The history of the Roman pizza is a story of a humble food, for the masses. To trace it accurately we must distinguish among three diverse typologies because Roman pizza is in reality three in one.
The first type is the pizza “del fornaro” (the baker’s pizza), which is pizza that is baked in a bread oven.
The second is the pizza “in teglia” (pan pizza).
Finally we have the pizza “tonda” (round pizza), which is served at the table, often as an “accessory” in menus found in neighborhood trattorias or osterias, at least for the first few years.
Since the second postwar period, and more so beginning from the second half of the 1950s, each of these three types has evolved in its own individual way.
The pizza del fornaro is, without question, the oldest.
One of the ovens which dates back to the first half of the 1800s, and found right in the middle of the historic center, is the Forno di Campo de’ Fiori, found in the piazza of the same name. It has continued to this day, for almost a century, to bake white pizza and red pizza. Needless to say, for a Roman of a certain age, the only real pizza even today is the one from this bakery. Not many can testify to the pizzas baked in a wood fired oven, but many remember the “vapoforni” from the second postwar period onwards. With the help of steam, one used the heat of the oven that had been put out after baking bread to bake pizza at a less aggressive temperature called pizza “alla pala” (a baker’s shovel pizza) in either a white or red version.
Obviously, with the passing of the years and the recent attention given to more modern workmanship techniques, from new types of ovens to leavenings to the research into grains and flours, even this product has been revisited. Between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 90s, the temporal division which- as we shall see- signals a new phase for all three types of Roman pizza, Franco Palermo, in Casilino opened the first “bio-forno” (organic bakery) in the capital city. Work experimenting with organic flours began, used both for white and red pizzas. He soon became a verifiable master and a promoter of projects which would revolutionize the Roman breadmaking world.
When speaking of pizza del fornaio, we must mention the Roscioli brothers, who have played an important role with their forno in Via Chiavari in the historic center. It is a story which is interwoven with the history of the city, and began when Marcco Rosciolo unveiled an antique oven – whose original workmanship dates to 1824. Today there are his sons who have expanded and diversified the menu, and who have also expanded the business. They continue to bake one of the best pizzas “del fornaro” in Rome. It is precisely from this moment that the profound differentiation from the Neopolitan pizza begins. The pizza from Naples instead has its own special oven with a half-moon aperture that allows it to reach high temperatures, 480 degrees to be exact. The temperature, instead, of the Roman pizza is fixed at around 360 degrees, therefore the dough needs more time to bake, and for this reason it loses its moistness until becoming scrocchiariella (toasted and crunchy).
The matter of the pizza in teglia (pan pizza) is quite different. It was born inside the rotisseries and became popular in the 1970s and 80s. It very soon became the leading product, so much so that hundreds of pizzerie a taglio begin to pop up in all quaters of the capital. Many proposed this version both in the white and red variants from the very beginning, just as the forni had. Quite soon afterwards, mozzarella or other cheeses were added and thus the pan version of the margherita was born. Afterwards, little by little, all of the classics were recreated in the pan version, as for example the one with potatoes or zucchini or mushrooms. They continue to be on offer even today. In short, in about 50 years, the pizza in teglia became, together with supplì, the only true fast food that appealed to every age, social class, profession and trade. Up until the 1980s, however, the pizza in teglia did not have a long leavening time (5 or 6 hours), and it was also a product rich in fat and therefore not easily digestible. We had to wait until the end of the 1980s when a young pizza chef began to experiment with a dough that was much more hydrated and moist thanks to with a long leavening time, and the use of olive oil. Angelo Iezzi opened a little pizzeria in 1987 called “Da Angelo e Simonetta” in Via Nomentanta with his wife. Somewhere along the line he becan to experiement with a “cold” leavening, which was longer than the traditional one, and to try new types of flours.
If it is therefore true, that the first dividing line in terms of quality – but also in methodology of workmanship and school, as we have seen – is marked by Angelo Iezzi, then looking to the contemporary innovative breakthrough, the protagonist is, without a doubt, Gabriele Bonci. After an illuminating meeting with the master Franco Palermo, he opened his Pizzarium. At the beginning there was surely a strong desire for change; an effort to change such a popular product as the pizza in teglia which, however, at least through the entire decade of the 90s, was the one with the worst price/quality ratio. Already with the lira (and afterwards, even more so with the euro) – when you brought home 10.000 liras or 10 euros of pizza by the slice, it meant dealing with a plethora of greasy paper, a few pieces of badly-baked, difficult-to-digest dough, topped with a flavour that was difficult to recognize.
Gabriele Bonci began to work on the leavening times immediately, but especially on the flour used, in order to come up with a dough that was processed and leavened with care. Then there was the question of the products used to top the pizza. Success finally came; a good-quality pizza in teglia thanks to the fact that while figures such as Iezzi, Bonci, and Pino Arletto also continued to study to improve their product, they also worked on the instructional side of things. And on sharing. Tens of youngsters passed through their schools who then set up their own businesses. And who then began their own experimentations with flours and leavening methods.
