Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pizza Plus

By Patricia Winton

I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to hear that pizza reigns as Italy’s favorite street food, but it’s not the only one.

You can go to a pizzeria and sit down for a round pizza, but on the street you go into a shop called pizza a taglio (literally “cut pizza”). There you find large rectangular trays on display with the pizza currently available. These can change throughout the day and certainly with the seasons.

Pizza rossa (red pizza) and pizza bianca (white pizza) are common fare in Rome. They can be found not only in these pizza shops but also in bakeries selling bread. Pizza rossa consists of pizza dough spread with a thin layer of tomato sauce and baked. It’s usually eaten cold.

Pizza bianca is simply pizza dough flattened and baked. Thin, it becomes croccante (crispy); thick, morbida (soft). When pizza bianca comes out of the oven, it is brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Get it hot if you can. People eat it on the street, but they also take it home to accompany a meal or to use for sandwiches. I see little children and old men, fuchsia-haired teens and stiletto-heeled matrons munching pizza bianca on the street. If you look closely, you can see me.

But the variety doesn’t end with the red and white. Italy’s favorite pizza is called Margherita, named for a 19th century queen. This pizza begins with a layer of tomato sauce topped with mozzarella and fresh basil—the red, white, and green of the Italian flag.

You might find pizza made with grilled eggplant slices laid on a thin spread of tomato sauce. Or zucchini blossoms filled with ricotta mixed with anchovies, arranged in neat rows, and brushed with olive oil. And the ever-present peperone (bell pepper), usually red or yellow, but rarely green. The cook always arranges the colors in alternating patterns.

Not all pizza toppings go into the oven. For those, pizza bianca holds the toppings. On one, chopped cherry tomatoes, shredded mozzarella di bufala (buffalo milk mozzarella), and basil offer an aroma and taste treat hard to equal. Another features a layer of thinly sliced bresaola (a type of dried beef) covered with rucola (Italian arugula), drizzled with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice.

Buying pizza a taglio is easy. The available pizza stretches out on the counter behind glass, and you just point to the one you want. The staff will put the cutting tool at a point suggesting how much you might buy. You can say “piu” (more) or “meno” (less), or you can just hold up your hand, increasing or decreasing the space between your thumb and forefinger. When you have agreed on the amount, they weigh the piece and give you a cash register slip which you take to the cashier. In the meantime they reheat it if necessary, cut t it in two, fold it over like a sandwich and wrap it in paper, leaving part exposed and ready to eat.

Another Roman street food favorite is the supplì. A complicated recipe means that I will never make them, but I do enjoy eating one now and again. They consist of risotto cooked in a tomato-meat sauce. The rice is formed into a cylinder around pieces of mozzarella. They’re then breaded and deep fried. When you bite into them the mozzarella stretches out in a string, giving them the nickname supplì al telefono because the string resembles old fashioned telephone cords.

A Sicilian variation, called arancini (little oranges) features risotto made with white wine, chopped ham, and peas with the same mozzarella in the center. They are usually round instead of cylindrical.

Another snack similar to these is based on potatoes instead of rice. Called crocchette di patate, the basic recipe includes mashed potatoes, Parmesan, eggs, and nutmeg. In its simplest form, the mixture is formed into cylinders like the supplì, breaded, and fried. Sometimes the crocchette contain bits of ham or mozzarrela or other cheese.

In Rome, too, you can find filetto di bacalà (fried cod). A light, airy batter wraps the cod before it is deep fried. The texture of the batter contrasts with the delicate flavor of the cod. It resembles British fish minus the chips. And no vinegar!

Gelato rounds out Italy’s food on the street. The intense flavor of this frozen treat springs from two legal points. First, government regulation requires a low fat content on the theory that fat blocks taste buds, not to mention the health benefits; second, fruit flavors, except for citrus, exceed 20 percent and can go as high as 35 percent. Gelato simply bursts in your mouth.

At a gelato shop, you are expected to choose at least two flavors on a small cone or cup and as many as four on a large size. When the staff has scooped up your choice, they’ll ask, “Panna?” If you answer in the affirmative, they’ll put a dollop of whipped cream on top of your cone.

Well, now I’m hungry. Shall I have a piece of potato and rosemary pizza? Or maybe pineapple and coconut gelato? Or pink grapefruit and peach? Or...?

I also blog at Italian Intrigues about life in Italyfood and wine, mystery and crime. I hope you'll drop by and join the conversation.


  1. Oh Patricia how I wish I knew you and all this before I visited Italy!! We only found the gelato on our third night there...when I think of the two days I lost....we got a few strange looks while we were enjoying our gelato on cold winter nights! We had the pizza a taglio and when the staff at the pizzeria did not reheat everyone's pizza and we could not understand why. Now I know!! Thank you!

    1. Sorry you missed the gelato. And that you had to eat cold pizza. Sometimes the staff will ask, "Riscaldo?" which means "Shall I reheat it?" I'm afraid that some may do nothing if you can't respond to that. Others are more charitable and will reheat because they know you don't understand.

  2. You've made me crave pizza, gelato, and suppli (oh my!). I remember pizza a taglio from a trip to Rome several years ago, Yum! Makes me want to go back again. Thanks.

    1. Come on over, Nancy. You can write it off as a business expense, I'm sure.

  3. Replies
    1. After the post went up yesterday, I went out for grated zucchini (in Italian zucchine) and cheese pizza. Ummmmm!

  4. After reading your blog, I now want Italian food for dinner. Enjoyed this tremendously.

  5. You've reminded me of many fun times in Italy. One of the more interesting pizza adventures I had was in Pesaro. I sat down to lunch and a friend who lived there (but couldn't make lunch) told me to order a certain pizza.

    I was surprised that what they brought me was a huge baked pizza shell and on a separate platter were the fresh ingredients -- including uncooked tomatoes and lots more.

    It was unexpected and very pleasant. Looking forward to more Italian adventures.

    Joe DeMarco
    Crimes on Latimer

  6. Oh,I've never seen pizza served that way. Sounds interesting. Glad you enjoyed the post. Do visit me at

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