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Spinach, Mushroom, and Gorgonzola — An Unsung Pie at Pepe

Spinach, Mushroom, and Gorgonzola — An Unsung Pie at Pepe

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Whether you're an amateur or professional pizza aficionado, you've made the trip to New Haven, Conn., to visit Frank Pepe on Wooster Street, where New Havenites have been feasting on thin, well-crafted pies since 1925. Of course, these days, you can visit other Pepe locations in Connecticut (Fairfield, Manchester, Uncasville, Danbury), and as of 2009, even in New York (Yonkers). Most conversations about Pepe's involve clam pie, and most comparisons to New Haven's other storied pizzerias involve it and other classics like the tomato pie, and tomato pie with "mozz."

But there's another excellent Pepe's specialty pie that doesn't get as much attention: White Spinach, Mushroom, and Gorgonzola Pie. There's the same thin crust, but with tangy Gorgonzola, chopped spinach, and juicy mushrooms, all topped with "mozz" and grated cheese. It won't dethrone the clam pie with bacon, or the tomato pie with shrimp, but it's a tasty third specialty pie. And that's why it made my list of most memorable meals for 2011.

Click to read more about the Most Memorable Meals of 2011.

Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti With Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Using toasted and fresh black pepper doubles up on flavor, giving the dish more complexity.
  • Grating the cheese very finely on a Microplane instead of shredding it helps it incorporate more smoothly.
  • Finishing the pasta and cheese in a separate skillet ensures that the cheese doesn't clump up from the residual heat in the pasta pan.
  • Cooking the pasta in a skillet instead of a pot helps concentrate the starch in the water, making the sauce smoother.

If you were to watch a practiced hand make cacio e pepe, you might think the instructions were as simple as this: Cook spaghetti and drain. Toss with olive oil, butter, black pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Serve. But we all know that the simplest recipes can often be the most confounding, and so it is with cacio e pepe. Follow those instructions and, if you're lucky, you'll get what you're after: a creamy, emulsified sauce that coats each strand of spaghetti with flavor. More likely, you're gonna get what I (and, from the stories I've heard, many others as well) got on the first few tries—spaghetti in a thin, greasy sauce, or spaghetti with clumps of cheese that refuse to melt. Or, worse, both at the same time. Here's how to make it perfectly every time.

The Eats

While chatting and laughing, we started with the Pepe’s Salad (greens, grape tomatoes, cucumber, red cabbage, greek olives) dressed with a light balsamic dressing. This is a great, great starter that can be transformed into a main dish by adding some freshly oven roasted chicken, just in case you are not feeling the pizza vibe that day.

Enjoying my Diet White Birch Beer Foxon Park Soda (although they have a wide array of fountain soda, wine, and beer available), it was time for the main event – PIZZA!!

No visit to Frank Pepe’s would be complete without trying Frank Pepe’s Original Tomato Pie and White Clam Pie.

Fun Fact 2 – As a teenager, Gary Bimonte worked at Frank Pepe’s and was a master shucker – making sure the White Clam Pizza was “fully decorated”.

We also were treated to the Spinach, Mushroom & Gorgonzola Pie – this was a decadent pie but with the characteristic New Haven Style Crust – it did not feel heavy and was just delicious.

Try as hard as we might – our group was only able to make a dent in the pies presented to us. Luckily – we were able to box up and take home the left overs – which reheated perfectly even after sitting for several days in my refrigerator.

Fun Fact 3 – If you decide to order take out (and possible try some of there other pies) – ask that your pie not be sliced. It travels better and can be easily sliced in the comfort of your home.

And just when I thought we were done and ready pack up and leave, Mark and I got a special treat and actually was able to go into the kitchen and see where the magic happens. Let me tell you – those ovens are hot, hot hot! After my mini tour, I can see why the pizza paddle has such a long handle.

The hospitality and food were delicious and I left knowing both a little bit more about the history of this restaurant AND the best part – I now know that I can go to the West Hartford location to get an almost exact replica of the New Haven style “fix” I grew up loving as a child.

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana
1148 New Britain Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06110
Tel: 860-236-7373
Open Every Day – 11:00AM until 10:00PM

Disclaimer: My husband, Mark, and I were asked to attend this event hosted by MaxEx PR and Frank Pepe Pizzeria in exchange for writing a review on the blog. Although this post is sponsored, the opinions are completely my own, based on my experience.

