Tag Archives: rome

A week in Rome: pizza and pizza bianca

Biddy on the beach, where we had pizza bianca for our lunch

A couple of my pizza or pizza-related ambitions for this trip didn’t come to fruition – a trip to the vaunted Pepe in Grani pizzeria and a chance to try the intriguing pinse. The former just felt like too much of a mission, as it’s in the sticks, a two-hour drive or doubtless convoluted journey by public transport from Rome. The latter because the place I’d been told about by Hande Leimer, not just the expert sommelier of Vinoroma, but a great knowledge on Roman eating, was closed when we passed by around midday on our way back from closing our Italian bank account. Or attempting to close it. I’ll eat my hat – okay, I’ll just nibble it a bit – if that cheque ever arrives at our UK address.

Shame really, as pinse are a kind of rare Roman and Lazio relative of the pizza, made with a dough based on grains other than wheat, such as millet, oats or barley, in a mix with older wheat varieties. Next time.

And it’s not like we were otherwise deprived.

The best meal we had was for Fran’s birthday lunch, which we celebrated at the excellent trattoria Da Cesare (Via del Casaletto 45, Casaletto/Monteverde Nuovo, 00151 Rome – at the end of the number 8 tram route). It’s an old favourite, via Rachel, Hande and her colleague Katie Parla, and the place where I had one of my most memorable meals ever, last year on Ferragosto – the public holiday that’s celebrated on 15 August, the day that’s considered the hottest of the year. For Fran’s birthday, we gorged ourselves on amazing fritti (deep-fried antipasti) and fresh pasta dishes, like these giant ravioli, accompanied by some great wines recommended by Hande (who told me the boss is also a sommelier and has a great selection). They do do pizza, though I’ve never tried it.

Giant ravioli of ricotta and spinach at Cesare a Casaletto

More basically though, we also ate a fair amount of pizza, including at one one of my favourite pizzerias. Da Remo (Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice 44, Testaccio, 00153 Rome) is isn’t a place that sells products that are entirely in line with my more ardent principles about long fermentation and whatnot, but it does offer a consistent, consistently tasty product: classic, thin Roman-style pizzas, nicely charred from their wood-fired oven and served an atmospheric slightly rough, rushed setting.

When we went there I had a pizza without tomato sauce – that is, a white pizza or pizza bianca. The topping was simply mozzarella, a few zucchine flowers and some anchovies and it totally hit the spot, washed down with dubious house wine.

Da Remo

Shades of white
The term pizza bianca can be a little confusing in Rome as the other thing it refers to is a simple snack of basic pizza dough embellished with little more than a slosh of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. I love the stuff. Can’t get enough. Which is good, as it’s ubiquitous in bakeries and pizza takeaways, which bake long planks of it and sell it by weight. It’s such a popular staple with Romans, I suspect even mediocre outlets put more effort into getting it right.

I’ve got a recipe here, but I’ll be honest – while I’m pleased with it, it’s never quite as good as the real thing, baked in a proper commercial oven oven, cut from a massive plank, eaten on a Roman street. Or nearby beach (where the old biddy, above, was our neighbour), here topped with some caciotta di pecora (sheep’s milk cheese) and prosciutto.

Pizza bianca 'sandwich'

Or as part of a simple lunch, here accompanied by burrata – not a Roman cheese, but from Puglia, and one of the most stupidly indulgent simple pleasures that exists.

Simple lunch

We bought ours from Il Panificio Passi (Via Mastro Giorgio 87, Testaccio), which was basically underneath the flat we were staying in and fortunately does decent pizza bianca.

Pizza bianca torn open, showing its moliche - crumb or guts

Name games
Rome, and Italy in general, is a great place for getting confused about the names of foods you might previously have considered yourself well-acquainted with. So while pizza bianca refers to both plain pizza, or topped pizza, pizza rossa refers to both pizza based topped with little more than a smear of tomato sauce, and the types of topped pizzas that have that sauce along with other elements.

Furthermore, Romans even use the word focaccia to refer to a very thin, crisp, crunchy bread that some trattorie serve in their baskets of bread that accompany every meal. I love it, though I didn’t take a photo when we had some as the waiter was so grumpy about my query it put me off my stride.

The plumper flatbread us Brits (and I suspect Americans) know as focaccia, meanwhile, can be simply called pizza alla genovese, as that style is from Genova/Genoa and Liguria.

Pizza rossa, pizza bianca and (the fatter stuff) pizza/focaccia alla genovese at Passi, Testaccio.

It’s all six of one and half a dozen of another though, as arguably all flat breads can be considered focaccia. The name simply means “hearth bread”, bread cooked on the hearth, from the Latin focus. Furthermore, Wikipedia’s attempt at making a distinction between focaccia and pizza is clearly spurious as it says things like “while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher” and “focaccia is most often square whereas conventional pizza is more commonly round”, both things fairly disabused by the kind of Roman food mentioned above.

It’s also worth noting, no one really seems to know the etymology of the word pizza anyway, so sod it – if you want to make something thin or thick, round or square, with a hole in the middle or not, heavily topped or simply sprinkled with salt, I’m not sure it’s really worth any fuss if you call it focaccia or pizza. Or indeed pinsa, a word that some suggest has the same roots as pizza anyway. Or not. Chissa?

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Filed under Baking, Breads, Pizza, Restaurants etc, Rome

A long week in Rome: breakfasts

Cornetto, saccotino, maritozzo

If a long weekend involves stretching it to three nights, we’ve just had a long week in Rome, stretching over nine days, and celebrating Fran’s birthday in the middle. It was our first visit to the Eternal City since we left in October 2013, after having lived there since August 2011. So inevitably it was emotional. Although our time in Rome had involved challenges, it culminated in us having a great bunch of friends and an affectionate, nay obsessive relationship with the city and some of its fruits.

Fran and me are both somewhere on the gourmet-gourmand spectrum. She’ll a carnaholic and has a thing for salumi (charcuterie) and things like tagliata di manzo (sliced steak). My interests, on the other hand, are those in the name of this blog. So it was a great pleasure to get back to interesting Italian craft beers and Roman baked goods. Notably indulgent, sweet pastry-based breakfasts.

Luca and the pastry display

I can’t do it every day, and as I’m not a coffee drinker I am missing out on half of the appeal of an Italian café at breakfast time (with the Italian word caffè meaning both coffee and café), but I’m more than happy to scoff multiple Roman breakfast pastries in a sitting. And do that for several days in a row, until my body starts to put its stamp its foot and demand the more nutritionally fulfilling virtues of my homemade granola.

At its simplest, an Italian breakfast is a cornetto, the Italian equivalent of the French croissant, which I wrote about here, and a cappuccino. I worry about breaking Italian food etiquette. Even ordering tea or hot chocolate, instead of coffee makes me a little nervous. The latter, I found out, would only be served in most cafés in the winter; as soon as the weather started warming up a request would be met with a typically Roman café rejection, which somehow carried the message of “Don’t be ridiculous, idiot” in a gesture or expression even if when the words weren’t used.

