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The world loves pizza, especially Americans. 100 acres worth of pizza is consumed each day in the United States, according to the Washington Post. But in Italy, the perfectors of pizza, they don’t debate Chicago vs. New York but Neapolitan vs. Roman style. Americans prefer Roman because of the range of toppings. But the secret to Roman style is actually in the crust.
Making Roman-style pizza requires olive oil and time. While some roll out an uber thin crust after a matter of hours, traditional Roman-style pizza needs the dough to sit for up to 60 hours. This time allows air bubbles to form, giving Roman-style pizza a light airiness to the crust’s texture.
Italian pizza is different from its American cousin. For example, there is no pineapple pizza debate in Italy because over there, that’s a firm “no.” Also, a “pepperoni” pizza in Italy is not pepperoni, which doesn’t really exist in Italy, but bell pepper. But the Roman style crust is versatile. However, if you want to cut it properly, don’t use a pizza cutter or a knife.
- A Brief History Of Italian Pizza
- Making A Roman Style Pizza
- Toppings For A Roman Style Pizza
- Guide in Making Roman Style Pizza
A Brief History Of Italian Pizza
Pizza is ancient. There is a written mention of it dating back to 29-19 BC in the epic poem The Aeneid. The flatbread was used as an edible plate, making it one of the earliest known convince foods. This is probably why the ancient Roman warriors would bake it on their shields.
Consequently, pizza was considered food for the poor as it was inexpensive and transportable. But in 1889, it was given a bit of a makeover for the Queen, who was presented a Margherita on her visit to Naples.
But the Roman style didn’t arrive at its modern consistency until World War 2, when the Americans introduced a high-protein flour. Until then, the Roman region were making small pizzas, 2-7 inches, in their commercial bread ovens. These were sold to workers as an easy lunch.
Napoletana Vs. Roman Style Pizza
The Italians have many styles of pizza, but the biggest debates Americans tend to hear about revolve around two: Napoletana and Roman style. While much is changing in modern pizza making, especially regarding toppings, the crucial difference between these two is the crust.
Napoletana dates further back than the Roman style. It was commonly made by fishermen’s wives for their husbands to take out to sea. Its crust is made from flour, yeast, salt, and water. Traditionally, it is left to rise for 24-hours at 60F. In Italy, it isn’t authentic if the dough is kneaded by anything other than hands.
Napoletana is a doughy crust that is cooked very quickly at 750 – 1000F in a wood-fired oven. The outside crust may be thick, but the middle is thin and soft. So much so, many Italians roll it up and eat it much like you would a burrito.
Napoletana traditionally only comes with two different style toppings, although this is changing. The famous Margherita is tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil. The other is the traditional fishwife style, Marinara, which has no cheese: tomato, garlic, and oregano. Both often have virgin olive oil on the toppings too.
Roman-style pizza is pretty modern compared to Napoletana. It is made from flour, extra virgin olive oil, yeast, and water. The oil allows for a stretcher that can handle a thinner roll. The dough is left to rise at 40 F (often in the refrigerator) for up to 60 hours.
Roman-style pizza is also cooked at lower temperatures at 500-600 F. It is also common to be cooked in an electric oven. The crust is thin, light, and airy. Some Roman-style crusts are so hard they crackle like tortilla chips. They use a Scizza to slice the pizza, which doesn’t compress the air that is so essential to the Roman style.
Roman-style pizza is stronger than Napoletana at holding toppings. Thus, the Roman-style crust is better base substitute when making your favorites such as Pizza Cubano, Nduja Sausage, or Easy Chicken Tikka.
Roman-style pizza traditionally comes in two formats: pizza tondo and pizza al taglio. To cut it correctly, a Scizza is used, rather than a rolling pizza cutter or a knife.
Pizza tonda is a round style, like the stereotypical pizza pie. Its thin crispy crust is often burnt slightly once done and cracks like chips. The tonda is backed once after the toppings have been spread over it. This style of Roman pizza will most often be found in restaurants.
Pizza al taglio means pizza by the slice. Thus, it is most commonly sold by the slice by street vendors or takeout-style cafés. It is a rectangular sheet pizza with very little to no side crust. This Roman style is baked twice: once before the toppings and a second time after the toppings. As a result, it is lighter and airier than tonda.
Making A Roman Style Pizza
Roman-style pizza isn’t just about a thin crust, but its light and airy texture, too. To achieve this, it requires:
- Strong flour
- Olive oil
- Long and cool fermentation
- Cooler baking temperature
Authentic Roman-style pizza needs a strong, high-protein flour. The strength is necessary to hold the extra water and oil that allow a lighter and airer dough. The proteins give the flour its strength and are also known by the name gluten.
In Italy, they don’t just want strength but a smooth texture. To achieve this, they use 0 or 00 to achieve this, and it is also common for pasta. The numbers refer to the amount the flour has been refined. 00 flour is the most refined and nutritionally the most devoid. This is because the wheat germ, amino acids, vitamins, mineral salts are removed, leaving starch and gluten.
This fine grind gives a smooth consistency that you see in pasta. But in Italy, Roman-style pizza crust has it too; it’s is simply fermented and baked. In the United States, those without access to Italian flour use all-purpose or bread flour.