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Potato, Spinach, and Mushroom Galettes


  • 2 Tbs garlic oil see this bread stick recipe
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 3 large mushrooms
  • 18 medium-size spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Ingredient discussion:

Just a few simple ingredients are all you need.

You’ll see in the photographs that we don’t peel our potatoes however, we believe you should, and we would, if we were using non-organic potatoes. Potatoes grown in non-organic factory farms are sprayed with a lot: fungicides, pesticides, probably algaecides, too. They’re on the dirty dozen list, so, buyer and eater beware. Of course, so is spinach, so you might want to go organic there, too — we didn’t, but perhaps we should have. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making garlic oil, just use olive oil. We happened to have a head of garlic that wouldn’t have lasted much longer, so one day we peeled and simmered cloves in oil, making a pint or so of garlic oil to keep in the fridge. Don’t skimp on the cheese, glorious cheese. Get the real deal, the Parmesan (or Grana Padano) that you have to grate, the stuff from Italy. It costs more, but tastes a lot better.

Procedure in detail:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

Season oil. Place the garlic oil in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

We’re always up for a chance to practice our knife skills. The coating of oil will help the potatoes crisp up on the edges.

Slice potatoes. If you have one of those mandolines that look as if they’d remove patches of skin in a trice, and you’re confident that you can use it without a side trip to the emergency room, use that for slicing the potatoes as thinly as possible. Otherwise, do the best you can with a sharp chef’s knife. Once sliced, place in the bowl with the oil and toss to coat.

Slice mushrooms. While the potatoes sit in the seasoned oil, slice the mushrooms as thinly as possible, too.

Try to keep a rectangle shape as you build your galettes, so they won’t tip over as they bake.

Layer. Place about 3 to 6 potato slices on your prepared baking sheet to form a rectangle about 2ࡩ inches in size. Repeat to form six rectangles. Follow the potatoes with a layer of mushrooms and a single leaf of spinach. Dust with a sprinkle of Parmesan and continue layering, finishing with a layer of potatoes and Parmesan. You may have to press the stacks down gently as you work so they’ll hold their shape. Sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

Bake. Into the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese melts and browns and the edges of some of the potatoes are crispy. Serve immediately.

It’s potatoes, so what’s not to like? There are crispy bits, too. Plus cheese. And, it’s all simply slice, stack, and bake. No standing and stirring, no basting, no flipping, nothing once you’ve sliced and stacked. They’re almost infinitely changeable, substituting one cheese for another, adding a layer of fruit (such as pears), or topping with a bit of nuts. Not only that, they look nice when baked, and make individual portions that are served intact. Five stars.

Worth the trouble?

Recipe Summary

  • 3 strips bacon
  • 6 large mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 ounces blue cheese
  • ⅓ cup bread crumbs

Cook bacon strips in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy drain on paper towels. While the bacon is cooking, remove stems from mushrooms. Set caps aside, and chop stems.

Add butter to skillet with bacon grease. When melted, stir in mushroom stems, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions caramelize, 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a small baking dish with cooking spray.

Once the onion mixture has reached a deep, rich brown color, place into a blender along with bacon, cream cheese, blue cheese, and bread crumbs. Blend on low until ingredients are roughly chopped and evenly combined. Stuff cheese mixture into mushroom caps and place into prepared baking dish.

Bake in preheated oven until bubbly and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

Mushroom and Okra Purloo


  • 8 ounces crimini mushrooms trimmed and quartered
  • 8 ounces okra sliced lengthwise
  • 1 large bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 2 tsp kosher salt divided
  • 3 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions diced (2 cups)
  • 1 cup basmati rice rinsed and drained
  • 1-2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 large tomatoes diced
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups vegetable broth


Ingredient discussion:

As we’ll remark in more detail below, feel free to substitute another type of rice for the basmati. Jasmine would work well, or converted rice. Just don’t think about using “minute rice” or brown rice neither has the same cooking times. For the bell pepper, we used a nice bright yellow one that made our purloo colored a bright red, green, and yellow. For the vegetable broth, we whipped up a batch by simmering an onion, a garlic clove, a couple of bay leaves, a carrot, and a widgy ear of corn, along with a touch of pepper and salt. If you really want, we suppose you could use a store-bought broth, or bullion, although we’ve never found any that we really like. They’re either too sweet or too salty.

