I often speak to my family and friends who still live in Rome. They give me plenty of material to write about just by discussing what they are having for dinner. A few days ago my friend Danilo sent me a picture of a slice of Pizza Bianca, a long stretch of square bread dough typical of Roman bakeries called fornaio. Of course I was immediately inspired to write about it and make my own pizza from scratch.
Pizza Bianca, which translates to white pizza, can be thin or thick depending on the bakery that makes it. Before placing the dough in the oven, the baker sprinkles it with rock salt and drizzles extra virgin olive oil and water. The result is a shiny, salty glaze that makes this dish unique. Pizza Bianca has a hollow center that can be sliced lengthwise in order to fill with salame or mortadella. This makes a great tasting sandwich. Or, if you prefer, you can just eat it alone or serve it at as table bread.
A recipe similar to Pizza Bianca, although less bread-like, is pizza al taglio or al trancio, a staple of local street food vendors throughout Rome. This is the Italian version of pizza by the slice-al taglio literally translates to by the cut. The peculiarity of this type of pizza is that it is cut with scissors and then put on a scale and charged by weight. It is also known as pizza al metro because of the one meter rectangular pan in which it is baked. This pizza was invented in Rome in the late 1950s when local bakers started to experiment with electric ovens and decided to transform the classic round pizza, usually served in restaurants and pizzerias, into street food that was easier to take out.
After a few years of trial and error, these Roman, pioneer bakers, by increasing the amount of water in the mixture, came up with a recipe for a much lighter dough than the original classic Neapolitan version. This kind of pizza dough is called “high hydration” which, after two to three days fermentation, creates a significantly lighter and digestible product; light and airy, crunchy on the bottom with a slightly chewy consistency inside. Pizza al taglio can be prepared with a vast selection of toppings such as onions, porcini mushrooms, arugula, potatoes, prosciutto or zucchini flowers to just name a few. The two most famous types, however, are the “Bianca” with just rosemary, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, and the “Rossa’ with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella.
So now that I am confined to my home it is a perfect time to test my pizza al taglio recipe. To execute it correctly, you must make a wet dough that requires a hydration of over 80%. The dough should rest in the refrigerator anywhere from 48 to 96 hours. Of course the quality of the flour is extremely important as well. I advise an organic stone ground flour with no additives such as a type “00” which is ideal for this kind of pizza dough because has a lower gluten content then most flour. Another important factor is the temperature of the water which must be ice cold in order to slow down the fermentation process. This results in a more flavorful dough.
Here’s my recipe:
Preheat convection oven to 450 degrees
For the dough
4 cups 00 flour
1 package active dry yeast (7 grams)
3 cups water
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp salt
Stir the flour, yeast and water in a large bowl and gently fold by hand several times until all flour is absorbed. This process will take about 5 minutes. Add the extra virgin olive oil and salt and knead for another 5 minutes. If dough is too wet to handle, you can add some flour to your hands to prevent sticking. Cover and let rest in the refrigerator for 1 to 4 days. Once out of the refrigerator, gently transfer the dough to a lightly floured cutting board. Very gently stretch the dough with your hands and transfer to oiled pan. Sprinkle with rock sea salt and chopped rosemary (optional), drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle some water with your hands over the top before baking for about 20/25 minutes.
If you choose to add toppings such as tomato sauce and mozzarella, make sure to add the tomato sauce before you put the dough in the over. After 15 minutes of cooking you can add the mozzarella for the remaining time-this is done to prevent the mozzarella from burning.
Since you’re likely locked down at home as well, I invite you to try this recipe. Let me know how it turns out.
Alla prossima (until next time)