It’s not that I’m always keen to conform to etiquette, but I am possibly a bit on that other famous spectrum, so like to know what the rules are. I worry and worry – then I see a bloke ordering a cornetto semplice (simple or basic, ie plain) and asking for it to be split in two and filled with aerosol whipped cream in Barberini café in Testaccio (via Marmorata 43). Despite being one of those places that gets frequented by the pavement-clagging Testaccio food tourists, Barberini retains a traditional vibe. So if the guy can ask for his cornettolike that, I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much.

I’d never seen this treatment of a cornetto before, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise – firstly, as cornetti do come with various fillings, include crema (custard), which Luca spent a good ten minutes mining out on one of our visits, accompanied by a snazzy babycino.

Babycino crop

And secondly, another classic Roman breakfast pastry is the maritozzo, which I wrote about here and give a recipe for here. The maritozzo is an enriched dough bun that comes in two typical forms: plain or filled with vast amounts of cream. I’d had a session recipe testing with Luca’s mum, Rachel, busy on her capolavoro recipe book, so the following morning I had to try a maritozzo from Bernebei, alongside a saccotino al cioccolato, the equivalent of a pain au chocolat. Ours stood up well against theirs I’m pleased to report.

Now we’re living in Lewes, a small English town, it can be a little challenging to even get a good croissant (Flint Owl Bakery does great ones, but they can sell out fast), and I’m dubious one could get a real cornetto anywhere in the UK. So it was good to gorge. The other quotidian baked product I really miss from Rome, and is again nigh-on impossible to get in Britain, is the classic street snack of pizza bianca, which I’ll talk about in the next post.

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Ugly bread, pastries, lunch at L’Asino d’Oro, outer space and saucy suppli

Last loaf

The storms – apparently called Cyclone Penelope ­– arrived last night, rumbling over Roma and shaking our palazzo. I love being indoors, in bed, on such nights. Frequently in Rome, the stormy weather has the decency to blow over by the morning. Not so this morning though, when it was still raining buckets, piove a catinelle (where a catinella is a basin; I love the image of rain pouring down as if it’s overflowing celestial basins).

It looks like the Autumnal rain is settling in until we leave on Wednesday. In a way that’s just perfect – it’s re-acclimatising us to British weather. But it does look like yesterday was our last day that was dry enough for a long, casual, umbrella-less wander around town.

We started the day with a slice of bread – from the final loaf I’ll be baking in Rome. This was a bit of a disaster, but it was fun. It was a “using up leftover stuff before we leave loaf”. In this case meant a lot of seeds: specifically buckwheat, sunflower and poppy; and a some not-entirely ideal flour: 0 grano tenero (okay, fine), rice and amido di mais. The latter is what we’d call cornflour in the UK, meaning corn (maize) starch, so more a thickening agent than a bread ingredient. Hi ho. It felt like a good dough when I added the seeds, but went strange after that.

Adding seeds

As Fran pointed out, the resulting loaf looked like a giant brutti ma buoni  (“ugly but good”) cookie. It was pretty solid and, er, I might have forgotten to add any salt. But that’s fine: a lot of traditional bread from Tuscany and Umbria doesn’t contain salt, and as such is good for strongly flavoured bruschette. Not sure the seedy stuff will work as bruschette, but it’s good with good old Marmite.

We headed out down the hill, through Trastevere, past the enjoyable window displays of vintage pasticceria Valzani. This included their selection of “tea biscuits”:

Valzani tea biscuits

Then slices of pangiallo romano, which literally means “yellow bread” and is a type of hard Roman  Christmas cake, made with honey, nuts and dried fruit; and panpepato (aka pampepato), a similar cake that originates from central Italy and, as well as containing dried fruits, candied fruit and nuts also contains spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and even chocolate.

Pangiallo, panpepato at Valzani

Then the Roman version of the Campania sfogliatella, which look kinda squashed compared to the more refined Neopolitan sfogliatella riccia. Indeed, compared to say French patisserie, Roman patisserie often has this seemingly crude finish – but I like that, it’s less poncey. Alongside was a tray of cannoli siciliani, then a tray of maritozzi, Rome’s epic cream buns, which I made over here.

Valzani sfogliatelle romane, cannoli, maritozzi

After meeting a friend in the street, who was discussing the possibility of opening a café, we headed over Ponte Sisto into Regola, rione VII. Past this fab old sign for a biscuit shop that, sadly, isn’t a biscuit shop any more.

Biscotteria sign, Via dei Pettinari, Rome

We stopped at I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza (“Grandma Vincenza’s Sweets”), a Sicilian pasticceria chain that opened a branch here about a year or so ago.

Brioche, ciambelle, Nonna Vincenza

It’s a bit cutesy, but the doughnut-type thing (“È una tipa di ciambella”) we had – that wasn’t the more common ring-shape of ciambelle, but more a knot – was good.

Ciambella, Nonna Vincenza

I got some almond paste cookies that were pretty good too.

Biscotti, Nonna Vincenza

We chilled out on the pastry indulgences after that, even managing to walk by the justifiably renowned, somewhat pricey Roscioli bakery without buying anything.

Roscioli

We wanted to save space for lunch at L’Asino d’Oro in Monti, one of our two favourite Rome restaurants. Our other fave is Cesare al Casaletto, which we’d vowed to go to at least once or twice more before leaving, but had been confounded by forgetting which day was their riposa settimanale (weekly rest day), then it being fully booked, and then by discovering that they were closed for our final 10 days in Rome. Nooooo! Fortunately, L’Asino d’Oro hit the spot.

Asino D'Oro

This is a superb restaurant, where chef Lucio Sforza (who, Renaissance scholars, may or may not be part of that family) uses seasonal, local, quality ingredients and every weekday does a pranzetto for (currently) €13. This set “little lunch” changes every day and is a serious contender for the best value, best quality lunch available in Rome. Thirteen flippin’ euros for bread, antipasto, primo, secondo, glass of wine and small bottle of water! And it’s always been excellent, every time I’ve been, though I prefer Friday, as that’s Rome’s main fish-eating day.

We had a bruschetta with bean purée, the best broccoli soup I’ve ever had, pasta with a ragù of cuttlefish, and a fillet of scorfano (scorpion fish). We then decided to order some dessert (which isn’t included in the menu) and a glass of Marco Carpineti’s delicious Ludum Passito dessert wine. Just cos.

Passito and zuppa inglese, L'Asino d'Oro

I had a zuppa inglese, which is basically Italian trifle. Although the name can be translated as “English soup”, I like the slightly deeper meaning of zuppa as a reference to bread dunked in broth, from the verb inzuppare, to soak, to immerse. In the case of zuppa inglese, there’s sponge cake soaked in alcohol and custard. Going to miss these lunches at The Golden Ass (or The Golden Donkey if you have that troubling American-English relationship with that word). Veramente un buon rapporto prezzo-qualità!

