I had heard about Bonci pizza for a long time. Was it worth the wait? And the weight? When I finally went, it was strategically on a cold Sunday morning. There was no line. Modern music blared. The guys were friendly. The pizza was heavy from the toppings but the bread itself is light and crunchy. A lot of the toppings are served cold. The combinations are modern and unique. Scrambled egg with spicy salami, ground chickpeas/garbanzos with artichokes, and many other combinations. I’m not sure I would go again or find it worth the hype.
Traditional classic Roman dishes are heavily “nose to tail” or “quinto quarto” as this city is proud of eating ALL of the animal, and all plants. Some of these traditional dishes are coda alla vaccinaria (beef tail), trippa (tripe), and pajata. Romans also eat an immense amount of seafood, much of it raw. In terms of classic dishes not mentioned earlier, here is my list of Roman dishes to try. I have listed the dishes sort of in order of what time of the day you might try them, not in order of preference. I’ll mention what I think of them in the description.
Maritozzo: Is a cream filled brioche bun. Usually eaten for breakfast or as a snack. This is delicious but quite ridiculous.
Suppli: Is the deep fried rice or pasta croquette incredible popular with Romans. Available everywhere and usually sold at pizzerias (which is weird because there is nothing deep fried at a pizza place except for this…) and eaten as a snack or appetizer. “Suppli” is the word for telephone cord because the melted cheese looks like an old fashioned telephone cord. I don’t really like this but it is super famous.
Fiore di zucca: Stuffed zucchini flowers almost always filled with mozzarella and salted anchovy. Some places will make it without the anchovy if you ask, but that would not be authentic. The anchovy adds a touch of salt and umami. Most places make this dish and it looks like a UFO, unidentified fried object. I prefer it at places where they use light batter or breadcrumbs. I also prefer it without the anchovy because I like the delicate flavor of the zucchini flower.
Taglio pizza: Is square focaccia type pizza sold by weight. There are so many kinds of pizza I recommend going to a chain like Alice (ah-lee-cheh) and ask for small pieces so that you can try different flavors (This is also a good thing to order for a party). Romans eat pizza for breakfast (my preferred Roman breakfast), lunch, and party snack. Usually the pizza had for dinner is not “al taglio” but Roman style. A Roman style pizza is ONE round pizza per person. No sharing. You eat with a knife and fork. Beer is usually the thing to drink with pizza in the evening. Pizza is not something you would cook at home because you need a pizza oven. The taglio pizzas are baked in industrial electric ovens but a dinner pizza (The Romans consider it a social thing done from 9 pm to midnight) is usually baked in a wood fired oven (forno a legna).
Porchetta: Is from a town near Rome (but then everyone likes to claim that they invented gelato, so don’t let that stop you), but is much beloved here. It is a deboned pig rolled up with crackling/pork rind on the outside and inside it is flavored with rosemary and other herbs. Usually served sliced as a sandwich component.
Pasta carbonara, cacio e pepe, gricia, and amatriciana: These are the four most common pasta sauces in Rome. Carbonara is made with guanciale (pork jowl bacon) and egg yolk. Usually with spaghetti or short pasta. Almost never with fresh pasta. Cacio e pepe (caw-chee-oh-eh-peh-peh) is pecorino cheese and black pepper. People make a big deal that this is a creamy sauce without any cream. Pecorino is sheep’s milk cheese common to this part of Italy. It is much in texture like Parmesan. Cacio e pepe (cacio is related to the Latin word for cheese. Formaggio is the modern Italian word for cheese). Gricia (Gree-chaw)is the same sauce as carbonara but without the egg. Amatriciana (Ah-mah-trey-chee-ah-na) is named after a town called Amatrice. It is a sauce with tomatoes, guanciale, and pecorino. I prefer the carbonara, but generally I prefer pasta with clams or meat sauce.
Pasta is eaten as a meal on its own or as a first course. In general, most Romans do not eat three or four course meals on a daily basis. If they eat pasta for lunch, then they probably won’t eat it for dinner. Also, the portions in Rome are not as huge as in the USA. Italians generally consider certain sauces appropriate for certain shapes of pasta. Most of the Roman sauces I have mentioned work on both long and short pasta. Almost always on dried pasta, which gives a better tooth and mouth feel.
