Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pizza Bianca

It's one of the great culinary creations of Italy. Airy, crispy, salty, delicious slabs of Italian not-too-flat-bread. Delightful plain, it can be cut open and turned into a sandwich, and in the hands of contemporary masters like Gabriele Bonci in Rome it becomes a canvas for greatness. Here he is on Italian TV:

Unfortunately, you can't make it here. Wrong flour, wrong yeast, wrong water, wrong mixer, wrong, wrong wrong. Don't believe me? Check out this 50+ page discussion: Pizzarium. Fortunately, mere mortals can make a fairly reasonable substitute with a little patience.

Basic Pizza Bianca:

500 grams bread flour
400 grams water
10 grams Kosher salt
1 packet active dry yeast (purists will use about a quarter tsp.)
2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil plus more for oiling the bowl and brushing
Sea Salt for sprinkling

Day 1

Pour yourself a glass of wine. Set it in a safe place.

Weigh out the flour, water and salt. Place them with the olive oil and yeast in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer and stir them with a fork until the dough begins to come together.

Mount the dough hook on the mixer, lock the mixing bowl in place and turn it up to about 80% power. On my KitchenAid that's 8. Knead the dough for 15 minutes. Really. At this speed the mixer will tend to "walk" so keep a hand on it and sip your wine. After about 12 minutes or so the dough hook will start flinging stringy blobs of dough toward the top couple inches of the mixing bowl. If it looks like it's getting out of hand, just scrape it down and keep mixing.

Almost ready...

Lightly oil a 5 quart mixing bowl and dump your dough into it. Oil your hands and gently form the blob into a ball, turning it to coat it with oil. It will immediately turn into a puddle. Cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Day 2

When you take the bowl of dough out it should look like this:

Flour your work surface and hands and pull the dough out of the bowl. Gently pat it into a rectangle, then fold one end to the middle and the other over that. You'll end up with a roughly square blob one third the size of the original rectangle. Put the folded dough back in the bowl, cover and leave it for an hour. (Purists will put it back in the 'fridge for another 24 hours.)

Make a rectangle
Fold one side to the middle
Fold the other side over the top
Repeat the folding process twice more, making a quarter turn each time, for a total of 3 hours of rising.

Lightly oil a 10x15 inch jelly roll pan including the sides. Oil your hands and turn the dough out into the center of the pan. Very gently stretch the dough into a rectangle and ease it toward the edges of the pan. It's better to pick up half and stretch it than to press it down. You want to avoid crushing the bubbles you've spent the last three hours cultivating. It will just about fill the pan. Cover it and set it aside in a protected place for an hour (a large jelly roll pan will sit nicely over the medium one without touching the dough).

While the dough rises for the final time, place a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 500 F. for an hour.

Uncover the dough, gently brush it with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Oiled, salted and ready for the oven
Pop it into the oven and bake it for 12-15 minutes until it's nicely colored.

Let the pizza bianca cool for a few minutes and then turn it out onto a rack. When it's cool enough to handle cut it into 8 more or less equal rectangles.  You can eat it plain with a little oil for dipping, split and stuffed with a little mortadella and some salad greens, tomato/basil/mozzarella, or whatever else looks good to you. Just don't overdo it - the main event is the bread.

Cut into serving pieces.

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