Cafe 2Periodico, Monti

Afterwards we had tea in a favoured nearby café in Monti, 2Periodico, watching the world go by before we continued on our way… to the movies. What?! You could say. Why sit in a cinema when Rome is only your city for a few days more? Well, I used to be a film journalist, and just adore the big screen and the darkened room. Plus, I fear a culpa d’aria got me so I fancied planting my donkey for a few hours, getting away from the tourist zombie hordes clogging up the streets.

Normally I cannot abide, and veto, 3D films, but the own lingua originale option was Gravity in 3D. And even with shonky 3D, in a cinema not designed specifically for 3D, it was an extraordinary experience. I’ve not felt that pushing-yourself-back-into-the-seat tension in a film for years.

I Suppli, Trastevere

On the way home, we stopped in Via San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere, buying some handmade chocolates from Dolce Idea to take home and a suppli from the small, seemingly nameless hole-in-the-wall pizzeria opposite to scoff straight away. It might just be called “I Suppli” as it has the word in green neon above the door. And rightfully so, as their suppli are great – the tomato risotto mix is very saucy, meaning they’re moister than many versions. Their structural integrity may suffer as a result but they’re so tasty.

So all in all a great day; eating and movies, two of my favourite things. I even managed an ale when I got home, so three of my favourite things.

Info
Pasticceria Valzani
Via del Moro 37b, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 580 3792 | valzani.it

I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza
Via Arco del Monte 98a/98b, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 92 59 43 22 | dolcinonnavincenza.it | arcodelmonte@dolcinonnavincenza.it

Roscioli (Forno)
Via dei Chiavari 34, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 686 4045

L’Asino d’Oro
Via del Boschetto 73, Monti, 00184 Rome
+ 39 06 4891 3832

2Periodico Café
Via Leonina 77, Monti, 00184 Rome
+39 06 4890 6600

Dolce Idea
Via San Francesco a Ripa 27, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 5833 4043 | dolceidea.com | info@dolceidea.com

Nameless Pizzeria (“I Suppli”?)
Via San Francesco A Ripa 137, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 589 7110

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Post number 100, a celebration of Italian craft beer, and getting ready to leave Rome

Italian craft beers

According to WordPress’s strange date conventions I started this blog with a post published 2012/11/07. For most of the world1, this would otherwise be known as 07/11/2012, 7 November 2012.

It was started so I had a place to write about my baking experiments, my interest in the baked goods I encountered while living in Rome, where we moved in August 2011, and my burgeoning enthusiasm for Italian birre artigianali (artisan beers, craft beer).

Some Baladin beers

Leon, Wayan and Isaac from Baladin, the brewery that really kicked it all off in Italy and still produces many of the best, most intereting beers here.

Now, almost 11 months later, I’ve arrived at my 100th post…. just as we’re preparing to leave Rome after two roller-coaster years. These included:
difficult work (Fran);
unpaid work/unemployment (me; including one [dubious] SF-fantasy novel, an internship on the American Academy’s Sustainable Food Project, and this educating-myself-about beer and waffling on about baking project);
faltering attempts to learn Italian;
lots of baking (some great; some heavy; some that went mushy);
lots of food (some amazing, a lot mediocre);
lots of beer (mostly interesting);
bewilderment at the Italian ways of doing things (or not doing things; like having to wait five months to get our internet connected, or the post office that doesn’t sell stamps);
still no kids (sadly);
neighbours from hell (WTF!? It’s 4am! Again! Che cazzo state facendo?! Stiamo provando di dormire. Mortacci tua!);
zanzare;
some great new friends;
witnessing Palme d’Or winner Nanni Moretti move in next door;
and, overall, an incredible immersion in this bonkers, intoxicating, dilapidated, exasperating, traffic-choked, caffeine-fuelled, history-sozzled city.

Draco beer

Draco, from Birrificio Montegioco. Made with bilberry (aka blueberry) syrup, no less.

When I wrote the 99th post, I thought, “Accidenti! I better do something interesting for the arbitrary landmark of number 100″. But that stymied me.

So instead, here are a load of pictures of beer. They’re mostly from a party we had at the weekend that doubled tripled up as a goodbye, a free jumble sale, and a celebration of Italian craft beer. Although we had a great selection of fascinating brews, they are only the tip of the iceberg of the 500 or so birra artigianale breweries currently operating in Italy. I wish I could stay here and keep on drinking my way through them, but we need to return to Britain.

Noa Reserve

Noa Reserve – one of the strangest beers we had that evening. Aged in barrels, it basically tastes of whisky, brandy, or as our friend MM said, “a memory of foreign land you’ve never been too.”

I do hope any readers of this blog won’t be put off by the fact I won’t have the glamorous “I live in Rome” factor any more. For the next few months, we’ll be visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, before settling back home around Christmas. So the blog will change slightly – not its tone, but its context.

We’ll see how it goes.

I certainly have no intention of stopping baking and I’m really excited to get back to the real beer scene in the UK, which, like that of Italy, has grown exponentially the past few years, with 197 new breweries opening in the past year alone, while London alone has nearly 50, up from just two in 2006.

Ecco, more photos of beer:

Marche'l Re

Marchè’l Re from Loverbeer brewery. Possibly even stranger than Noa Reserve, me and chef Chris Behr concluded it was like “drinking fruit beer from an ashtray”.2

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu, a light double malted Belgian abbey ale – made in Belgium for the Italian market.

Rubbiu MRL

Can’t really find out much about this one, Rubbiu, but it was a great gift – as it came from a small brewery in a friend’s small home town outside Rome.

Zagara beer from Barley brewery

Zagara beer, an orange blossom honey ale from Barley brewery in Sardinia. So the first Sardinian beer I’ve ever had.

Line-up left

Line-up, centre

Line-up, right

And finally, a bit of nocturnal ambience. Thanks to anti-mosquito candles.

Isaac, anti-mozzie candles

1 Except you contrarians in the US, of course, who would insist on confusing the rest of us by using putting 11/07/2012 for 7 November 2012.

2 We didn’t necessarily mean this in a bad sense. I wish I’d written about Loverbeer more in my time here, but I’ve only really discovered them fairly recently. (I did write about their Madamin.) As they really are producing some of the most interesting beers in Italy. They seem intent on combining the traditions and tastes of wine and beer. So their D’uva beer  is made with 20% grape must and tastes much more like a sparkling wine than a beer, not unlike say Birra del Borgo’s Rubus.

I’m increasingly interested in this whole area of making beer that doesn’t really taste of hops or malt. It’s fascinating, and I’m very divided. The above mentioned Noa Reserve, from Almond ’22 brewery, is another example, as is the fascinating Etrusca (which can be seen in one of the above pics), a beer made by three different breweries (Baladin and Borgo in Italy, and Dogfish Head in the US) according to an ancient recipe; it tastes much more like wine or mead than beer. I very much enjoyed experiencing the weirder beers we had, but I think my favourite of the evening was Ius Primae Noctis (“right of the first night”, Latin for “droit du seigneur”), a hoppy, citrussy Italian APA from Birrificio Aurelio, which is in Ladispoli, not far from Rome. So yes, I’m clearly not leaving behind hoppy beers any time soon.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Discussion, Italian beer

Pizza bianca – the quintessential Roman street food

Pizza bianca, sliced

Pizza bianca is ubiquitous in Rome. Although Romans don’t by and large like eating on the move, chances are you will see people wandering along clutching bready packages and chances are, they’ll be folded pieces of pizza bianca, either plain or filled (farcita).

