Pizza, what can I say? It’s heaven on a slice! Its everyone’s comfort food and I daresay the most popular food in the world. Its always been the thing I need on a rough day or on a day of celebration. These humble pies celebrate local ingredients and show then off gloriously. There are so many traditional styles of pizza in Italy like Neapolitan, Sicilian , Al taglio etc. The Americans adopted pizza and created the Chicago style deep dish, among others and it became a staple in the USA. Pizza isn’t always round. In Rome, the Al Taglio style or the square pizza is a popular street food.
As I’ve traveled, I’ve become more adventurous and keen on trying more local foods.When I was at the Sourdough School, in Northampton ,I got talking to Vanessa Kimbell ( the sourdough teacher there) who recommended that I pay a visit to Gabriel Bonci’s Pizzarium in Rome. I was in Rome for one evening, as I was flying home after a gorgeous Italian holiday but I kept remembering Bonci and I decided to go. I took a cab all the way across town and reached this humble place.
At first sight, you’ll see a long line of people waiting outside. Pizzarium Bonci is known to be the place for the best Pizza in Rome. As the line in front of you gets smaller, you start to see a spectacular array of tray pizzas in front of you. almost like an artist, he creates food art! All bright and colourful, celebrating the most beautiful seasonal Italian produce. They’ve got everything from the finest meats to the most fresh herbs and leaves! From seasonal vegetables and fruits to the finest of cheeses! Its Pizza like you’ve never seen before! As you order, they cut the slices with a scissor. Yes you heard it right, a scissor! Then then go on to reheat it in the oven and put it in a box. As you stand outside or find a bench nearby to sit, the smell of those pizza slices drives you insane! One bite and you can hear the sound of the crust! That soft, airy beautiful crumb, slows off the fermentation of the dough in all its glory! Bonci knows Pizza like no body does. The place is soo humble yet, it was hands down, the best Pizza I’ve had in my life!
For this post, I decided to recreate those memories and do an Al Taglio style Pizza. For the toppings I decided to do one with pesto, burrata, confit tomatoes and garlic, topped with some basil leaves. I tried a slightly different version of pesto this time to reduce the pungency from the garlic and make it more flavourful. I did another with caramelised fennel and onions with parmesan and finished off with some fennel fronds.
Al taglio dough
For 1/2 sheet pan size (18 x 13 inches)
500g 00 flour/Bread flour/ All Purpose flour
3.2g (1tsp) Instant dry yeast
15g (2.5 tsp) Salt
1 cup Pinenuts
2 tbs Light Olive oil ( for the garlic)
9 Garlic cloves
2 cups Basil leaves
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 cup Parmesan grated
Salt as required
Confit Tomatoes and Garlic
1 cup Cherry tomatoes
15 Garlic cloves
1/2 cup Light olive oil
a few sprigs of rosemary
Salt as needed
Pepper freshly cracked
Caramelised fennel and onion
2 cups Fennel, thinly sliced
2 cups Onion, thinly sliced
a few sprigs of Thyme
4 tbs Olive oil
Salt to taste
1 cup Shaved parmesan
A bunch of Basil leaves
A bunch of Fennel fronds
For the Al taglio dough
In a stand mixer, add in the flour and water. Mix, add in the yeast and mix at a slow speed for 5 mins. Add in the salt keep mixing at a slow speed for another 3 mins. And then mix at a fast speed for 3 mins, till the dough has a good gluten development and has a windowpane. Cover the bowl with a kitchen bowl or plastic wrap and let rest for 30 mins.
If mixing by hand, take the flour, yeast and water and mix together to form a dough. Keep kneading. Add in the salt and continue kneading. Place on the counter and knead well till you get a window pane. Cover and let rest for 30 mins. You may have to do some slap and folds to bring the dough together and create gluten as it is a high hydration dough.
Do a total of 3 stretch and folds every 30 mins.
To do this wet your hand, slide your hand between the dough and the bottom of the bowl. Pull a handful of dough ( 1/4) and stretch it and fold it over the centre of the dough. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat this. Do this 4 times till the dough has been turned 360 degrees and then let it rest for another 30 mins.
Do two more stretch and folds at an interval of 30 mins each.
You will see the dough fermenting and rising. If bubbles develop let them be. Put the dough in the fridge for 24 hrs in an airtight box with enough space for it to rise.
After this, take it out and place on a greased half sheet pan. The dough will be airy and bubbly and you want to maintain that. Gently press with your fingers from inside out and go towards the edges. Slightly stretch the dough if needed and shape it to cover the pan. Let it proof for and an hr or 2 until it is bubbly and rising well. Press down with your fingers and dimple the dough to create those air pockets. Top the dough and bake it.
For the pesto
Take the pine nuts in a pan and lightly toast them till they just begin to brown. Keep aside. In the same skillet, add in the light olive oil and chopped garlic cloves and lightly sauté for a few seconds, this will reduce their pungency and release flavour. In a mixer, combine the extra virgin olive oil, parmesan, basil leaves, pine nuts and garlic and blitz together till a smooth sauce is made.
For the confit tomatoes and garlic
In a roasting pan, place the cherry tomatoes and garlic. Add the rosemary sprigs, salt and pepper. Pour in the olive oil and cover the tomatoes and garlic completely. Bake in the oven at 150 C (300 F) for 1.5 hrs. You can do this over a stove top on the slowest heat for 1.5 to 2 hrs.
For the caramelised fennel and onions
In a pan, add oil and then the sliced fennel and onions. Add in a pinch of salt and thyme and let it caramelise to a light brown colour. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
Basil leaves and fennel fronds
Take a bowl with ice cold water and a few cubes of ice, place the basil leaves and fennel fronds in it and put it back in the fridge. Take it out once the pizza is baked. Pat dry on a kitchen towel and then top the pizza.
Preheat the oven to the highest possible temperature of the oven. I did it ad 250 C (480F).
To put together, take the proofed dough, blind bake both trays for 5mins at 250 C. Remove from the oven. For the first tray, spread the pesto, top it with the confit tomatoes and garlic and put some burrata and bake it for another 5 mins.Take it out and top it with fresh basil leaves.
For the other tray, after the first 5 mins of blind baking, top it with the caramelised fennel and onion and put some shaved parmesan as well. Bake it for another 5 mins. Finish off with some fresh fennel fronds.
Take them out and cut them into square slices. Sit back, relax and enjoy that airy crumb!