Tag Archives: street food

Pizza bianca – the quintessential Roman street food

Pizza bianca, sliced

Pizza bianca is ubiquitous in Rome. Although Romans don’t by and large like eating on the move, chances are you will see people wandering along clutching bready packages and chances are, they’ll be folded pieces of pizza bianca, either plain or filled (farcita).

Pizza bianca – “white pizza” – is effectively plain pizza, simply sprinkled with coarse salt. It can be fairly thin, or it can be fairly puffy – more akin to what we’d called focaccia in the UK. There are fine lines between different types of flat bread, but what we call focaccia (literally “hearth bread”, from the word focus – Latin for hearth) is probably more akin specifically to the focaccia Genovese. Usage of the words “pizza” and “focaccia” vary a lot around Italy; for example, in our local Sardinian restaurant here in Rome, they serve discs of crisp flatbread that they call… focaccia.

This is my second attempt at pizza bianca. I made some in February 2012, but my oven has such fierce bottom heat, I struggled to get the top golden without over-baking the bottom.

Pizza bianca

Plus, well, as pizza bianca can be found in every bakery and pizza takeaway place in Rome, it seemed almost silly to persist in trying to master it. Except recently, when we’d decided to leave, it seemed I really ought to. Then last week I stopped by Rachel’s place while she was making it, and it galvanised me to revisit the document that’s been sitting on the my desktop the past few month called “Pizza bianca recipes”.

The most important factors
Pizza bianca is made with a fairly basic white bread dough, but there are several important things to consider:
You want a a nice moist dough.
You want to give it some folds.
You have to give it time to ferment.
You need to be gentle with it.
And ideally you want decent extensibility, as with any pizza dough.

Mine fell down slightly on the final factor: perhaps an autolyse process at the start would help, but this didn’t seem to be traditional. Or I could have tried to increase the hydration.

Rachel used the recipe from Gabriele Bonci’s book (so far only available in Italian), which was 70% hydration (ie 700g water to 1kg flour), but last December we saw this recipe in the window of Bonci’s bakery in Prati. Ninety flippin’ percent hydration and two days of leavening. I was just discussing the challenge of high,70%+ hydration ciabatta dough yesterday with Jeremy; that’s tricky enough. I’d love to see Bonci handling his 90% dough.

Recipe in the window of Bonci bakery, Dec 2012

Otherwise my first effort was okay; I would have liked to get a nicer golden colour on top, but couldn’t manage that with my pesky oven…. which will only be my pesky oven for another 10 days, before we leave our home of the last two years and head back to Blighty, then on to a bit of a trip to see friends and family in the US and NZ. So all very bittersweet. Yay to visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, boo to leaving Roma friends and infuriating, wonderful Roma.

Variation and experimentation
As usual with my recipes, I’m experimenting as I go along. You can just make this with commercial yeast, but I did a mixture of fresh yeast and my leaven/sourdough. If you don’t use leaven, increase the yeast to 12g.

A note on the flour too. All the Italian recipes that I’ve seen specify using a grano tenero flour – that is “soft grain”, not a high protein wheat flour. I used Mulino Marino’s organic 0 grano tenero. (00, 0 etc refer to the fineness of the milling; see here for more discussion of Italian flour terminology). This is now available in the UK, but frankly, it’s always better to use local produce as food transportation is a massive contributor to climate change. So see if you can find a medium protein (12-13%) fairly fine flour from your most local mill.

Some recipes also use other ingredients like milk, sugar and even “strutto di maiale” (lard), but at its purest pizza bianca is just flour, water, yeast, salt. And olive oil. But then, what’s any Italian food without some olive oil?* Though the oil here is a classic qb element.

Pizza bianca recipe

The recipe
So here’s my recipe. It makes quite a lot – two fairly large, squarish pizzas – so you’ll need some room in your fridge. Or do half quantities.

The process seems quite convoluted, but mostly it’s about time and gentleness.

1000g flour
700g water
5g fresh yeast (or 3g active dried yeast)
50g white leaven (100% hydration)
20g fine sea salt
30g extra virgin olive oil… or qb.

1. Combine the water, yeast and leaven.
2. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and mix together quickly.
3. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix, along with a sloosh of olive oil. Use your hands or a rubber spatula.

Pizza bianca
4. Turn the rough dough out onto a work surface and knead. Try to stretch the dough and fold it over, to incorporate air.

Pizza bianca recipe, kneading sticky dough
5. It will be sticky. Don’t keep adding more flour. When you’ve got it nicely combined, clean off your hands with some flour, rubbing it between your fingers like soap.

Pizza bianca recipe
6. Put the ball of dough in a bowl, cover with film or a cloth or a shower cap and leave to rest at room temperature.
7. Put a drop of olive oil on the work surface and rub. This won’t stop it sticking, but it can help a little…

Pizza bianca recipe
8. Turn out the dough, and stretch it to form a rough rectangle. Be gentle.

Pizza bianca, folding

9. This next bit is important. It’s called stretching and folding, and it’s a gentle way of redistributing the gases building up in the dough and helping develop the structure, aligning the proteins, while avoiding any of that old-school British violent mistreatment of the dough.

