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Snapshots from Italy: Chasing Pizza Bianca in Rome

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Many foods have their particular fans; some induce outright passion. But few incite love and praise like the Roman pizza bianca. Ed's devotion to Jim Lahey's version is well-documented, and Jeffrey Steingarten has written about the bread with rapture usually reserved for poetry and rigor more typical of a PhD thesis than a bakery review. (There must be something magical in those ovens.)

20090322PBsign.jpgThe pizza bianca bears little resemblance to any New York, Chicago, or Neapolitan pie. A simple dough of flour, water, and yeast is swiped with olive oil and sprinkled with salt—no cheese, tomato, or pepperoni in sight—before it's baked in slabs that can stretch to four or six feet. The finished product is cut into slices (often at blinding speed) and then sold by weight.

While it's often eaten filled as a sandwich, stuffed with vegetables or cured meats, well-made pizza bianca needs little adornment: warm and crispy from the oven, with olive oil soaking through, it's like the perfect overgrown pizza crust. So when in Rome, follow the Romans to one of these three bakeries. Elbow your way to the counter, tell whoever's waiting just how much you'd like, and watch as the knife whips through and your slice is expertly wrapped. Best eaten immediately in the piazza outside.

Forno Campo de' Fiori

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20090322PBforno250.jpgRight on the market square of the Campo de' Fiori, this little bakery is hard to miss—if the enormous FORNO sign doesn't announce its presence clearly enough, the yeasty fumes wafting across the piazza will. And although Forno Campo de' Fiori is among the more well-known and well-trafficked bakeries in Rome, its reputation is well-deserved. The pizza bianca is superb. Flatbreads can easily grow hard or dry, but this pizza's interior was soft and elastic, its edges thin and crispy, rather than tough. Fruity olive oil and a judicious sprinkle of salt lent all the flavor it needed. This is a bread that I wouldn't want to see complicated by any sandwich filling. I'd rather savor it alone.

Note: Like many Roman shops, Forno Campo de' Fiori is closed during the mid-afternoon (2:30-4:45) and all day on Sunday. Plan accordingly.

Forno Campo de' Fiori

Campo de' Fiori 22, Rome (map)
fornocampodifiori.com

Forno Marco Roscioli

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Across the Campo de’ Fiori and around a few corners is Forno Marco Roscioli, a lively bakery with a slightly newer look and a truly impressive cookie display.

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Gina DePalma has paid appropriate tribute to the bakery’s pizza rosso. But if you’re here for the pizza bianca, you won’t be disappointed, either.

Puffy and chewy, oily and salty, this slice displays every virtue of a well-made pizza bianca. But its crusty bubbles were a tad limp, rather than perfectly crispy, and the olive oil lacked the flavor and spice of Antico Forno’s. More than worth a visit—and more than worth the euro a hefty slice might set you back—but not quite as transcendent as Forno Campo de’ Fiori.

Forno Marco Roscioli

Via dei Chiavari 34, Rome, Italy (map)

La Renella

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20090322PBrenetta250.jpgOn the other side of the Tiber is the district of Trastevere, a neighborhood of narrow winding streets that feels a world away from the frenetic chaos of Rome proper. And on Via del Moro is the last of our bakeries—La Renella, whose counter, mobbed by Trasteverans waving their paper numbers and yelling out lunch orders, yanks you right back out of that peaceful idyll.

If you’re looking for pizza bianca across the river, La Renella is a decent bet, with enormous slabs pulled from the ovens every twenty minutes or so. Fresh, hot, and liberally salted, Renella’s pizza is a fine specimen. But just a bit tougher than the others and with sadly scant olive oil, it’s the least impressive of the three by a hair.

The good news: Renella’s pizza bianca, though a slightly less perfect snack on its own, becomes a wonderful sandwich base—and their menu is extensive. Opt for any of the pizza bianca ripena, stuffed with mozzarella or eggplant or fresh tomato; alternatively, try one of the flat pizza squares, like this one with zucchini, ricotta, and shaved prosciutto. It’s a perfect lunch on the go, as the hoards packing in every afternoon can attest.

La Renella

Via del Moro 16, Trastevere, Rome (map)

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