Pizza bianca was something I once involuntarily created when I forgot to put tomato sauce on my pizza. Or so I then thought.
I wasn’t very serious but if you think, as with most things, there is more to pizza bianca than just forgetting to put tomatoes on it, you’re wrong. There’s actually LESS to it. You need to leave out the tomato sauce, the cheese, ham, olives and the (God forbid) pineapple. That’s right: pizza bianca is BARE.
Back to basics big time: it’s flatbread, chewy and crispy, dripping a little with olive oil and crunchy a lot with salt flakes. It’s deconstructed focaccia. It’s pizza-bare-bones. It’s ‘sono la romana’ pizza. You can, apparently, if you’re so decadent, stick a slice of prosciutto and/or cheese onto a torn square to fashion a sarnie alla romana. Which of course, being a greedy and ignorant non-Italian, I did. My goodness, was it lovely.
There are some very complicated instructions as to make the bianca dough but I figured that Romans wouldn’t bother to make special dough, separate to the rounds and rounds of pizza that the forni di Roma churn out. I sourced here Heston Blumenthal’s recipe because it makes for very very stretchy dough and I figured it would be a distinct advantage.
And so it was. Forget tomato sauce. Forget anchovies and peperoni and mozzarella, buffalo or not. Don’t even think about truffles. Viva la vita semplice.
pizza bianca with provolone and prosciuttoServings: 4 pizzasTime: a few hours plus overnight ferment
- For the pizza dough (enough for 4 pizzas):
- 330g strong bread flour (type 00 if available)
- 190g cold water
- ½ tsp malt extract
- 14g fresh or 6g instant yeast
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- For the pizza bianca:
- 130-140g pizza dough for each pizza
- olive oil
- salt flakes, like Maldon or fleur de sel
- To serve:
- sliced Provolone cheese
- prosciutto crudo or Parma ham
- grated Parmesan
- fresh basil leaves
If you have your own favoured recipe for pizza dough, feel free to use it. This is adapted from Heston Blumenthal’s pizza Margherita featured in In Search of Perfection.
Start the pizza dough the night before you want to make the pizza; the dough can also happily sit in the fridge for a few days or be frozen.
First make the ferment: roughly mix 100g of the flour with 60g water and leave to stand for between 10 and 50 minutes. Add a third of the yeast and a pinch of the salt and knead in a standing mixer with dough hook attachment or knead by hand for at least 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Wrap it loosely in cling film and refrigerate for 12-16 hours.
To make the dough, mix the remaining flour with the rest of the water and the malt extract and again leave for between 10 and 50 minutes. Add the rest of the yeast and salt and knead until smooth and elastic. Add the ferment and knead for 5 more minutes until it comes together in a smooth ball.
Divide the dough in four. Shape each piece into a ball, place them on a lightly oiled tray, cover with oiled cling film and leave in a warm place for 2 hours, until they double in size. You can refrigerate or freeze them at this point, but make sure they come back to room temperature and have a couple of hours to proof before baking pizza.
Preheat the grill to maximum setting. Heat up a cast iron griddle or pancake pan, or a heavy large frying pan at least 26cm (10in) in diameter.
Flatten each dough ball with your hand and stretch it as thinly as possible without tearing, turning it 90 degrees every now and then on a lightly floured surface. If you struggle to stretch the dough by hand, use a rolling pin. It needn’t be perfect shape or very even thickness. Brush it with olive oil.
When the pan is smoking hot, transfer the pizza onto it and drizzle with more olive oil; if some leaks onto the pan, it’s fine - it will make the patches of dough extra crisp. Sprinkle with salt flakes and immediately transfer the pan under the preheated grill. Cook for about 3 minutes until golden and lightly charred in places.
Slide the pizza onto a board or plate, arrange the provolone slices on it, followed by rolled strips of prosciutto, a sprinkle of Parmesan and basil leaves. Cut into halves or quarters and eat with your hands, folding each slice in half like a sandwich.