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Friday
Sep062019

Massa Pizza brings authentic taste of Italy to Scotch Plains 

Marco Massaro at Massa Roman Square Pizza in Scotch PlainsTucked between a hobby store and a health shop on Park Ave. in Scotch Plains, there is a little taste of Rome.

Marco Massaro paces himself to rock music in Italian, pressing soft dough into huge oblong pans.

Some are drizzled with rich, green extra virgin olive oil. Others are spread with a marinara of intensely flavored San Marzano tomatoes. For his Massa Square Roman Pizza, Massaro has prepared toppings of mushrooms, artichokes, broccoli rabe, fresh cherry tomatoes, roasted eggplant and roasted zucchini.

There is no pepperoni. Instead, he’s sliced imported prosciutto di Parma, prosciutto cotto, pancetta and soppressata. The sausage, and the porchetta used in one sandwich, are from a local butcher, originally from Ariccia, a suburb of Rome. Shavings of Italian Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese are sometimes used, but every Massa pie has fresh mozzarella from Lioni Latticini, the Union-based winner of coveted national and world-wide awards for its Italian cheeses.

The cheeses and toppings are layered onto pans of dough that will bake with a crisp bottom and a light, airy interior. This dough, for pizzas easily the size of two round pies, is made with a mix of flours, using a method developed in Rome by chef Angelo Iezzi, under whom Massaro studied.

“The dough is 80 percent water, with three days of fermentation,” Massaro says. “That’s why it is so light.” With its unique crust and prepared toppings, Massa pizza is a hybrid of Roman and Neapolitan pizzas, which Massaro also returned to Italy to learn to make authentically before deciding on the more complex Roman-style crust. The slow-rising dough also makes focaccia, served with Massa’s salads and used for their panini.

Light, airy focaccia results from a 72-hour rise. The same dough is used for Massa's pizza crust. Selections of Italian cheeses and cured meats (salumi) with accompaniments are served on wooden boards, as are sandwiches and slices. “Massa” was Massaro’s nickname growing up, and his pizzeria, deli and store serve as a gallery for the food art of a man who left Milan for love but still holds Italy in his heart and on his palate.

In 2013, he came to America to marry a beautiful Jersey girl with Italian roots whom he had met in Italy and fallen for 10 years earlier. Jennifer Collins had traveled to Italy with her best friend from high school, and Marco was her friend’s handsome cousin, a tall, soft- spoken soccer player. Both were instantly smitten.

“She learned Italian for me,” Massaro said. With an ocean between them, they kept in touch as friends over the years, exchanging emails in Italian. She would occasionally return to Italy.

When fate brought them together again, they chose New Jersey over Milan. They now live in Cranford with their 4-year-old son, Matteo.

Studying Roman pizza-making in Italy and returning to the U.S. to make it authentically became a passion project that helped her husband cope with his longing for the true flavors of Italy, Jennifer Massaro says.

Around Massa’s dining area, decorated in white, black and gray, he has stocked packaged pastas, olive oils, sauces, candies and other imported foods. They bring the feel of a market in Italy. There is a commercial-size La Spaziale machine to make espresso. Jennifer selected complementary artwork.

“We wanted to show images of Rome that were different, more of an insider’s glance versus the standard photos you see.” Everything is a backdrop for the pizza.

“We use quality ingredients, so we don’t have to hide anything,” she says. “We try to let the food speak for itself.” In the Firenze panino (“panini” is plural, “panino” is singular), fresh mozzarella melts into Italian ham, layered with tomatoes and artichokes. The Friarelli pizza has become a mainstay. Here, broccoli rabe mingles with mozzarella, Pecorino cheese and the previously mentioned Italian sausage.

An array of slices at Massa Square Roman Pizza in Scotch Plains.A feww of the menu items from Massa Pizza in Scotch Plains.“It sells so well for us that we are not going to take it off the menu,” Jennifer says. “We still have a lot of people coming in the door for the first time, so the core menu is what we know customers like.”

Specials will periodically introduce combinations highlighting seasonal ingredients. “We have had people say the pizza transports them back to Italy or to their mother’s kitchen table,” she says. “We hope to be able to share Massa with the masses for years to come. There’s so much heart driving the business forward, we hope our customers can quite literally taste it.”

Massa Roman Square Pizza: 405A Park Ave., Scotch Plains, NJ. (908) 312-9499

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