Pizza as most gastronomic delights that we take for granted as being ever present in our diets has an old yet very practical origin. It was invented out of the necessity to test the temperature of an oven before baking bread. Bakers needed a cheap inexpensive dough which could be cooked without a pan straight onto the stone surface of ovens. Over time bakers have upgraded the recipe to perfect a light fragrant dough which can be topped with a million different ingredients. Pizza has since then evolved into the round version which we eat in ‘pizzerie’ whereas (especially in Rome) ‘pizza al taglio’ or ‘pizza by the slice’ is what you’ll find in the 2000+ bakeries in the centre of Rome alone. While you will find pizza everywhere in Italy, you will most certainly not find pizza bianca in all the regions. This is because each distinct Italian region will have its own specific ‘speciality bread’ that you can only find there. Sometimes this is town specific!
The regional divisions of bread reflect the same differences that underline the regional gastronomic boundaries of Italy. The diversity of recipes and produce from North to South is one of the qualities that make Italy such an important part of world food heritage.
Pizza bianca is one of the favourite all-purpose snacks that Romans indulge at any time of year. Whether it is filled with mortadella or with figs and prosciutto crudo in the summer, pizza bianca is a great classic. Although it can and is eaten at any time of day, pizza bianca is generally consumed mid-morning so that the carbohydrates can slowly release their energy throughout the day. This also means you have the advantage of eating it slightly warm straight from the oven.
The recipe for this ‘roman brunch’ staple is simple although you have to allow enough time for leavening. In a truly Italian way you’ll have to plan this recipe beforehand.
500 grams bread flour
10 grams kosher salt
5 grams yeast
375 grams lukewarm water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Mix flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl and whisk together while adding the water. Let this mix and rest overnight at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.
The next day spread the dough on a baking sheet and sprinkle with some flour, cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 2 hours.
Preheat your oven to 550F or 280C° and 30 minutes before baking spread the dough out on the baking sheet and use your fingertips to create pressure holes in the dough, drizzle the oil on top and add the sea salt. Now the pizza is ready for baking. Bake until golden on top and with some burnished black parts on the bottom.
Remember this is not focaccia so the underside should not be a golden fried dough colour. It should be floury! Bake on a pizza stone for best results.