Pizza bianca – “white pizza” – is effectively plain pizza, simply sprinkled with coarse salt. It can be fairly thin, or it can be fairly puffy – more akin to what we’d called focaccia in the UK. There are fine lines between different types of flat bread, but what we call focaccia (literally “hearth bread”, from the word focus – Latin for hearth) is probably more akin specifically to the focaccia Genovese. Usage of the words “pizza” and “focaccia” vary a lot around Italy; for example, in our local Sardinian restaurant here in Rome, they serve discs of crisp flatbread that they call… focaccia.

This is my second attempt at pizza bianca. I made some in February 2012, but my oven has such fierce bottom heat, I struggled to get the top golden without over-baking the bottom.

Pizza bianca

Plus, well, as pizza bianca can be found in every bakery and pizza takeaway place in Rome, it seemed almost silly to persist in trying to master it. Except recently, when we’d decided to leave, it seemed I really ought to. Then last week I stopped by Rachel’s place while she was making it, and it galvanised me to revisit the document that’s been sitting on the my desktop the past few month called “Pizza bianca recipes”.

The most important factors
Pizza bianca is made with a fairly basic white bread dough, but there are several important things to consider:
You want a a nice moist dough.
You want to give it some folds.
You have to give it time to ferment.
You need to be gentle with it.
And ideally you want decent extensibility, as with any pizza dough.

Mine fell down slightly on the final factor: perhaps an autolyse process at the start would help, but this didn’t seem to be traditional. Or I could have tried to increase the hydration.

Rachel used the recipe from Gabriele Bonci’s book (so far only available in Italian), which was 70% hydration (ie 700g water to 1kg flour), but last December we saw this recipe in the window of Bonci’s bakery in Prati. Ninety flippin’ percent hydration and two days of leavening. I was just discussing the challenge of high,70%+ hydration ciabatta dough yesterday with Jeremy; that’s tricky enough. I’d love to see Bonci handling his 90% dough.

Recipe in the window of Bonci bakery, Dec 2012

Otherwise my first effort was okay; I would have liked to get a nicer golden colour on top, but couldn’t manage that with my pesky oven…. which will only be my pesky oven for another 10 days, before we leave our home of the last two years and head back to Blighty, then on to a bit of a trip to see friends and family in the US and NZ. So all very bittersweet. Yay to visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, boo to leaving Roma friends and infuriating, wonderful Roma.

Variation and experimentation
As usual with my recipes, I’m experimenting as I go along. You can just make this with commercial yeast, but I did a mixture of fresh yeast and my leaven/sourdough. If you don’t use leaven, increase the yeast to 12g.

A note on the flour too. All the Italian recipes that I’ve seen specify using a grano tenero flour – that is “soft grain”, not a high protein wheat flour. I used Mulino Marino’s organic 0 grano tenero. (00, 0 etc refer to the fineness of the milling; see here for more discussion of Italian flour terminology). This is now available in the UK, but frankly, it’s always better to use local produce as food transportation is a massive contributor to climate change. So see if you can find a medium protein (12-13%) fairly fine flour from your most local mill.

Some recipes also use other ingredients like milk, sugar and even “strutto di maiale” (lard), but at its purest pizza bianca is just flour, water, yeast, salt. And olive oil. But then, what’s any Italian food without some olive oil?* Though the oil here is a classic qb element.

Pizza bianca recipe

The recipe
So here’s my recipe. It makes quite a lot – two fairly large, squarish pizzas – so you’ll need some room in your fridge. Or do half quantities.

The process seems quite convoluted, but mostly it’s about time and gentleness.

1000g flour
700g water
5g fresh yeast (or 3g active dried yeast)
50g white leaven (100% hydration)
20g fine sea salt
30g extra virgin olive oil… or qb.

1. Combine the water, yeast and leaven.
2. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and mix together quickly.
3. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix, along with a sloosh of olive oil. Use your hands or a rubber spatula.

Pizza bianca
4. Turn the rough dough out onto a work surface and knead. Try to stretch the dough and fold it over, to incorporate air.

Pizza bianca recipe, kneading sticky dough
5. It will be sticky. Don’t keep adding more flour. When you’ve got it nicely combined, clean off your hands with some flour, rubbing it between your fingers like soap.

Pizza bianca recipe
6. Put the ball of dough in a bowl, cover with film or a cloth or a shower cap and leave to rest at room temperature.
7. Put a drop of olive oil on the work surface and rub. This won’t stop it sticking, but it can help a little…

Pizza bianca recipe
8. Turn out the dough, and stretch it to form a rough rectangle. Be gentle.

Pizza bianca, folding

9. This next bit is important. It’s called stretching and folding, and it’s a gentle way of redistributing the gases building up in the dough and helping develop the structure, while avoiding any of that old-school British violent mistreatment of the dough.

Pizz bianca, folding
10. Once you have a rough rectangle, fold one third inwards, then fold over the opposite end, to form a kind of envelope. A dough scraper, or tarocco (“tarot card”), is essential here.
Pizza bianca recipe

11. Fold this envelope in half again in the centre of the long rectangle, to make a more cube-type shape (sorry, no photo, but in the photo direclty above, fold the top edge up so it meets the top edge). Put it back in the bowl and cover again.
12. Repeat this process two or three more times at 20 minute intervals.
13. Clean your bowl, or use a fresh container, oil it, then put the dough back. Cover with film or a lid, and put it in the fridge.
14. Leave the dough to quietly, slowly ferment for about 20-24 hours.
15. Remove the dough from the fridge.
16. Depending on how big you want your pizzas to be, divide up the dough. I’ve got an oven sheet that’s 40x40cm (about 16”), so I did divided the dough in two.

Pizza bianca recipe
17. Give the dough another gentle fold, form a loose ball, then leave to rest again, bringing it back to room temperature.
18. Preheat your oven – ideally about 250C, or as hot as it’ll go. Baking any pizza, the hotter the oven, the better. (A good wood-fired oven can top 500C.)

Pizza bianca recipe
19. Take your ball of dough and gently extend it into a square or rectangle to fill your baking sheet or pan. Do this gently, as you want to retain the nice gassy structure. You can either do this on a flour or oiled work surface and transfer it, or it directly on your baking sheet/pan. The more you push your fingers into the dough, the thinner your pizza will be.
20. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. You can also sprinkle it with coarse sea salt before baking.
21. Then bake for about 12-18 minutes. You want a nice golden finish, something that eludes me…

Pizza bianca
22. Once it’s baked you, drizzle with a bit more oil, so it’ll be absorbed while the pizza is still warm. If you didn’t sprinkle it with salt beforehand, you can do it now instead.

Pizza bianca, and porchetta

The results
The result should be a delicious salty, slightly crunchy bread with an open, irregular structure.