Procedure in detail:

This recipe requires a far amount of prep work, mostly chopping vegetables. Might as well do it in advance. We had just added the salt and were about to toss them.

Mise en Place. This recipe has a number of things that you need to get done prior to cooking. We’ll just list them in the order that we did them: made broth to which we added the wine, rinsed rice, washed and chopped vegetables (mushrooms, okra, onion, garlic, and tomatoes), and put together a small bowl with the herbs.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Adjust rack so your dutch oven will fit inside.

Cook onions. Heat dutch oven and oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, about 6 minutes.

Add rice and garlic. Stir in the rice and garlic and allow them to cook, stirring continuously, until the rice smells toasty and the garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes.

Keep stirring as the tomatoes cook, but do it gently so the rice doesn’t break apart.

Add tomatoes and spices. Now, stir in the diced tomatoes and the spices, and, again, stirring continuously, cook until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 2 more minutes.

After the tomatoes have started to disintegrate, add the broth and wine and scrape up any stuck bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add broth and wine. Stir in the broth and wine, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Add vegetables. In three additions, gently fold in the vegetables. We’re not sure why you need three additions here, as there is a lot of broth and the vegetables don’t really fold in very well. Then bring everything back to a simmer.

Bake. Cover the purloo and place it in the oven to bake for 20 minutes. Rice cooks by steam, so don’t open anything to peek. That would be cheating, anyway. Just trust the purloo.

It’s difficult to take pictures of something inside a black cast-iron pot. Sorry.

Rest. Remove the purloo from the oven and let rest, continuing to trust that it’s just fine without your looking, for 10 minutes. Use this time to set the table and do any other last-minute chores to get everything ready for dinner.

Some people may think of purloo as a thick stew, but, as you can see, they must have some pretty thick stew.

Serve. Either bowls or plates will work for serving this dish as the rice has absorbed most of the liquid.

In the future, we’ll use another kind of rice for our purloo. The basmati rice we used (Royal Brand), tended to break apart that’s kind of the nature of basmati rice, as it’s very tender. In the future, we’ll use a type that’s a bit more sturdy. Also, it seemed as though it could have used just a touch more salt, but, of course, that’s why we put salt shakers on the table. But, other than that, this was a great way to have okra (no, it wasn’t slimy) as a one-dish meal. It’s different enough that you don’t just think of it as just another rice casserole, and we really like the bright colors, especially with the yellow pepper. Plus, it was just as good the next day as leftovers (although the rice had broken down further). Four stars and a hearty thanks to the Lee Bros.

Worth the trouble?

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Frank Pepe’s Pizza Now Open in Burlington

New Haven, Connecticut-based Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (widely-known as “Pepe’s”), world-famous for New Haven-style pizzas since 1925, has officially opened their second Massachusetts location in Burlington. (their 11th location company-wide) at 75 Middlesex Turnpike in Burlington, Mass., on Monday, June 10.

Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Pepe’s of Burlington will serve guests its signature pizzas they’ve enjoyed for years in 12”, 16”, and 18” sizes. Made with a unique combination of crunch, chew, and char, Pepe’s famous pies are only produced using Frank Pepe’s original recipe and the coal fired, hand-built brick oven he used in 1925. The oven built on site in Burlington is a brick-by-brick duplicate of that oven, including iron castings from the original mold.

Pepe’s of Burlington will serve guests its legendary pies, including the original White Clam Pizza, a combination crafted by Frank Pepe himself (fresh clams with grated cheese, olive oil, fresh garlic, and oregano), Spinach, Mushroom, and Gorgonzola (mozzarella and grated cheese), and Quattro Formaggi (crushed Italian tomatoes, mozzarella, asiago, goat cheese, and pecorino with olive oil and basil). Guests will also be able to enjoy a traditional Pepe’s Salad (seasonal greens, grape tomatoes, cucumber, shredded red cabbage, Kalamata olives, Pecorino Romano cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette) or Caesar Salad, along with a selection of red and white wines by the glass or carafe. Non-alcoholic beverages, such as Foxon Park soda, and an assortment of imported and domestic craft beer will also be offered.

“We couldn’t be more excited to grow our presence in Massachusetts and continue to share our family tradition of serving fresh, high-quality pizza with both the residents of the Burlington area and mall shoppers from near and far,” said Gary Bimonte, grandson of Frank Pepe and Director of Quality Assurance & Training. “We look forward to providing our guests with an authentic Pepe’s experience!”


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