Rachel Roddy’s pizza with spuds

There’s noth­ing quite like eat­ing pizza straight from the oven, as Ro­man pizza al taglio places – where you can buy by the slice – tes­tify. Try your own with this se­duc­tive potato and rose­mary num­ber

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy Rachel Roddy is an award­win­ning food writer based in Rome and the au­thor of Five Quar­ters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Salt­yard); @rache­leats

The bell sig­nalling the morn­ing break at the school in Largo Beato Placido rings at 10:30. Across the street,

pizza al taglio i Gemelli is pre­pared, the pizze­ria’s long counter a patch­work of red, white and margherita, un­cle and nephew armed and ready.

We had been ad­vised, and ar­rived at 10:20, the mo­ment a tray of pizza rossa was be­ing slot­ted into place, its steam cloud­ing the domed glass counter. Years ago a man told me the best way to choose which pizza al taglio – which means “pizza by the cut” – to get is to wait to see what is pulled from the oven. Just as I am set­tling on red, another tray of pizza with pota­toes is pushed into po­si­tion, the waft of rose­mary rises up from it en­tic­ingly.

We are not the only ones – at 10:20 there is al­ready a queue: three men in flu­o­res­cent coats, the same num­ber in suits, a woman in train­ers jog­ging on the spot, a man who looks like Phil Collins, a tiny cou­ple who don’t need to queue, or ask, but are sim­ply given

il solito – the usual. With pizza al taglio, you say how much you want and the

piz­zaiolo cuts you a slice. In Pizze­ria Gemelli, they use scrap­ers like you might find in a tool­kit, the sharp edge is ideal for cut­ting, the flat side made for lift­ing the pieces on to the scale so they can be priced by weight. A list on the wall gives the cost of each pizza by the etto, which is 100g. Hands are the best way to show the size you want – be firm. Hav­ing a small child in tow is of­ten help­ful in choos­ing, en­sur­ing quick ser­vice and a free strip of pizza bianca, which my son eats as if he has been do­ing it all his life – which he has. If you are tak­ing it away, your pizza is wrapped, slices with soft top­ping folded back on them­selves, or put in a box. For those eat­ing straight away, the pizza half is wrapped in waxed pa­per, or if you have sev­eral squares, laid out on a wide piece which you take to the side­lines of the room, near Phil Collins. As we are tak­ing our first bites, the school bell rings. Less than a minute later, there is a surge of teenage bod­ies into the warm em­brace of the pizze­ria.

Rome is punc­tu­ated with forni, bak­eries, and pizza al taglio shops. Some are holes in the wall, from which queues curl like snakes, oth­ers, big cav­ernous places with high ta­bles and stools on which to sit and eat. Pizza al taglio shops are dif­fer­ent from classic Ro­man pizze­ria, which serve round, thin pizza, the best of which have wood-fired ovens, and are only open at night. Pizza al taglio places, how­ever, are the real work­ers of Rome: con­stant, faith­ful, func­tional and pro­vid­ing the ul­ti­mate fast food to a hun­gry city.

“Ev­ery­body loves pizza,” the jour­nal­ist Lu­ciana Squadrilli re­minds me. She spe­cialises in pizza, and has lots to say about the alchemy of good dough, and the un­easy tug be­tween the cost of good in­gre­di­ents and keep­ing pizza al taglio ac­ces­si­ble to all.

Ev­ery­one loves pizza. Ev­ery­one has an opin­ion too, it seems – some al­most evan­gel­i­cal, about where to get “una

buona pizza”, how deep or cush­iony or crisp it should be, how many hours the dough should rise (2, 24, 72 ... ), how much 100g should cost. As good as the pizza are the sto­ries, the child­hood memories of lips glis­ten­ing with oil and salt, the lost pizze­ria, a day of pas­sion with a piz­zaiolo, the mar­riage saved by a slice of margherita.

Armed with this ad­vice and our trusty Fiat Panda, we have vis­ited a dozen or so pizza al taglio ven­dors re­cently – some I knew al­ready, some I didn’t. It was sim­ply to see how they worked – to watch and taste. Some I will prob­a­bly never go back to, oth­ers I cer­tainly will: the im­pec­ca­ble dough and fine top­pings of Gabriele Bonci’s piz­zas, the re­mark­able aubergine and pesto at An­gelo e Si­mon­etta; the thin, crisp and gor­geously red mari­nara at Sup­plì in Traste­vere. Some­where we will cer­tainly re­turn to soon is Gemelli – at 10:20, for the but

also for the life within, the air warm and thick with the scent of just-baked dough, as peo­ple wait, or­der and then eat a slice.

Pizza with pota­toes

Adapted from a Gabriele Bonci recipe. The 24-hour rest does pro­duce a lovely dough, as does good-qual­ity flour.

Makes 2 large piz­zas, each serv­ing 4

1kg pizza flour (0-grade Ital­ian flour) 7g dried fast-ac­tion yeast 20g salt 700ml tepid wa­ter 40ml olive oil, plus ex­tra for greas­ing For the top­ping for 1 pizza 300g moz­zarella, blot­ted and torn 500g boiled potato, grated A sprig of rose­mary, roughly chopped Salt and black pep­per Olive oil, for driz­zling

1 Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl, then add the wa­ter and olive oil. Stir into 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 Scrape out the dough on to a work sur­face dusted with flour. With lightly floured hands or a 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 24 hours.

3 Dust the work sur­face with flour. Cut the dough in half. Fold each piece sev­eral times as be­fore. Then tuck into a ball. Leave to rest for an hour.

4 Set the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Gen­tly stretch the dough on a floured sur­face. Use your floured fin­ger­tips to pum­mel and spread it out into squares, then lift on to a bak­ing tray and press into the cor­ners. Make a layer of moz­zarella, then potato, sprin­kle with rose­mary, sea­son with salt and pep­per, then zig zag with olive oil. Bake for 25 min­utes, or un­til the sur­face is pale golden and puffed with bub­bles, the un­der­neath darker and firm. Cut into slices and eat.

This base works for any top­ping, one favourite be­ing sim­ple tomato sauce. Once baked, but still hot, add raw moz­zarella and fresh basil. Cook’s tip

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