For Rhode Island's Pizza Strips, The Sauce Is The Star Ingredient

If you've ever visited Rhode Island, or happen to live in the New England area, you might have been lucky enough to try a local favorite: pizza strips (or red strips as the locals call them). They're much different than the usual slices you might grab in New York or Chicago, primarily because they lack cheese and other toppings like pepperoni or mushrooms. Some might even argue that pizza strips aren't pizza at all. The star ingredient of this dish is the sauce, though, so you might not miss that gooey cheese as much as you think.

You probably won't come across Rhode Island pizza strips at a pizzeria. Instead, they're typically found at local Italian bakeries and specialty shops. You can also find pizza strips at bakeries in supermarkets across the state. What are pizza strips if they aren't traditional pizza? The dish is made of a rich tomato sauce on top of bread similar to focaccia that is cut into rectangular strips (hence the name). But there's more to it than that.

A little bit of history

The origin of Rhode Island pizza strips is a bit of a mystery. Because they are similar to cudduruni, a Sicilian dish made of focaccia-style bread topped with tomato sauce and herbs, the tradition was probably brought over from Italy. However, the Sicilian iteration can be made open-faced or closed (similar to a calzone) and sometimes has toppings, so pizza strips can only be an Americanized version of it at best.

Even locals aren't totally sure of its origins. Brian Boza, the owner of Borelli's Pastry Shop in Coventry, told The Providence Journal that the dish simply "originated back in the day" because it was quick to make and serve. "It was an easy dish that could be packed, served at room temperature, and you could eat it all day," he said. It's worth noting that one of the first pizzas is thought to be from Naples and didn't originally have cheese, so there's a chance that Rhode Island pizza strips are a local take on that early recipe. They're also similar to tomato pizza (or pie as northeasterners call it) that doesn't have cheese and can be found in areas of New York and New Jersey, two areas with thriving Italian communities.

How pizza strips are made

Making authentic Rhode Island pizza strips starts with the bread, which is a thick dough that has a similar texture and taste to focaccia. It gets topped with a thick tomato sauce, which is the key to its deliciousness. If you've ever experienced Sunday gravy at an authentic Italian American restaurant, or happen to be friendly with an Italian grandma, this is the type of sauce you can expect. It's rich and thick, made of tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs like oregano and basil.

Pizza strips are baked on a large tray, which is probably why they are cut into rectangles similar to a square pizza. You might find a spot that sprinkles a bit of grated cheese on top, but they'll never go overboard. And the biggest difference, other than not having loads of mozzarella cheese and other toppings, is that this dish is commonly served at room temperature. Are you hungry yet?