Crisp, Simple Roman Pizza

Bringing Home Rome, Cook, Learn, Primers, Regional Spotlight

A crisp focaccia with prosciutto, a six-foot-long flat bread, a rectangle of dough strewn with sliced potatoes, a canape, a cherry pie and a round crust with tomatoes and mozzarella: in Rome, they all come under the term pizza.

 

The best pizzas come from wood-burning ovens. Roman crust is thin and fairly crisp; as with pasta, the crust should not be viewed as merely a vehicle for the topping. A naked pizza — the Roman focaccia — drizzled with olive oil and often adorned with diced tomatoes or a slice of prosciutto, is proof of that.

 

Classic pizzas include pizza alla napoletana (anchovies, tomatoes and mozzarella), pizza ai funghi (mushrooms, tomatoes and mozzarella) and pizza Margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella and sometimes basil). Pies topped with mozzarella di bufala and Pachino tomatoes (cherry tomatoes), fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) or rughetta (arugula/rocket) have joined the list as near-universal menu items.

 

PIZZA BIANCA

 

High on the list of things that make Romans proud is pizza bianca — literally, “white pizza” — the sublime flat bread that is white and soft on the inside and golden brown and crisp on top.

 

Pizza bianca is often eaten plain, but almost every snack bar in town offers it split horizontally and filled as a sandwich. Most Romans like it stuffed with ripe fresh figs and prosciutto. Mortadella or prosciutto and fresh mozzarella is a classic, while bresaola and rughetta (arugula/rocket), sometimes with Parmigiano-Reggiano, is decidedly modern.

 

 

MAKING PIZZA BIANCA

 

Mixing. For each batch of pizza bianca, flour, water, salt and cake yeast are put into a giant mixer, which first combines the ingredients and then kneads them to yield a smooth, elastic dough. The dough is left to rise for up to 6 hours.

 

Shaping and kneading. The risen dough is cut into portions each weighing about 4 pounds. Each piece is shaped by hand into a loaf, sprinkled with flour and left to rest for about 15 minutes. The loaves are kneaded and stretched for about 5 minutes, after which they emerge as a slim shape approximately 6 feet long. The pizza’s characteristic dimpled surface is made by the baker’s fingertips.

 

Baking. The pizzas are brushed with olive oil and transferred on a long, narrow peel to the oven, where they bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes until crisp and golden.

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