Kneads must

Rachel Roddy’s Ro­man white pizza

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome, the au­thor of Five Quar­ters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Salt­yard) and win­ner of the An­dré Si­mon food book award

It is a good thing if, when you walk into the Passi bak­ery, there is no pizza bianca sit­ting on the wooden board. It means it is still in the oven. Let it be known you are wait­ing, then step aside (but not too far – there will be others). Be sus­pi­cious of the older lady wear­ing a pur­ple jacket who is re­fus­ing to catch your eye. Nearly three feet long, golden and glis­ten­ing like a model in an 80s Pirelli cal­en­dar, the hot pizza bianca makes an en­trance, of­ten lifted above some­one’s head. The pizza is up­ended and cut in a way that re­minds me of fab­ric in that, once the knife has started, its weight tears the pizza in two strips, crispy frag­ments ping­ing away like tiny bul­lets.

You don’t need any words – use your hands to show them how long a piece you want. Un­less you want the crispy end, that is – in which case, prac­tise the word scroc­chiarella. For eat­ing straight away, your piece is wrapped in brown pa­per. If you are tak­ing it home, the baker will leave the bag open, so the steam can puff gen­tly away.

For eight years I lived three floors above Passi, which is one of Rome’s tra­di­tional forni (bak­eries), its win­dows open­ing into the same in­ter­nal court­yard as my kitchen door. In the morn­ing, my door open, while cof­fee erupted into the top of the an­gu­lar pot, I would of­ten catch the smell of pizza bianca. My part­ner Vin­cenzo, still half sleep­ing but pos­sessed, would be down and back with hot pizza be­fore I could re­ally speak. It is a fine break­fast, cof­fee and a slice of hot white pizza with a firm bot­tom but a cush­iony top – a proper mouth-ar­rest­ing chew, leav­ing lips glis­ten­ing and salty.

Like fancy tarts, or fish and chips when you live next to a de­cent chippy, I had never thought to make pizza bianca at home. It was some­thing best left to the floury-handed pros. But then I did make it, fol­low­ing a recipe by the mas­ter­ful Gabriele Bonci. I will ad­mit any recipe that needs 24 hours makes my heart sink, briefly. I have been con­verted, though, by the atavis­tic alchemy of flour, yeast and water, the puff­ing rise of the dough ... and my chest – I made that! You mix the in­gre­di­ents un­til you have a re­ally sticky mix­ture. Then with floured hands and a dough scraper (good in­vest­ment) you do the pie­ga­ture di rin­forzo – re­in­forc­ing folds – which de­velop the gluten and in­cor­po­rate air. Then the dough rests – not a nap but a se­ri­ous sleep – in the cool of the fridge, which in­hibits a fast in­flate, al­low­ing the dough to work and stretch.

The key to mak­ing pizza bianca for a crowd – a Christ­mas gath­er­ing maybe – is to en­list an en­thu­si­as­tic co-pi­lot in stretch­ing, lift­ing, brush­ing. Make the dough the day be­fore, get the oven hot and set up your work sta­tion with olive oil, paint brush and salt. You can serve PB in squares or split them and fill with pro­sciutto or thin slices of parme­san and wa­ter­cress or rocket. There is a rea­son Ro­mans queue. Wise guests will cot­ton on quick, fill up their glasses and wait by the oven. Just watch the one in the pur­ple jacket.

Pizza bianca

You will need a pizza tray, bak­ing stone or flat bak­ing tray. My friend Jenny Chan­dler sug­gests us­ing a lipped tray up­side down and pre-heat­ing it first. If you have a sour­dough starter, use that; if you have any other good ad­vice please leave it in the com­ments on­line.

Makes 5 piz­zas

1kg strong white flour, or Ital­ian 0

20g salt, plus more for sprin­kling

10g fast-ac­tion dried yeast, or 20g fresh yeast

700ml water

40ml ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, plus more for brush­ing

To serve (op­tional)

Pro­sciutto, parme­san and rocket/wa­ter­cress

1 If you are us­ing fresh yeast, dis­solve it in 100ml water (sub­tract this from the amount of water added later). Mix the flour, salt and dried yeast (if us­ing) in a large bowl, then add the water/yeasty water, and stir firmly un­til you have a soft, sticky, putty-like mix­ture. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave in a draught-free spot for an hour.

2 Dust your work sur­face with flour, then scrape out the dough. With lightly floured hands or a dough scraper, pull the sides of the dough up and out, then fold them back over. Do this sev­eral times. Wait 10 min­utes and re­peat. Scrape the dough back into a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling­film and leave in the fridge for 12-24 hours.

3 Dust the work sur­face again. Cut the dough into five equal pieces. Now, as be­fore, fold each piece sev­eral times. Leave to rest for 30 min­utes.

4 Pre­heat the oven to 260C/500F/gas as high as it will go. Heat a bak­ing tray/ stone in the lower half of the oven. Work­ing on a floured sur­face, gen­tly stretch the dough us­ing your floured fin­ger­tips to pum­mel and spread it out into rough cir­cles or squares. Paint with olive oil and then lift/flop it on to the bak­ing tray. Bake for 12–15 min­utes or un­til the sur­face is pale golden and puffed with bub­bles, the un­der­neath slightly darker and firm. Pull from the oven, brush with more olive oil, sprin­kle with salt, cut and eat. You can split the dough at this point and fill it with pro­sciutto, parme­san and rocket.

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