You can vary it by adding olives or rosemary beforehand, but this really is entering focaccia territory, and a true Roman pizza bianca is plain.

We split ours open and filled it with porchetta, a speciality from the Rome area that’s a rolled pork roast with layers of stuffing made with garlic, rosemary and other herbs and has, ideally, some serious crackling to boot.

I’m not a meataholic like Fran,  but this made for a cracking sarnie. We served finger-food sized pieces last night at our farewell-please-take-our-stuff-while-drinking-Italian-craft-beer party. Boy oh boy, what a great selection of beers we had.

Pizza bianca with porchetta

* Of course, this was a flippant comment. Reading about Marcella Hazan, who died 29 Sept 2013, I feel quite dumb to have even made this off-hand comment, as, of course, some things are better fried in butter or types of vegetable oil, even in Italian cuisine. Frying fritti, for example, in extra virgin olive oil would be a total waste, plus, inversely, EV olive oil can be just too strong a taste for more delicate dishes.

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Garbatella Farmers’ Market and the new Ponte della Scienza

Ponte della scienza and gasometer, Rome

Rome hosts two large-scale weekend farmers’ markets: one near Circo Massimo (Via di San Teodoro 74) and one that used to be in the Ex-Mattatoio (former slaughterhouse) in Testaccio. In April 2013, however, the latter was relocated further south, away from the centre, to Via Francesco Passino in Garbatella.

We were kinda gutted when this happened, as going to the Ex-Mattatoio market had become a weekend routine. Garbatella, however, is just too far away to be practical when we do everything on foot or by bike. There is still a market and organic shop at the Ex-Mattatoio, with its Città dell’Altra Economia (“Alternative economy city”) so we continued going there, as it’s a great spot. Though it lacks the range now.

This weekend, however, we decided to venture down to Garbatella, to check out the new market and see what baked goods, etc, are available. En route, we wanted to check out the Ponte della Scienza, a new pedestrian and bike bridge that’s been built across the Tiber here. Last time we tried to check it out, it looked finished, but wasn’t open. Now it’s finally open: but it doesn’t really go anywhere or connect to anything.

Ex-industry 2

It took them five years to built it, but, in classic Roman fashion where bickering extremist politicians, corruption, and piss-poor-to-non-existent communication between departments seem to be the norm, there just isn’t any infrastructure on the east side, and there’s very little on the west. There’s no promotion, no information, no signage, and just the usual Roman garbage building up-on the new stairways. Great job, Comune di Roma!

Yet, the bridge is still a great opportunity. You can access it from the foot and bike track along the west bank of the river, and it takes you across to the wonderful old industrial area that includes gasometers, hoppers, water towers and, best of all, Rome’s finest museum. This is the Centrale Montemartini, an annex to the Capitoline museums where ancient statuary is sited among turn of the 19th century turbines and generators in a very handsome art nouveau power station.

Gasometro

We were very bemused when we crossed the bridge, turned right (south) down a promising new stretch of asphalt, thinking it would take us towards the museum, but instead met another cyclist who said “It’s blocked”. So we turned around, went north, and found ourselves leaving the small stretch of new road, cycling through a building site, and emerging onto Via del Porto Fluviale. This is the location of the kinda-cool, kinda hit-and-miss Porto Fluviale, a beer bar and pizzeria that exemplifies the redevelopment going on in this area of Ostiense.

It looks like the Ponte della Scienza work isn’t quite finished yet, but I’m not holding my breath for any rapid progress.

Still, we crossed Via Ostiense, passed Eataly, and headed on into the charismatic Garbatella. This is a very distinctive quartiere, developed in the 1920s and in part inspired the garden city movement: the late 19th century urban planning philosophy based on creating environments that nurtured community through open spaces, greenery and self-sufficiency.

Garbatella Farmers' Market

The farmers’ market is now located in the building previously occupied by the daily market. As well as spending a load on a new bridge that doesn’t go anywhere, Rome’s planners seem to enjoy moving markets around too (cf Testaccio; Piazza Vittorio/Esquilino). It’s a handsome building, though I can’t find any historical info about it. I’d guess it was either 1930s or 1950s, but the interior’s been renovated.

Garbatella Farmers' Market - interior of building Garbatella Farmers' Market - interior of building

Anyway, it’s not a bad site, with each stall having more space. And compared to the Ex-Mattatoio, there are no low-level metal beams or hooks for us tall types to brain ourselves on.

Most importantly, however, it’s packed with good quality, locally produced food. If you’re at all interested in, you know, a viable future for human civilisation, find your local farmers’ market! There you can buy food with a smaller carbon footprint than the contents of your local supermarket, which will mostly have been driven, shipped or flown hundreds or thousands of miles, so every mouthful comes with a climate-change puff of burned hydrocarbons.

Some food then

Pictures of mostly bread, cakes, biscuits. They do sell veg, fruit, dairy products and meat here too, but hey, this is Bread, Cakes and Ale.

Garbatella Farmers' Market

A ciambella is a ring-shaped cake or bun. Ciociara is a region of central Italy. No idea what’s entertaining the geezer though.

Boh

Not such a jolly guy. Selling, among other things, ciambelline – ring-shaped cookies. Bigger than those in my previous recipe.

Garbatella Farmers' Market

Some great looking bread. Love the giant loaf to the right of the insanely cheery looking cartoon chap.

Giant maritozzi at Garbatella Farmers' Market

The biggest maritozzi con la panna I’ve ever seen. These bad boys are least twice the size of the ones you normally see.

Our transportation

Transportation, Brompton folding bikes

Our transportation: the Brompton folding bike, which exerts a fair amount of fascinating in Rome, despite them not being uncommon here.

Info
Garbatella Farmers’ Market, Via Francesco Passino, 00154 Rome
Metro: line B, Garbatella; bus: 673 (Rho)

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Birrificio Italiano Bibock at Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Trastevere, Rome

Bibock from Birrificio Italiano at Antica Foccaceria di San Francesco, Trastevere, Rome

Unless it’s a curry or a kebab, we don’t normally eat in Trastevere. If you want Italian, or more specifically Roman food, it’s about the worst neighbourhood, as so many of the dense thicket of restaurants – in our experience – are lazy and mediocre. However, a friend drew our attention to the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, part of a Sicilian micro-chain whose management has apparently taken a stand against the Mafia.

As much as I’m aware of the big corporations of the (Sicilian) Mafia aka Cosa Nostra, (Calabrese) ʼNdrangheta and (Neopolitan) Camorra, as well as the other immigrant mafias that operate in Italy (Filipino, Chinese, etc), I naively assumed that the touristy Roman restaurant scene would be better protected. Ho ho. Another friend who’s lived in Italy for decades says most places – cafés, restaurants, shops – have to pay the pizzo (protection money), which is what makes Antica Focacceria San Francesco’s stand notable: they said no. The New York Times gives more of the story here (though it gets the address wrong, which makes me question its fact-checking slightly).