Gnocchi alla romana: Roman gnocchi are larger dumplings that are sliced and served “au gratin” hot from the oven. Thursday is the day to eat gnocchi because traditionally, as Catholics, Friday would be a day of fasting or lights meals, like fish. Gnocchi are usually on the pasta menu because it is a type of pasta made of potato and flour.
Puntarelle: Is the classic Roman salad. It is made with the white stalk of the chicory leaf which are trimmed, put through a metal tool to split, left in cold water to “open up,” and then served with anchovy dressing. I prefer this without anchovies, because then it’s a crunchy fresh tasting salad.
Cicoria: Is usually sautéed chicory. It is always in season, on every menu, and always the vegetable of the day. It’s bitter.
Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichoke) and Roman style artichoke: The Jewish style is deep fried until the artichoke looks like a flower. The Roman style is steamed and dressed with olive oil. I do not like the deep fried ones because the artichoke flavor is gone. I adore steamed artichokes, but I usually just steam them in my microwave. Italians also eat the stalk of the artichoke so when you buy them, they will sell them with the stalk attached.
Guanciale di manzo: Is beef cheek. This is always served slow roasted. The Romans are famous for eating the “off” cuts.
These were the dishes that are typically Roman and perhaps less “scary” to try. Plus, gelato. Always gelato and tiramisu. If you are given a choice of dessert, I would always choose the tiramisu. Otherwise, have a coffee and go get a gelato. Gelato shops are open all day, usually from morning (when they may serve pastries) to midnight or later. While restaurants almost always close from 3 pm to 7:30 pm, a gelateria will always be open.
Pizza in Italy reminds me a bit of that time when my friend, who had never had a wedge salad, ordered one but without the tomatoes or the blue cheese. She was speechless with disbelief when a wedge of iceberg was served to her on a plate. In Italy, a plain pizza, a “pizza bianca,” or “white pizza” is indeed a piece of pizza bread that looks like focaccia… no cheese, no sauce, no toppings (other than salt and oil), and often served cold.
During the pandemic, I’ve been keeping pizza in my freezer. After a few weeks of eating all the frozen pizza I’d sequestered in my freezer, I thought that I’d had enough pizza for a while… until I saw a potato and mozzarella slice at Alice (AH-lee-chay).
Now that I live in Italy, some of my friends ask me questions about Italian food expecting that perhaps I have become an expert. Not yet. The most recent question I received was about focaccia and pizza. What is the difference? It turns out that pizza is the type of dough, not so much the type of topping or how it’s served. Even a brioche can be a pizza. At Easter, a large brioche shaped like a panettone is called a “pizza formaggio” and it is a cheese pizza. See photo below.
I actually quite like the bread that is called pizza because it’s made from the pizza dough.
This reminded me of the last time I was in Italy when I had a bread called, “schiacciata,” which is was a flat, oil-rich, salty, pillowy dimpled flat bread sold in squares. I recall those dimples of green olive oil and the slick of grease on my chin. It is a Tuscan version of what is known as focaccia in the North. It is a little thinner, and perhaps a little closer to a pizza.
In Rome, the pizza is sold by weight and in rectangles. It doesn’t have to have red sauce or cheese. It doesn’t even have to be warm! Often the pizza is topped with cold salad or sauteed greens. An extremely popular topping is cold mortadella. Pizza is also available as a breakfast item, even mortadella with mayonnaise.
There is a style called “pinsa” which is slightly oval and it is not a pizza, it’s a pinsa. Got it? The pinsa is a type of flat bread that is baked first and then topped with fresh ingredients.
So basically a pizza is a type of bread, sometimes cooked with the toppings in the oven and sometimes dressed afterwards. Otherwise, the rest seems to be free to one’s creativity. Except for pineapple. No pineapple on the pizza here in Italy. I really like pineapple on pizza and I don’t even mind corn. A really good pizza here is blue cheese and walnuts. Nuts! Right? Many of the Italian immigrants to the United States were from Naples so the American pizza evolved from the Neapolitan pizza.
When I went on a food tour with a local guide, she confirmed that pizza is about the type of bread. Not what is on it, what temperature it is, or how it’s served.
This lesson pizza will have to be ongoing as I discover more types of pizza.