May 15, 2009

Pizza bianca to powder my nose

There is something ancestral in sinking your teeth in a warm slab of pizza bianca. A traditional Roman recipe for a simple, flat, salty bread that is neither that nor pizza. It is simply pizza bianca, which translates to 'white pizza.' The dough is similar in style and texture to pizza dough, consisting of high-gluten flour, oil, water, sugar, salt and yeast. Pizza bianca is the one and only. Its texture is chewy and crisp at the same time. Pull apart the bread in ribbons, and hidden beneath the thin, crackly crust, lies a soft gluteny heart. It is beautiful.

Upon first encounter, the mouth perceives the olive oil the pizza bianca's top has been lightly dabbed with after leaving the wood-burning womb where it has been baked. But lips also simultaneously meet the flour which dusts the bottom part of the slice, almost parching. This sensation immediately vanishes after the second bite, as taste buds marry the rock salt. The following sensory perception, is the crunch. This all-Roman delicacy is not a focaccia, and in the Eternal City, 'delectable' is never synonym of 'resilient,' when it comes to pizza.

Pizza bianca can be purchased at every corner fornaio, charcuterie, bread oven or specialized pizza al taglio establishment, where yard-lengths of pizza are sold by weight over the counter. These listed above are the small gastronomic temples where the tasty and mundane pizza bianca ritual is carried out every day. A very affordable, simple ritual. Pizza bianca is the perfect mid-morning snack for the hard working, those who wake at 5am and who by 11am could eat a horse; it is the preeminent after-school nibble and a great way to calm fidgety kids while mom does the grocery shopping and tantrums brew on the horizon.

Pizza bianca in Rome has a very high social value. It renders the maximum result with the least effort. For a handful of pennies. And it tastes divine.
To avoid disappointments, pizza bianca aficionados must know where to flock. Which place, that is offers the best pizza bianca in its traditional and truer version. The Forno at Campo de' Fiori is certainly among the most reliable. Here you'll taste the simplest form of pizza bianca, best if 5 minutes out of the oven, crisp and still warm on the tongue. It's easy to tell when the next batch of pizza bianca is about to be ready at the Forno: a conspicuous group of devotees mingling outside the small joint, nervously waiting to be served their little salty square of heaven. The smell of baking bread alone is worth the trip.

When it comes to stuffing pizza bianca, fundamentalists insist the only admissible filling is thinly sliced mortadella. I personally am a devoted fan of prosciutto and fresh ripe figs.

But no one in Italy will ever frown at you for filling yours with whatever the heck you want. Which takes us to another very important pizza bianca shrine. It is the Frontoni bread bakery and gourmet grocer on Viale Trastevere n°52, in one of central Rome’s most picturesque neighborhoods. The man behind the deli counter will carve open a warm hectare of freshly baked pizza and fill it with the selection of foods of your choice. I once witnessed a group of American college students abroad asking for combos such as hazelnut-chocolate spread, salami and capers; or ham, tuna, olives and Gorgonzola. The man blankly obeyed, only a sardonic smile occasionally surfacing on his expert face as he layered and stuffed their bizarre sandwiches.

The best thing to do at this point is take your stuffed pizza bianca and (weather permitting) improvise a lunch en plain air, sitting beneath a Roman monument or on the steps of a century-old ruin.
Only in this way will the Pizza Bianca Experience be complete. And if the above mentioned flour should accidentally leave a dusty mark on your clothes or face, who cares. It's the small price payed for having "eaten" the city whole.



  1. You would show pictures of bread to a hungry man who is trying to lose weight!

  2. salivating...both for the meal and experience...such a way with words...

  3. Now this is a sight for sore eyes! I was in a hurry this morning and forgot to eat breakfast. After my morning exercise class I am famished, but too tired to cook! This looks like heaven ;-)

  4. yummy...I'm a bread make this sound so delicious...


  5. Good "bread" is a thing of beauty. So basic but so complex.
    As for the fresh figs, I am shamelessly looking to befriend elderly Italian men in the area so I can get some fresh figs off their trees this summer.
    Is that wrong? I can't help it.
    The grocery stores here have terrible figs for one or two days a year so what else am I to do?

  6. Fresh figs and prosciutto--delicious. I loved this story with all the variations of how people enjoy pizza bianca. Especially laughed about the American students with their strange combinations.

    Have a lovely weekend with that little cutie of yours, Lola. ♥

  7. I just bought a loaf of ciabatta for $7. I thought about the work that goes into making good bread and pizza; and willingly paid the price. You just explained it.

  8. I'm with Snow! I just woke up and came here first, and I am STARVING. Be back after breakfast. Ciao.xx♥

  9. Honestly Lola you make me fall in love with food I have never had the good fortune of having.

    I want this now.

    Love Renee xoxo

  10. The power of flour always amazes me, just how many different things it can create. This one is a simple beauty. I'd take flour on my face any day!

  11. O.K. Lola you are hitting a very weak spot!! These breads with prosciutto look inviting. Yummm!!

  12. Come al solito, non ho letto un post, ho visto un film! E mi è piaciuta tanto l'espressione dell'uomo al bancone che compone pizze bizzarre col sorrisetto sardonico sulle labbra...
    There is a FORNO with the most wonderful PIZZA BIANCA back in Argentario and in my childhood. Pizza Rossa and Pizza bianca, Pizza acciughe e cipolla... We hurry there in the morning and get the hot pizza (sometimes wait for it to finish baking) to bring along on the beach...
    Any similar pizza in Verona is impossible to find... :-(

    WV: explerse!

  13. I love bread, don't care what sort as long as it's fresh or toast.
    I now want to come immediatly to Rome and have some for breakfast, it sounds so delicious.

  14. This definitely had my mouth watering - especially as I haven't had breakfast yet! I've been on a long hiatus, but it's lovely to be back!

    And proscuitto and figs sound marvelous. One of my "jealousies" about Italy is the availability of figs, which are probably my favorite fruit.

  15. MMMMM! There is nothing better than a bread that is made with love. I want to move to Italy, right now! Oh, my stomach is growling.

  16. Pizza bianca is one of my vices. And bread. I'm taking the habit of eating some of both before each meal. This is no good for my belly, which is growing. I have to watch out. Also some beer in the evening and of course wine at dinner. Fortunately I walk a lot and since I live at the fourth floor with no elevator, this also helps. Nice post Lola!
    I ADORE pizza bianca. The simple pleasures of life are always the best.

  17. PS
    You know, I'm at a phase of life when food becomes more important.

  18. Lola, your photos, words and recipes are simply mouth-watering!

    You are driving me to food, my darling! Bisous! x