So anyway, we headed down to the Trastevere branch on a Friday evening. It’s set in one of this cute quartiere‘s cute piazze, just round the corner from Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà? and the strip of boozers that’s generally heaving on a summer weekend evening.

When our group all assembled and some menus arrived, I was pleased to see the Slow Food symbol. I was also pleased to see the wine menu had two pages dedicated to Italian birre artigianali (craft beers).

So while we ordered a tonne of Sicilian snacks (schiticchi), antipasti and secondi, I also ordered a beer. I got a Bibock from Birrificio Italiano, a brewery located in Lombardia, south of Lake Como. What a name – they’re just called “Italian Brewery”. Though they probably have a right to wield such a grand name: the brewery was founded in 1996, the same year as the renowned Baladin, and as such can be considered, in the words of the Guide alle birre d’Italia 2013, “one of the principle players in the affirmation of the craft beer scene in our country”.

The warmly copper-brown Bibock smells of raspberries, toffee, rose. It’s got a reasonably frothy head. Its taste also has notes of caramel and toffee, along with a very nicely balanced cereal-maltiness and bitter-hoppiness and a fairly dry mouthfeel. It’s bottom-fermented (as befits its roots in German, bock brewing), 6.2% ABV and has a medium body. Very nice.

I’ve no idea if it was a good choice to accompany the food though. I really, really need to learn more about food and beer matching. I’m sorry. But I’ve never made any bones about my beer blogging here being anything but a learning process.

Antica Foccaceria San Franciso, Trastevere, Rome

As for said food, it was pretty good. The Sicilian street food pre-antipasti nibbles were tasty, especially the chickpea fritters (panelle). And the sardines balls were pleasant too. Who’d have thunk it? One flaw in the experience, though, was that pretty much everyone seemed to involve caponata.

Now I love this slightly sour Sicilian dish made with aubergines (/eggplant/ melanzane), tomatoes, capers etc. I like it so much I’d made it the day previously at home, and had it for two days running. Now I found myself eating more; it was getting to the point of OD. The Antica Focacceria must have had a giant cauldron of the stuff in their kitchen.

The only other flaw with the meal came later on when the very sweet and entertaining waitress tried to sell us some desserts. We were already pretty full (of caponata) so had our doubts, but when she said they were sent in every day from Palermo I had even more. She was so excited to tell us this (“And the fish!”) but for me it was like a red rag to a bull. Sent in? “In aero?” I asked. “In a plane?” Really? Really?

How in the blazes does this carbon puddingprint fit in with the place’s nominal Slow Food ethos, of local and sustainable? Even a short hop flight is toxic, particularly as in aviation a lot of the fuel is used getting the beast off the ground in the first place.

If you want Sicilian pastries in Rome, have a Sicilian pastry chef make them on site in Rome. The products won’t just be fresher and better as they’ll only travel a few metres, the whole package will also be more credible in sustainability and environment terms.

The beer was good, the food was good, even the caponata was good (albeit excessive) but I’m sorry, flying in your desserts is just fucking insane. Especially if your menu is plastered with the Slow Food snail symbol. Reality check please!

Info
Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva 14, Trastevere, Rome
(+39) 06 581 9503 | roma.lamalva@afsf.it | afsf.it

Birrificio Italiano
(+39) 031 895 450 | info@birrificio.it | birrificio.it

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Filed under Ale, beer, Italian beer, Other food, Restaurants etc

Croce di Malto Temporis at Le Café Vert, Monteverde Vecchio, Rome

Croce di Malto Temporis at Cafe Verte

Le Café Vert is a small place that opened near us in our Rome neighbourhood of Monteverde Vecchio a year or so ago. It’s something of a gem actually, as it manages to be cool for breakfast, a reasonably priced snacky lunch, and for an aperitivo in the evening. They’re into KM0 too – that is, food that’s not travelled too far – and they stock a decent selection of real bottled beers.

The latter is important to me, of course, but it also indicates they’re taking their principles seriously, and extending them to not just the coffee, or the milk they use (organic), or the food, or the wine, but also to the beer. This morning we went for a coffee at the café in Villa Doria Pamphili Park, Vivi Bistrot, and while it also seems to be into natural and organic foods, it frustrates me that they don’t extend their principles as far as the beer. Their fridges are still stocked with all the generic industrial lagers favoured by Italian beer drinkers in less enlightened places (Ceres, Becks, Peroni, Tenants and whathaveyou).

I did an excellent wine-tasting last night, and talked with the sommelier, Hande Leimer, about why Italians drink so much of these acrid, metallic lagers. Sure, it’s partly marketing and mindwashing, as it was in the UK when industrial lager took over in the 70s and 80s, but here, Hande suggests, it’s also because these tastes are preferred when having a drink without eating. Italians always drink wine, on the other hand, to accompany and complement food, where the relationship calls on differing qualities of drink depending on what is being eaten. Something that tempts me to write “of course”, but many Brits just aren’t aware of this, as we don’t have a strong, traditional viniculture, and beer, on the other hand, was traditionally “liquid bread” and safer to drink than water. A practical drink.

Okay, chiaro, but there are also now Italian craft beers that can fill this niche, of something to be drunk without food: there are plenty of crisp, light options, particularly the summer golden ales (eg Baladin’s Gold One, or Birra del Borgo’s Cortigiana, or Lambrata’s Ortiga). These are in some ways akin to lagers. Except they’re generally better: they taste better and more interesting, they’re more naturally produced, not pasteurised, not filtered and, most importantly, they’re not rushed. They’re real beers.

So come on Vivi Bistrot – make that leap, be more holistic with your principles, and support your local craft brewers! (Such as Birra del Borgo, or Birradamare/ʼNa Birretta, or Turan, or Free Lions, all in Lazio.)

Le Cafe Vert, Monteverde Vecchio, Rome

Anyway, we stopped by Le Café Vert again the other night for an aperitivo. It’s just two blocks from our place, and not only that, their tabletops are decorated with a map of the neighbourhood. And not only that, when we sat down, I noticed that our very street was located just under my elbow. We’re leaving Rome in about three weeks, so this was a slightly emotive bit of synchronicity.

Le Café Vert seems to rotate its beers, after a fashion, and this time they had a whole shelf filled with bottles from Croce di Malto. I’d had one Croce di Malto beer, the English bitter-like Acerbus, at Fermentazioni 2013 the other day and was keen to try more. They’re not a local, Lazio brewery though – they’re in Piemonte*, west of Milan. Indeed, Piemonte is the Italian region with the highest proportion of craft breweries, all radiating out from Baladin, the mothership of the Italian craft beer scene.

Croce di Malto Temporis at Cafe Verte

I chose a Croce di Malto Temporalis, 6% ABV. It was straight from the fridge, so a little bit cold, but I was too impatient to leave it in my armpit warming. (Hande scolded me at the wine-tasting for holding my glass by the bowl, but I’m constantly trying to warm up beers to the right temperature, in this case 8-10C, which has resulted in bad wine-tasting habits.)