Pizz bianca, folding
10. Once you have a rough rectangle, fold one third inwards, then fold over the opposite end, to form a kind of envelope. A dough scraper, or tarocco (“tarot card”), is essential here.
Pizza bianca recipe

11. Fold this envelope in half again in the centre of the long rectangle, to make a more cube-type shape (sorry, no photo). Put it back in the bowl and cover again.
12. Repeat this process two or three more times at 20 minute intervals.
13. Clean your bowl, or use a fresh container, oil it, then put the dough back. Cover with film or a lid, and put it in the fridge.
14. Leave the dough to quietly, slowly ferment for about 20-24 hours.
15. Remove the dough from the fridge.
16. Depending on how big you want your pizzas to be, divide up the dough. I’ve got an oven sheet that’s 40x40cm (about 16”), so I did divided the dough in two.

Pizza bianca recipe
17. Give the dough another gentle fold, form a loose ball, then leave to rest again, bringing it back to room temperature.
18. Preheat your oven – ideally about 250C, or as hot as it’ll go. Baking any pizza, the hotter the oven, the better. (A good wood-fired oven can top 500C.)

Pizza bianca recipe
19. Take your ball of dough and gently extend it into a square or rectangle to fill your baking sheet or pan. Do this gently, as you want to retain the nice gassy structure. You can either do this on a flour or oiled work surface and transfer it, or it directly on your baking sheet/pan. The more you push your fingers into the dough, the thinner your pizza will be.
20. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. You can also sprinkle it with coarse sea salt before baking.
21. Then bake for about 12-18 minutes. You want a nice golden finish, something that eludes me…

Pizza bianca
22. Once it’s baked you, drizzle with a bit more oil, so it’ll be absorbed while the pizza is still warm. If you didn’t sprinkle it with salt beforehand, you can do it now instead.

Pizza bianca, and porchetta

The results
The result should be a delicious salty, slightly crunchy bread with an open, irregular structure.

You can vary it by adding olives or rosemary beforehand, but this really is entering focaccia territory, and a true Roman pizza bianca is plain.

We split ours open and filled it with porchetta, a speciality from the Rome area that’s a rolled pork roast with layers of stuffing made with garlic, rosemary and other herbs and has, ideally, some serious crackling to boot.

I’m not a meataholic like Fran,  but this made for a cracking sarnie. We served finger-food sized pieces last night at our farewell-please-take-our-stuff-while-drinking-Italian-craft-beer party. Boy oh boy, what a great selection of beers we had.

Pizza bianca with porchetta

* Of course, this was a flippant comment. Reading about Marcella Hazan, who died 29 Sept 2013, I feel quite dumb to have even made this off-hand comment, as, of course, some things are better fried in butter or types of vegetable oil, even in Italian cuisine. Frying fritti, for example, in extra virgin olive oil would be a total waste, plus, inversely, EV olive oil can be just too strong a taste for more delicate dishes.

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Filed under Breads, Pizza

Back to the scene of the crime: some beer and snacks in Naples

Naples street food

Last time we went to Naples we enjoyed the pastiera and didn’t so much enjoy the pickpocketing. This time round there was, thankfully, none of the latter. Though because of the earlier experience we didn’t take a camera, and I kept neglecting to take photographs with my (crappy replacement-for-stolen) phone. Hence this one isn’t very well illustrated. Sorry – I realise food blogging needs fancy photography but, well…. Boh. È già.

Street food
Naples is a great city if you like stodge. Sure, it has amazing restaurants too, but the most tangible food, the food you’ll probably notice first – especially if you’re visiting the centro storico – is the street food.

Along Spaccanapoli and Via Tribunali are dozens of places selling, basically, deep-fried stodge. Who says Glaswegians invented deep-fried pizza? Apparently, there’s been stodgy, fried street-food in this ancient Greek then Roman town for millennia.

We tried a bread-crumbed, deep-fried pasta patty, a crochetta (potato croquette, with bits of mystery meat), and a sausage (with provolone in it) wrapped in dough and… deep-fried (possibly called “wurstel in camicia” – “vienna sausage in a shirt”). I love stodge and deep-fried food, but even I felt a bit wobbly after these items. (I would have been even wobblier if I’d been forced to try the tripe and lemon juice we saw for sale from a cart down by Castel dell’Ovo on the seafront.)

Naples street food

Ale
Later on, I fancied some beer (ofc). I’d tried looking up real beer places in Napoli, but I couldn’t really find any in the centro storico. Then we wandered past La Stanza del Gusto on Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli. It’s basically in Piazza Bellini, which is a great spot for an evening drink, amid the dilapidated, graffitied, litter-strewn grandeur. Most of the other bars there, however, only serve industrial beers, which gave La Stanza the edge for us as it had a good selection of international real beer.

I always prefer to eat and drink local, though it’s especially nice to be able to do this with beer. When we asked for something Italian, and local, the helpful guy went behind the bar as if he was digging into a special stash and gave us a slightly strange sales pitch. Fran had a Lemonale, which he referred to as a bit “gay” (so not exactly PC).