All-purpose has a tendency to tear easier, thus can be harder to make pizza al taglio. It is also more likely to give that tortilla chip-crackling effect. Thus it can be great for making pizza today. Bread flour provides a chewier texture and is less likely to tear, making it a good choice for pizza al taglio.
Olive oil is the crucial ingredient separating Roman style from Napoletana. The olive oil gives the dough a crispness and a better stretch to create vital thinness and adds to the dough’s flavor. Thus, the quality of olive oil impacts the taste of your pizza dough.
The amount of olive oil for a Roman-style pizza dough recipe is generally between 1 – 2 ½ tablespoons. Thus, if you are trying to convert an already beloved pizza dough recipe to Roman style, try adding at least 1 tablespoon of olive oil to provide the consistency you’ll need for an extra thin rollout.
Roman-style doesn’t substitute other oils or fats in its crust. Sometimes Pizza Bianca (white pizza with no sauce) is made from a Roman-style crust, but other times it is slightly thicker. Pizza Bianca crust recipes also come with more variety, including using “Strutton di maiale” (lard) and even milk.
Most Roman-style recipes in the United States don’t leave the dough rising more than a couple of hours. However, this is not an authentic method for Roman-style pizza. Instead, it is allowed to rest in the fridge for up to 60-hours. Unlike many other pizza crust recipes where the dough is shaped then left to rise, Roman-style is down either wrapped in a ball or covered in a bowl.
The refrigerator prevents the dough from rising too quickly while gaining extra flavor. In bread making, this is called “retarding” and is done on the second proofing for certain styles. It also gives bread crust a darker color.
There is only one proof in Roman style, but the objective is the same: to give the dough added flavor. However, some chefs do split the proofing process with 2/3rds of it in the fridge and the final third at room temperature.
In addition to the added flavor, the long slow rise gives the dough the air bubbles that are essential to its texture. Some chefs will shun the rolling pin to help preserve these precious bubbles. Instead, they will use their fingers to stretch and gently press and shape it into the pan, minimizing contact to maximize air contact.
Roman-style pizza is baked at a cooler temperature than its Napoletana cousin. The longer and cooler baking method adds to the crisp crunch of the crust. It is commonly 500F but sometimes as high as 600F. Unlike Napoletana, Roman-style is still authentic in an electric oven. It is easier to regular the temperature in an electric oven than a wood fire.
Toppings For A Roman Style Pizza
Traditional Italian pizza isn’t loaded up like most pizzas in the United States. Instead, toppings are generally kept to a few ingredients. Even if a “four seasons” pizza, the toppings are split into their own quadrant, not all piled on top of one another.
However, Roman-style pizza isn’t bound by as strict rules as Napoletana, so the toppings are much more flexible. So while you won’t catch an Italian in Italy covering their pizza in pineapple, what you put on your own is a personal choice. But if you want to add some authentic flair, here are a few common Italian pizza toppings.
Italians adore artichoke and commonly eat it on pizza. They pair it with one or two other toppings such as ham, olives, or mushrooms. On Italian menus, the combination is often listed as “capriccioso.” However, the capriccioso may feature a boiled egg in the center as well.
Burrata is a beloved alternative to mozzarella. It’s a softer and creamier cheese that has a bit of a buttery flavor. It is essentially mozzarella with cream added. The cheese is so adored there often isn’t much else on the pizza to compete aside from sauce, some tomatoes, and perhaps a bit of garnish, such as rocket or basil.
However, some do combine it with mushrooms or artichokes, both of which are popular toppings on Italian pizza.
Sliced eggplant is a common Italian pizza topping, usually as the main feature. Thus, there will be the sauce, one or two types of cheese (usually mozzarella and parmesan), then sliced eggplant. Occasionally some garnish, such as basil leaves or some rocket, is sprinkled on after baking.
Pepperoni might not be authentic Italian, but prosciutto is authentic. The cured ham is topped on pizzas with or without the cheese. If it is cheese, it is often mozzarella so as not to compete with the taste of the prosciutto. It is often the main topping, but if paired with a second, it is typically mushroom or artichoke.
Truffle on Italian pizza is not achieved with just flavored oil, but the actual fungi lightly sprinkled over mozzarella cheese. To best showcase the truffle, it is served without any sauce. Instead, it is just the mushroom with its oil and, perhaps, some creamy cheese, such as Stracchino. Occasionally an egg is cracked in the center and baked with the rest of the pizza.
American Pizza Toppings Not Commonly Found In Italy
While the United States doesn’t tend to dump sweet corn all over their pizzas like people in the UK are fond of doing, there are some US favorites that are seldom seen in Italy. These more unusual toppings include:
- Philly Cheesesteak
Guide in Making Roman Style Pizza
The secret to Roman-styled pizza is in the olive oil and the long and cool fermentation. Its thin crust is easiest to achieve with a rolling pin; however, you will risk losing precious air bubbles, so you may want to try the stretch and press method. But how you top your Roman-style pizza is up to you. That said, if you want an authentic touch, lay off the pineapple.