Considering it’s the end of summer  at the moment, it was perhaps not the best choice as apparently this is a beer “dedicata per la primavera” – dedicated to spring. It’s certainly a fresh, lively beer – even when drunk a little too cold. The scent is floral and orangey, while the taste is crisp and citrussy, sweetly malty, slightly herby. It’s got a medium body. It’s a bright, orange-straw colour, with some mistiness and a nicely foaming head.

Although it’s a saison, it’s at the more drinkable, accessible end of that spectrum – complex, but subtly so. As one critic says on Beeradvocate, it’s “lacking in saisony funk” – but that’s fine by me; there are plenty of other more challenging saisons, and this was a perfect accompaniment to Le Café Vert’s delicious aperitivo snacks. Blimey, their panelle (Sicilian fried chickpea pancake) is good. One of the many things I’m going to miss about Rome. Fried chickpea goodness and a crisp saison two blocks from home.

Addendum:
Went back again the other night and tried another Croce di Malto beer. This was Triplexxx (7.8% ABV), a slightly unfortunate name with connotations of dodgy Australian lager and, well, porn.

It was a slightly strange beer too.

I was intrigued as the three Xs refer to its use of barley, oats and wheat, as well as “spices” and zucchero candito (“candied sugar”, presumably candi sugar) but overall the abiding smell and taste is banana. Isn’t chemistry bonkers? How can those incredients, when combined and brewed, produce molecules that give such a strong flavour of a totally unconnected fruit? Though I’d say the smell also had some bubble gum too, and the taste some toffee: so maybe it’s bubble-gum-banoffee-pie beer. Strange.

Info:
Via Anton Giulio Barrili 47-47/a, Monteverde Vecchio, Rome
+39 06 588 0065 | lecafevert.it | info@lecafevert.it

Croce di Malto brewery
Coros di Roma 51A, Trecate, Piemonte
+39 0321 185 6101 | crocedimalto.iti | info@crocedimalto.it

* Why do we anglicise this as Piedmont? Are anglophones so lazy we can’t say “pee-ah-mon-tay”? Is saying “pee-ed-mont” really any easier?

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Fermentazioni 2013 beer festival, Rome

Cheers, sampling ales at Fermentazioni 2013

Saturday it was summer in Rome, with blazing sunshine, Sunday it was winter, with pouring rain. This kind of weather is probably helpful for us, as we’re leaving soon, and will be back living in England in a few months: where this kind of schizo weather is the norm.

Luckily, it was also warm and dry on Friday evening, when we went along to the first day of the first ever Fermentazioni Festival delle birre artigianali (“Craft beer festival”).

This event has been set up by Andrea Turco, beer expert and author of Italy’s principle beer blog, Cronache di Birra. Turco is a Roman who has been working to spread his passion for birre artigianale in and beyond the region for the past decade-ish. He founded Cronache di Birra in 2008 as “una sorta di aggregatore di notizie e opinioni birrarie in forma di blog” (“a sort of aggregator for news and opinions in the form of a blog”).

Although we only had one evening at the event, it seemed to (largely) go well. Around 30 (I didn’t write them all down1) of Italy’s most exciting craft beer producers were invited along, and set up in two compact rows in the confines of Officine Farneto, a handsome modernist building that’s been repurposed as a conference and events centre.

Despite the place’s post-industrial charms, some shortcomings of the venue became immediately obvious. It’s tucked up behind the Olimpic Stadium in northwest Rome, and neither the event’s nor the venue’s website gave any information about how to get there on public transport. That’s typically Roman; they’re mad for cars. Except there wasn’t really any parking either.

Cambi gettoni, "Token exchange", Fermentazioni 2013

No matter, we made it in the end, got in (€8) and managed to exchange cash for gettoni (tokens). Each €1 token was good for one 10cl2 beer sample. There was food too: six tokens got you a Gabriele Bonci burger, €5 got you a small Stefano Callegari trappizzino3.

Unfortunately, we didn’t exchange enough cash initially, and later on the queue for the gettoni was enormous and very slow. And of course it was an Italian queue, something that can be something stressful if you’re British. We’re expert queuers; we take our queues very seriously.

I don’t think I can go through all the beers I tried (quite a few, between 8.30pm and 1am), partly as my notes, in retrospect, aren’t very ordered, but among those I enjoyed were:

Almond ʼ22ʼs Pink IPA which smelt of sour fruit but was very sweet and velvety smooth to taste. It’s made with, among other things, pink peppercorns.
• Almond ʼ22ʼs Torbata, a barley wine that was smooth to drink, with notes of nuts, dried fruit.
• Almond ʼ22ʼs Farrotta, which also had a similar combination of sharply fruit smell and smooth to drink. Made with farro – Italian’s multipurpose name for three older varieties of wheat, so, yes, it’s effectively a kind of wheat beer.

Almond '22 at Fermentazioni 2013

Amitaʼs Marsilia (??), a beer that’s salty yet refreshing, fruity and smooth.
Croce di Maltoʼs Acerbus (I think), which was the closest I’ve experienced to a certain type of strong English bitter from an Italian craft brewery. Hand-pumped, lean head, brown colour, balanced flavour.
Eremoʼs Magnifica amber ale. This was yummy. Really nicely balance and easy, but also full-bodied. Orange, caramel, apple scents and flavours. (Oh, and if you do visit the site,  the landing page has a video of a modelly girl looking really harried working in the beer bar, presumably in Assisi, where the brewery is based. It’s a bit of a strange message: you enjoy the beer while she suffers.)
Karmaʼs Sumera, a spiced golden ale with bergamot with notes of toffee, banana and, yes, Earl Grey.
• Karmaʼs Radica, which is made with gentian roots but rather than being bitter like the digestivo amaro di genziana (gentian bitters), was surprisingly sweet, maybe because it’s also made with liquorice and ginger roots. Scent like fresh laundry.

Lambrate at Fermentazioni 2013

Lambrateʼs Quarantot, a double IPA that had a slightly sweaty smell, but is sharp, tart, very bitter, dry and crisp but also smooth and gently sweet. Our friend Nora said it was like a Vin Santo beer, which was spot-on.
Piccolo Birrificio Clandestinoʼs Montinera imperial stout. Full-bodied and seriously red meaty, with liquorice notes.
• Piccolo Birrificio Clandestinoʼs Villa Serena blonde ale, floral perume, very fresh and light to drink. Cute name for the outfit too – “Little Clandestine Brewery”.

Toccalmatto at Fermentazioni 2013

Toccalmattoʼs Salty Angel. An even weirder salt ale – made with red currants and Maldon sea salt. When I asked why they used this salt from Essex, England, not an Italian sea-salt, I don’t think he heard me as his answer was like a politician’s, ie unrelated to the question. (It was later on and the music really was too flippin’ loud.) Either it’s an interesting challenge or the flavours are fighting each other. I’d like to try it again.
Turanʼs Sfumatura Imperial Stout, on a hand pump. I thought this would be my wife Fran’s best ever beer as she’s a stout drinker, and she loves bacon, and even yucky “bacon flavoured” crisps. This stout has a massive smoky bacon hit, a suggestion the guy serving didn’t seem to like.

