The oldest reference to the word “pizza” dates back to 987 AD in Gaeta, a village in Southern Lazio. It is thought the the term comes from the Latin word “pinsa”, meaning flatbread. Thus, the modern-day pizza we all know and love started from simply adding tomato to the top of focaccia (a type of flatbread) in Naples in the 18th century.
A good 200 years after the creation Neapolitan pizza, the Roman style made its debut. Pizza didn’t catch on in Rome until the World War II era when American soldiers came looking for it. Thanks to high-protein flour being sent to Italy from America, Roman bakers were able to create a thinner, crispier version of its Neapolitan counterpart.
Whereas large brick ovens were being used in Naples, Romans favored smaller, stone-lined deck ovens. This was due partly to the fact that natural gas was extremely expensive in Rome, making bakers opt for electric ovens instead. Because of the oven’s evenly-heated rectangular shape, larger and longer pizzas made more sense than small round ones. Thus, the Roman style was born around the 1960s.
What’s in the name?
Roman pizza comes by many names, but you’ll most often see it called pizza al metro (pizza by the meter) and pizza al taglio (pizza by the cut). But both names indicate a long, rectangular pizza with a length of about 1 meter (3 feet). In many Roman shops, pizza al taglio is sold by the slice from the oiled rectangular pans in which they are cooked.
One type of Roman pizza that is rarely found outside the city is the pizza bianca, a white pizza that is oblong in shape. It has no tomatoes, but is instead drizzled with fresh olive oil immediately after coming out of the oven.
Roman pizza dough has a different type of structure. The crumb, affectionately known as the honeycomb, has micro-holes that make the pizza light and easily digestible. The dough has a thin to medium crust made up of a few simple ingredients: flour, water, yeast, olive oil, and salt. The addition of olive oil is a key difference from Neapolitan dough. It’s the essential ingredient that gives Roman pizza crust more weight, flavor, and a crispier crunch. Olive oil also helps to stretch the dough thinner.
How is the dough prepared?
Roman-style pies use a more refined flour for the dough, which requires three separate fermentation stages. Neapolitan style, on the other hand, only requires one. In addition, while Neapolitan-style dough rises at room temperature and can be used the same day, Roman-style undergoes a 60- to 90-hour rise.
Hydration is an incredibly important aspect of making good Roman pizza. The dough is worked through with nearly 60% or 70% of water. This allows for the dough to be very hydrated.
The temperature they are cooked at also differs. Neapolitans are typically cooked at 750-1000°F, whereas Romans are cooked at a cooler temperature ranging from 500-600°F.
What goes on top?
As far as toppings go, Roman pizza can be generously topped or not topped at all. Unlike Neapolitan pizza, the crisper, more rigid Roman crust can take the weight of a multitude of toppings. The Roman style is all about big, bold flavors, sharper cheeses, and even heavier meats.
Why We Make Roman Pizza
We’re really excited to be one of the only spots in Boston who specialize in Roman style pizza. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to perfect the dough, practicing, improving, and most of all, having fun every day.
Our obsession with Roman pizza began a few years ago when my partner Sebby and I went to Italy to visit his father. Truth be told, we were also planning to do a little research for the Italian-American restaurant concept I had always wanted to create. Though we were staying in Sicily with Sebby’s father, we knew we had to spend a few days in Rome. While researching which spots we wanted to hit, we kept seeing the name Gabriele Bonci. Who is this guy? I thought.
Better known as “Bonci”, this dude is pretty much the premiere baker and Roman pizza expert in Italy. We figured if we were going to be in Rome, we had to meet him. After firing off a ton of emails to people who may be able to get us connected, we finally got a response from Elizabeth Minchilli, a well-known American blogger living in Rome. She said she would try to reach out to Bonci, but couldn’t promise anything. Thankfully, we got lucky, and a few days later we had a meeting scheduled with the pizza maestro himself.
We got to Rome and met him at a tiny kitchen, tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. We spent several hours with Bonci, his helper, and a translator, learning the basics of Roman pizza dough. We learned how to mix it, store it, ferment it, and handle it. We made pizza after pizza while we drank organic Italian wine out of a box. It was an awesome day. This was the moment where we fell in love with Roman pizza. And today, here we are, with the Italian-American concept I had dreamed up a long time ago — Mortadella Head.