Words don’t do justice to the joy of a golden, crisp, chewy, oil-brushed – and if you’re lucky, still warm – piece of pizza bianca.
Cooked by the metre and sold by the slice, pizza bianca is the ultimate Italian-style breakfast on the go. Made with a slippery, bubbly dough and cooked into metre-long crisp, salty, dimpled flatbreads, pizza bianca is also known as pizza alla Romana, because Rome is the home of pizza bianca.
It is a breakfast masterpiece just as it is, pulled from the oven, brushed with olive oil and cut into pieces, swiftly wrapped in paper and handed over to the waiting locals and visitors.
But equally popular is what many would consider the ultimate Roman breakfast – pizza bianca e mortadella.
Also attracting a legion of fans is the trapizzino, a triangular slice of pizza bianca cut open like a cup and stuffed with a filling; Italian pizza maker Stefano Callegari is credited with inventing that twist back in 2008, and it’s now made its way around Italy and abroad.
Rome’s Campo de' Fiori is a mecca for pizza lovers, because of the Forno Campo de' Fiori bakery in one corner of the square, and the nearby Antico Forno Roscioli. At both, metre-long pieces of dough are skillfully shuffled off peels and into ovens to be swiftly baked, before being equally swiftly snapped up by hungry buyers.
Frank Pinello, host of The Pizza Show, describes a visit to Roscioli as a game-changer. Pinello visited Rome while filming for season 2 of the show, and when we chatted to him about it, we confess all we wanted to do was jump on a plane to the Italian capital and stuff our face with a square or three of Roscioli gold. (We’re warning you now, if you watch Frank eating his weight in pizza and then some in Rome and Naples - SBS VICELAND Saturday June 23 6.40pm and then on SBS On Demand – you’ll want to do the same.)
“It’s an amazing bakery in Rome, it’s by far one of my favourite places on the trip that we went, and the reason is because it was a bakery for the people.
“They made all these Roman specialties, a lot of baked goods, but they treated it very informally. If you walked in and you asked for pizza bianca, and if you had a euro in your pocket, you could get a small piece for a euro [about $A1.50] and take it home, and it made me realise why I love pizza, the way that they served it.
“They weren’t fussy about the pizza - you know, they took a lot of care in making of the dough, and they took a lot of care in the baking process, but the actual selling process of it was very casual, so when you walked in you just saw these delicious pies laid out, and they were long, you know, a metre long, some of them even longer, and you got a small piece.”
Most of the Roman bakeries sell pizza bianca, and its tomato-topped cousin, pizza rossa, by weight.
The history of Roscioli dates back to 1872, and the bakery, along with other additions to the business, including a restaurant and a café, is still family-fun, in the hands of a fourth generation of bread-loving Italians.
Multi-award-winning food writer Jeffery Steingarten describes pizza bianca as one of the greatest breads in all of Italy. In his book It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, he details his obsessive mission (like, counting the number of dimples in a piece of dough obsessive!) in Rome to try to replicate the pizza bianca that had haunted his dreams after a previous visit to the Italian capital. Over at Serious Eats, home to many obsessive culinary missions, J. Kenji López-Alt has detailed his own exploration of the secrets of pizza bianca.
But at its heart, pizza bianca is a simple snack, where flour, water, yeast, salt and olive oil come together.
If all of this makes you feel the desperate need for a piece of pizza bianca, good news: Australian expat Maria Pasquale, who now calls Rome home and writes the blog HeartRome, included a recipe for pizza bianca in her I Heart Rome cookbook, based on the recipe from Antico Forno Roscioli, and she shared it with SBS (get the recipe here).
“You eat it with your hands and yes, your fingers should get a little oily and salty. Antico Forno Roscioli is famous for their pizza bianca and this is their recipe, which is not all that hard to make at home,” she says.
“If you want to do as the Romans do, slice a slab open and fill it with mortadella… In Roman dialect, this is pizza e mortazza and it’s one of life’s simple pleasures.”
Now, we’ve seen trapizzino in Australia, and munched down on some great pizza bianca-style breads, but we’re yet to find anywhere serving it for a grab-and-go, sold by the slice Roman-style breakfast. If you have, help us out. Let us know!
Watch The Pizza Show on SBS VICELAND Saturday 6.40pm, or catch up via SBS On Demand:
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