007
I didn’t win that year, but I made a friend. Bruno’s one of those guys who has always been there when I needed help, especially at the World Pizza Championships in Italy. He has helped me sneak into Italian kitchens to prep, translated for me, bribed chefs, and has been my prep slave-sous chef and driver on tough foraging expeditions through the Italian countryside.
Bruno has proven that he would give me the shirt off his back, but he has never given me this damn clam pizza recipe. For two years, I’ve been bugging him. Every time I ask for it, he rolls his eyes and denies me.
My clam pizza obsession began at the World Pizza Championships in 2007. Both Bruno and I were staying with our team The World Pizza Champions at the sprawling Grand Hotel Astro Terme in Salsomaggiore Italy. The hotel, perched atop a green finger ridge, looks down on a steep valley filled with Gelato shops and a few bars.
One night, after a trip to the coast to get clams, Bruno hurried to the kitchen and made the most delicious clam topping that I’ve ever eaten. The next day he entered it as his Pizza Classico. He scored very high but didn’t win. Luckily, he won “Fastest Pizza Maker in the World” the next day.
Bruno volunteered to be my sous chef and helped me plate (L) and cut fresh pasta (R) in the finals of the Heinz Beck Competiton in Italy
I texted Bruno the other day and finally, the day is here. I got him to spill the beans…or the clams, so to speak. After he gave me the recipe, I drove for 3 hours to obtain some fresh littlenecks.
Here it is. Bruno di Fabio’s famous clam pie. I only had about 13 Littleneck clams so I had to add chopped canned clams. If you double the fresh clams in this recipe, it doubles the clam flavor.
3 tablespoons clam juice
12 or 13 Littleneck clams
1 tablespoon olive oil for the sauce and 1 teaspoon for brushing on the dough
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 thick sliced bacon slice, or 2 slices of Italian pancetta cut into small dice
1/4 yellow onion, chopped (makes 3 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons chopped clams (Bumble Bee is the best because they only use salt, not bad chemicals to preserve)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes or whole California tomatoes, drained and hand torn into small pieces and left to drain again, about 3/4 cup tomato flesh (make sure the tomatoes are not watery)
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
1/2 cup whole milk grated mozzarella (premium quality because there are lots of bad mozzarella products on the shelves)
1 tablespoon chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
Dust one dough ball with flour and keep it in a bowl covered with oil until the toppings are done. Preheat oven to 470 degrees with a thick upturned cookie sheet on the middle rack.
Using a small saute pan on high heat, add the clam juice and the 13 clams. (If you have fresh clams, double the clam juice and upgrade to a larger pan.) Cover and steam for 5 to 8 minutes until all the clams have “popped.” This may take a few shakes of the pan to coax some clams open.
Put the clams in a bowl. Place the juices in a separate bowl.
Using the same pan under medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Add the bacon and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and onion. Saute for 5 minutes until the onion and garlic are translucent and the bacon is just gettting golden brown.
Add the chopped clams, clam juice and white wine to the pan. Turn to high and reduce for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Saute for 5 more minutes stirring until the sauce is not watery. Take off the heat.
Pull the pizza dough out to form a circle according to the Easy Dough Recipe. Place on parchment paper you have laid out on the bottom of an upturned cookie sheet. Brush with the extra virgin olive oil and dust with the Parmesan cheese. Place the mozzarella on the dough.
Place the clam topping all over the pizza and slide the pizza and parchment onto the preheated cookie sheet in the oven. Bake for 6 minutes.
Smile for the camera and place the opened clams on the pizza. Put back in the oven and cook for 5 more minutes or until the bottom is dark golden brown and the crust is a golden brown. Serve immediately. Thanks Bruno, yer GREAT!