Also the pizza tonda (round pizza) served at the table witnessed its own affirmation in Rome in the second half of the 1950s. From the very start it began as a pizza which was completely different from the Neapolitan type.
Obviously the development and success of these pizzerias also followed the economic boom, with a propagation of this Roman pizza that pervaded practically every corner of the city: thin, without a border, at times stretched with a rolling pin, then almost exclusively by hand, very crunchy and flaky, the so-called “scrocchiarella”. We must remember, for example, one of the Frontoni heirs, historic breadmakers in Rome as early as the 1920s, when the grandfather Umberto in 1960 opened a pizzeria with a wood-fired oven in the Lanciani area in the foothills. On the other hand, establishments such as Baffetto in the heart of the historic center; Panattoni ai Marmi on the Viale Trastevere, known as the Obitorio, or at Remo in Testacio, opened around the 1960s or 70s, are still today busy operations, much loved by the locals, and even more so by the tourists.
For the pizza tonda served at the table, as with the other two types, there has also been a wave of innovation during the last twenty years, which really in this case, could be defined as a bonafide revolution, given that on the one hand the set up of the pizzeria was completely transformed, and on the other, so were the characteristics of the pizza itself. The refinement in the choice of flours, the attention given to the leavening methods, and more generally to the quality of the primary materials, opened up a new chapter in the story of food for the masses in Rome as welll. The words “pizzeria” and “wood-fired oven” which up until the 90s were often left out or considered useless such as the word “cash” in many restaurants, were instead reborn, as were laboratories for experimenting with doughs, yeasts and pairings of special ingredients. In particular, the time and methods of leavening, together with the selection of different types of flours became a topic of discussion for the public and for the enthusiasts and experts in the sector.
To begin with, we must remember that slowly, yet inexorably, a series of Neapolitan pizzerias began to gain popularity in Rome in the 90s. After a century of lack of success, as Matilde Serao recounts, a part of the Roman public seemed ready to taste a pizza that was the exact opposite of the Roman pizza in terms of dough and baking. Little by little, as this began to spread, there was also a confirmation of the erroneous opposition between the “low” Roman pizza and the “high” Neapolitan pizza, as if the thickness was the only significant element to distinguish the two typeologies. Among the first to propose a pizza that endeavoured to go beyond this opposition was Tonino Vespa, who at the end of the 80s (right when Angelo Iezzi was reinventing the pizza by the slice) began to work with the maturation of the dough, on the flours and also on the idea of a pizza that was less superficial. However, it would be Giancarlo Casa, about ten years later, who would make a breakthrough in the world of Roman pizza. Owner of the Gatta Mangiona, he truly became, from the end of the 90s, a tenacious and tireless advocate of a pizza which is good inside and excellent out: a perfectly leavened dough, light and soft, digestible, with the fragrance of flour and oven. With painstaking care in his selection of beer, wine and champagne, he also changed the standard conception of what a pizzeria was. It was no longer a place to consume what was considered to be fast food by definition, and where the concept of speed (in consumption) is often synonym to superficiality (in production). Five years later, it was Stefano Callegari’s turn. A successful businessman in a tshirt and apron, at 37 he builds his idea of a pizza in a simple, almost spartan establishment, which he calls Sforno, where, in fact, the true protagonist is the wood-fired oven. Tried and trusted leavening times, a controlled but not rigid baking: he likes a bubbly, burnt pizza. This was in 2005 and it was an immediate success. Even so, the pizzeria is a neighbourhood one, it is not in the center of the busy city, the pizza is not scrocchiarella, and the prices are higher than the average. In the meantime, he comes up with the ingenious brainstorm which would make him known even abroad, the Trapizzino. It is a triangle of pizza dough topped with the sauces and the recipes of traditional Roman cuisine, from the picchiapò to chicken alla cacciatora. The picture of the new chapter in the history of pizza in Rome, nevertheless, would not be complete without mentioning Edoardo Papa who, almost ten years ago, with his In Fucina, added something new to the new type of pizza in Italian style. In addition to the study and research into flours and ingredients for the toppings, he also created a new idea of a pizzeria that is like a restaurant, from the care in the service to the wine list, bubbles and liquers. It is also known for a proposal called “a degustazione.” or tasting menu, which, as we can see in other regional experiences, as for example in Veneto, proposes a service by the slice, creating various pairings, if not bonafide dishes – to try on the disc of dough. Finally, but this is more news than history, there is a new trend among the pizza chefs who have begun to work on the traditional Roman pizza to propose a classic version in terms of baking method, yet innovative for its leavening, workmanship and attention to toppings.
Three versions, therefore, with three different histories – even if within the same popular matrix – and three paths of innovation and evolution that have redesigned the picture of the Roman pizza. What is important to underscore here is that there has been a trend to innovate and also to transmit passion and knowhow to the following generations.