Mostly, I was drawn to the weirder or more innovative stuff. I’m increasingly enjoying beers I find a bit challenging, so by later on this is what I was asking for. I even took one away, Noa from Almond ’22, on the recommendation of Hande Leimer, sommelier and founder of VinoRoma. It sounds like an interesting and exciting beer, but I haven’t opened my bottle yet. (Think I’m going to do a weird-and-wonderful-beers tasting session one evening soon).

As the evening wore on, the DJs, playing rock, pop, grunge and whatnot, started cranking up the volume. This gave the event a more studenty/club atmosphere, which might have suited the young, and surprisingly gender-mixed, crowd, but it kinda inhibited talking to the brewery representatives or discussing the beers. Overall though, the beers were great. Indeed, my friend Michele Sensidoni, master brewer at Umbrian brewery Mastri Birrai Umbri, said it was the best selection of Italian craft beers he’s experienced, and he really knows the scene inside out.

Fermentazioni 2013 glass pouch

Footnotes
1 The website lists 30. Apparently there are 586 craft breweries operating in Italy at present, Sept 2013.
2 That is, 100ml, or just under a fifth of a pint (imperial), or 3.5 imperial fluid oz, or 3.4 US fluid oz.
3 So a tad pricier than actually visiting the hole-in-the-wall outlet for this filled triangular pizza pocket – 00100 Pizza in Testaccio, Rome.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Breweries, Events, Italian beer

Pizza and beer at La Gatta Mangiona, Monteverde Nuovo, Rome

Tscho! beer at La Gatta Mangiona

When, just over two years ago, we moved to Rome, and specifically just-outside-the-city-walls west Rome, we soon heard about La Gatta Mangiona. This pizzeria in Monteverde Nuovo (Gianicolense), the neighbourhood adjactent to our Monteverde Vecchio, was recommended as one of Rome’s best.

So we went. And were kinda disappointed.

Despite the inventive toppings (alongside classics) created by the renowned owner Giancarlo Casa (at it since 1973) and his staff, and the dough reportedly made with a lievito madre (sourdough starter) and long-fermentation, the pizza was flabby, the service somewhat indifferent. The experts over at The Rome Digest did, earlier this year, highlight the issue of the place’s inconsistency. Then another Rome food expert, Rachel Roddy, went recently and told us that not only was the food good, but there was also an excellent beer menu. I don’t remember the latter from our previous visit – so either it didn’t exist, or you had to be sufficiently in the know to ask specially to see if.

This time, we were in the know, and went with some other beer enthusiast friends. And overall, the experience was much better.

I wouldn’t say it was the best pizza I’ve had, but it was still delicious, the beer menu is indeed great, and the suppli were among the best I’ve tried in Rome.

Suppli at La Gatta Mangiona

I love suppli, Rome’s delectable deep-fried rice-and-mozzarella balls, but many are pretty average, and probably not even made on premises. La Gatta Mangiona’s, however, were clearly hand-made, clearly freshly made, and they even do suppli-of-the-day. Though they don’t exactly seem to be seasonal. We went in September, way outside spring’s asparagus season, but they had suppli made with them and saffron. The other suppli-of-the-day was sausage and cream; Fran says “Mmmm, it was delicious.”

I just had a classic suppli, made with tomato risotto. It was a decent size, slightly wonky, crisp, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, with the mozzarella inside forming strings as it should. Yum. My pizza, meanwhile, was one of their specials, and was called “Four Onions”. Along with the onion frenzy, it also featured tomato, vaguely picante sardines, olives and flakes of salty pecorino.

Generally I’m from the school of thought that simplest, least cluttered pizzas are the best (and indeed we’ve got Italian friends who only ever eat Margherita), but this was great. Not as good as the suppli, but still great. Clearly, I was so excited to get started on it I failed to take even one in-focus photograph. Doh. (Check out Gillian’s Lists here for some excellent photos of Gatta Mangiona’s wares.)

4 cipolle pizza

Now, the beer. Being out with two Italians, one other Englishman and one Canadese, we didn’t demolish beer after beer as we might have done had we been out with solely boozy Brits, but we did try a couple from the menu. This menu is indeed extensive and far better than any other pizza place. Even Trastevere’s entertaining but kinda overrated Bir & Fud (geddit?) doesn’t have much beer by comparison, though they do have taps. Most pizzerie, including the great, bargain options Da Remo (Testaccio) and Ai Marmi (Trastevere) meanwhile, just offer wine or crappy industrial lager.

You can find La Gatta Mangiona’s beer and whisky menu from their site (click ‘Carta delle birre e dei distillati’ – a PDF; not entirely the same as the photocopy they gave us). The beers are divided into wheat beers, then light and dark beers of low, medium and high ABV (from 3.5 to 10.8). Clearly La Gatta Mangiona takes its beer very seriously.

As I’d previously written about Calibro 5, a beer made with Kölsch that is designed to go well with pizza, it seemed suitable to have another beer made with the same yeast and in a similar style. This was the unpronounceable Tschö! from Maltovio brewery in Campania –that is, the region with Naples as its capital. (I’ll be talking about Naples again in the next post, as we’ve just been there.) Maltovio’s site can be found here. I really hope the photos are tongue-in-cheek. They remind me of comedy duo Armstrong and Miller‘s sketches about catalogue models in their natural habitat (sadly, I cannot find video snippets online).

This was a very straightforward beer, with some aroma of grass and hay, a blonde, murky body and a simple taste, with some slight citrus touches and a dry mouth-feel. Indeed, it probably would have been a perfect accompaniment to pizza, but between the six of us we finished it quickly while we were eating our antipasti.

Grado Plato's Spoon River at La Gatta Mangiona

The second beer we had was Spoon River from Grado Plato brewery in the Piemont (Piedmont) region of northwestern Italy. The fact that it’s called Spoon River and not Fiume di cucchiaio fits in with this being in the style of a English bitter, or at least that’s what the Guida alle birre d’Italia 2013 (Italian Beer Guide 2013) says. Spoon River’s own site says it’s an amber ale that’s also (like Kölsch beers) good to “accompagnare a tutto pasto i piatti più svariati dai primi alle carni” – “accompany all meals, everything from primi (pasta, risotto etc) to meats.”

Its smell brought to mind toffee apples – so caramel malt and fruity. It’s got a medium body and yes, a very malty taste too, with some lasting bitterness.

I wish we’d tried more, but that’ll have to wait until next time.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, a gatta is a female cat, and a mangiona is a glutton. So the Greedy Lady Cat. For want of a better word for a female cat. Why don’t we have a name for a female cat in English? If a male is a Tom (well, an intact male), what’s the equivalent? Some suggestions are a Queen, or a Molly, or a Dam, though these terms aren’t in common usage, especially for non-pedigrees. The Gluttonous Dam sounds nice though.

Info
Via Federico Ozanam 30-32, 00152 Rome, Italy
+39 06 534 6702 | lagattamangiona.com
Open from 19.45 to 23.30; closed Monday

Maltovio brewery
maltovivo.it

Grado Plato brewery
gradoplato.it

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