Pizza bianca in Campo de' Fiori in Rome.
Every time I'm in Rome I head for Campo de'Fiori, one of my favorite piazzas. A full-fledged market fills it every day but Sunday, offering terrific seasonal Roman produce such as carciofi (artichokes), tangles of already cleaned and sliced-into-curls puntarelle (Catalonian chicory), and broccoletti (Roman broccoli), with its chartreuse florets spiraling to a point. But the best reason to visit this piazza is a bakery - Antico Forno di Campo de' Fiori.
There's always a crowd in the shop. Locals line up for rustic wheels of country-style bread from Velletri (in the country outside the city), for crispy hollow rolls called rosette (little roses), and for bakery sweets (they're not pastry, owner Fabrizio Roscioli told me) like ricotta tarts or raisin-studded rhomboids of yeasty dough called quaresimali. The must-eat item at the Forno, however, is the pizza, either rossa (red with tomato sauce) or bianca (golden and glistening with oil). Purists choose bianca.
It's exciting to watch the pizza-making through glass doors next to the shop. A baker, clad in white T-shirt and shorts, takes a large handful of dough, stretches and pokes it with practiced motions on a floured board, coaxing it to a length of almost eight feet. He brushes the dough with delicately flavored, unadulterated extra-virgin olive oil. Then he slides it onto a wooden baker's peel. Because the peel is much shorter than the stretched dough, the dough must be pleated onto the peel and then extended to its full length in the eight-foot-deep oven. There it's baked for ten minutes at 475° F. When removed from the oven, the pizza has a burnished, hilly topography, given a sheen by the olive oil. Purchase your piece at the counter, where a rectangular slab will be cut, folded, and wrapped in white paper with corners twisted shut.
The Antico Forno's pizza bianca is unlike the oiled flat breads of other regions of Italy. The texture is both chewy and crisp, a thin layer of soft bread between oily upper and crispy lower crusts. The taste is clean and lightly salted. Is the secret in Rome's legendary water? Or the bakery's blend of flour? Or the baker's preparatory performance? I think it's the Roscioli family obsession with quality that makes this my favorite spot for pizza bianca. They've been at it for ages and truly know what they are doing.
January 20, 2000