Pizzas bianca & rosso: I adore these two Roman flatbreads. Nothing like most Americans’ concept of pizza, the bianca version is crafted from a wet, slack dough that undergoes a long, long bulk fermentation. The characteristic bubbly, almost ropy texture is achieved through repeated, gentle stretching and dimpling during the final rise. The final step before baking, a topping of olive oil and a faint scattering of salt and (sometimes) dried herbs, elevates a simple dough into a platonic treat. Long, skinny, plank-shaped loaves emerge from many bakery ovens throughout the day, so fresh pizza bianca is never very far away in the city’s center.
Pizza bianca’s texture is closer to a chewy crust than a soft, spongy focaccia. Pizza rosso, bianca’s tomato-topped cousin, originates with the same dough, except it is topped with seeded-tomato puree (known as passatta) before baking. The tomatoes’ weight & moisture compress the dough, resulting in a cracker-thin, shatteringly crisp yet faintly chewy treat, and the ovens’ intense heat concentrates the tomato topping. At left is a slab of pizza rosso on the counter of the Antico Forno in Rome’s Ghetto neighborhood, circa 2010. Most bakeries offer the white and red versions side by side. In one of the great mysteries of the universe, different bakeries frequently excel at one type or the other, with a rare few making perfect versions of both.
After many experiments, I can almost replicate the texture at home, after patching together recipes from Jeffery Steingarten, David Downie, Daniel Leader, and Jim Lahey. Lahey’s no-knead dough has the right “chew”, but Leader’s tips on stretching and shaping are crucial to achieving the ideal texture. While I now can come close, it’s still light-years from the real thing, purchased so inexpensively at bakeries all over the Eternal City. The photos below chronicle (a small sampling of) my Roman flatbread street snacking…
Roman pizza bianca and pizza rosso, circa 2008: Top two rows of photos: pizza bianca dough in the kichen at the Antico Forno in the Campo di Fiori. Bakers repeat the process dozens of times a day, turning out a continual supply of fresh items.
Bottom four photos: a peek in the kitchen at Antico Forno (Cordella, I think) in the old Ghetto.