Lemonale and Trentatre at La Stanza del Gusto, Naples

This is a top fermented beer from Birra Karma brewery, which is based in Alvignano, 45km north of Napoli. It’s a 5.5% ABV beer that’s made with water, malted barley, rye, organic honey, Fair Trade cane sugar, hops, spices and yeast: but no actual lemon. Despite this, it was very citrusy, a little sweet, with a smooth, even body and some coriander. Karma’s own site says it’s in the style of Belgian blanche. Very refreshing.

I had a Trentatré (33) Ambrate from AF Birra/Aeffe – another local Campania brewery, this time based near Salerno. Aeffe’s site describes it as a “Scottisch Ale” while the good old Guida alle birre d’Italian 2013 says it’s 6% ABV and made with Maris Otter barley malt, and refers to it being a beer “inspired by the English tradition”. Italians really aren’t very good when it comes to the whole English-British thing, with many using the former as a synonym for the latter (I’m constantly telling a highly educated historian friend there was no “English army” in WW2, it’s the “British army”).

Anyway, Trentatré  Ambrate has a rich amber colour, with a nicely balanced, deep, slightly fruity flavour of malts and bitter hops. Just to continue his un-PC strain of jovial chat, the waiter said this was a better beer to “picchiare la moglie” (ie, he was calling it “wife-beater” – a name used in England for Stella Artois, for some reason).

Just to get the most out of our aperitivo, we tried Karma’s own amber ale, called Amber Doll. This wasn’t quite as full-bodied as the Trentatré  and had a distinctly coppery flavour, with touches of chestnut.

Karma brewery's Amber Doll

Pizza
The following day, we met some friends. They live in Rome, but have local family, and they took us for a pizza for lunch. This was at Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, which is located by the old gate Porta San Gennaro on Via Foria, a large road to the north of the centro storico and one of the many places one can see the city’s famed modern art installations that look just like massive piles of garbage. They’re uncannily realistic.

The pizzeria itself is one of the many where you’ll see a sign saying “Vera Pizza Napoletana” – Real Neopolitan Pizza – with a picture of the city’s famed folk figure Pulcinella. This guy, with his clown-like white garb and black mask, is the predecessor of Britain’s children’s entertainment psychopath Mr Punch, with his proclivity for killing (his wife, their baby, the arresting police officer). Encouraging you to eat pizza is certainly a more benign activity. The signs are organised by the AVPN, a not-for-profit founded in Naples in 1984.

Vera Pizza Napoletana sign

Our friends said there were only really three genuinely Neopolitan pizzas on the menu: notably the Margherita, which legend says was created for Margherita of Savoy, queen consort of Italy’s King Umberto I, during a visit to Naples in 1889. Another was a calzone made with ricotta and prosciutto, which Fran had. She says “It was delicious and surprisingly light.”

Not so light, apparently, is the deep-fried version, which our friends warned us off – and indeed it looked massive, and coronary-inducing, when some other punters ordered them. I had another calzone, but this time with provolone, black olives and scarola (that is Cichorium endivia, curly endive, a form of chicory). Very nice it was too – with the olives providing a sharpness to contrast with the cheese and wilted greens.

Calzone at Cessano, Naples

Pastry
The following morning, we tried just one more local speciality before we moved on down the coast to get a bit of sun and reprieve from the urban madness. This involved going to Giovanni Scaturchio, a famed historical (“since 1905”) pasticceria (pastry shop) in the head of the centro storico, on Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.

Our friends insisted we have sfogliatelle. These pastries come in a few forms, though the most famous in Naples is the sfogliatella riccia, a name that literally means “curly many-leaves/layers”. And indeed the pastry is not unlike say filo, in that it’s been rolled and stretched very thinly, before being layered and rolled, and filled with a mixture of ricotta, almond paste and candied peel. We had one riccia and one made with pasta frolla – shortcrust pastry. The latter, at first glance, looks more like a brioche bun, but when eaten is clearly pastry not enriched bread dough, and is also filled with ricotta and peel.

We were so busy talking about it all, then trying to get the waiter to bring a knife, then cutting them up, that by the time I thought about taking a photo there wasn’t much left. So instead, here’s the picture from Scaturchio’s site:

Sfogliatelle from Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio

If you’re only in Naples for a few days, and fancy trying a distinctive local snack, I’d really recommend a good sfogliatella, or two. Slightly more refined than the deep-fried pizza sold on the street stalls. I’m saving that treat for next time we run the gauntlet of this astonishing city.

Info
La Stanza del Gusto, Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 100, 80138 Naples, Italy
+39 081 401 578 | lastanzadelgusto.com

Birra Karma brewery
+39 0823 869 117 | info@birrakarma.com | birrakarma.com

AF Birra/Aeffe brewery
+39 081 516 2434 | info@afbirra.com | afbirra.com

Pizzeria Capasso Vincenzo, Via Porta San Gennaro 2, 80138 Naples, Italy‎
+39 081 456 421

Pasticceria Giovanni Scaturchio, Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 19, 80134 Naples, Italy
+39 081 551 7031 | info@scaturchio.it | scaturchio.it

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Filed under Ale, beer, Bakeries, Misc, Pizza