LIn early March, the neat and well-spaced queue in front of Passi, our local bakery, seemed absolutely strange. Now, more than a year later, the idea of Passi, or any store, full of people, is strange. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to shove or rush through stores, or shove to a bar, or along a dark movie line, to grab a friend and give them a hug. I’ve even had sentimental feelings about rush hour trains and the jostling of elevators. Anyway, let’s get back to the well-spaced queue outside of Passi, and a possible reason to stop at it: pizza rossa. What is ordinary and exceptional, thin and crunchy (although still a pizza, not a cookie), with a thin layer of tomato sauce and glistening with olive oil.
It has been on my mind to write about pizza rossa romana for years. Of course, I knew I would never be able to reproduce the 3m lengths baked in well seasoned trays in a professional oven, but I was hoping to get close. I just didn’t, despite numerous attempts, until two weeks ago, and only because a friend pointed out that he wasn’t looking at what he was doing. Because I wasn’t using my hand as a bread hook, that is, pinching my fingers like an Italian gesture and stirring for a full two minutes. And of course I had a puffed-edge pizza because I wasn’t pressing the dough thin enough or buttering the tomatoes deep enough. And I wasn’t baking it hot enough or in the right place either, that turns out to be my oven floor, or I wasn’t generous enough with the olive oil, both before and after baking.
There’s something else about Roman-style pizza rossa, as the couple in front of me in the queue outside of Passi reminded me. They went in, but then came back out almost immediately. because they weren’t going to buy the last cold portion, better wait for the next batch, so I didn’t go in either. So we all waited, well spaced on the sidewalk, until they yelled at us to take our rossa. “Freshly baked”- freshly baked – and therefore to be grabbed, pushed and eaten immediately.
Red roman pizza
Preparation and testing 2 hours and 40 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
500g 0 flour
4 g dry yeast or 12 g fresh
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
Durum wheat semolina flour, to display
1 400g can of peeled whole pear tomatoes2 tablespoons olive oil, more extra to finish
Put the flour in a bowl and measure 360ml of water in a jug. If you are using fresh yeast, dissolve it in 25 ml of the measured water. Add the dissolved fresh yeast plus 300 ml of water, or 4 g of dry yeast plus 325 ml of water, to the flour. Using your fingers like a bread hook, that is, pointed and tight, stir for two minutes, then add 12 g of salt and the remaining water, and stir again for a minute.
Wash your hands. Add the olive oil to the dough and stir again, which will help create a smooth, slightly sticky, putty-like dough that can be formed into a ball. Take out the dough, wash the bowl, rub the inside with oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with a cloth and let it sit in a warm place for two hours, during which time it should almost double in size.
Grease your hands and place the dough on a lightly greased work surface. Cut it in half and, working delicately, lift the edges of both halves to look like neat little bags. Raise on a board dusted with semolina floor, cover with a cloth and let it rest for another 30 minutes.
As the dough rises, use your hands to mash the tomatoes, then add two tablespoons of olive oil and a little salt, and stir. Taste and, if it seems too acidic, add a little sugar.
Heat the oven to its maximum temperature, 240C (220C fan) / 475F / gas 9. Working on a board dusted with semolina flour, roll out a piece of dough with your fingers until it is the size of a large plate. Place on a 12 “x 12” baking sheet, then use your fingertips to spread it out and fill the entire tray. Dimple the dough gently with a spoon, then with your fingertips brush half the tomato sauce to the edges, dimple again, and zigzag with oil.
Bake on the oven floor or on a baking stone, or as low as possible in the oven, for 12-15 minutes, until the bottom is set, the edges are golden brown, and the top is blistered and slightly charred. Take the pizza out of the oven, zigzag with more oil and serve it sliced. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism