By Robert Damien Santagata
I could easily stay in Rome if not for the crowds. There are aromas wafting
out of different shops: bakeries, pizzerias, bars, cafés, trattorias, etc., and I feel a little twinge of hunger in my tummy. The smell of Roman-style pizza is prevailing over all others. I fancy a slice. I enjoy this style of pizza probably more than Neapolitan-style, probably because it can be thicker, crispier, and topped more generously with savory goodies without folding over or buckling under the weight of the toppings. I happen to see a pizzeria nearby and decide to sate my craving for a slice of Roman pizza. I have eaten a considerable amount of Neapolitan-style pizzas over the years, and have been completely satisfied. It differs considerably from Sicilian-, Chicago-, and New York–style pizzas in that, to be authentic, it needs to meet certain criteria. The Neapolitans are sticklers for these criteria; after all, it was the Neapolitans who invented pizza, and they have a right to be perfectionistic, even a tad snobbish, when it comes to pizza ingredients, preparation, and even the manner in which it is eaten.
Pizza al taglio, as the Romans call it, is rectangular in shape, unless, of course, it is the exclusively Roman pizza bianca (white pizza), which is oblong in shape. It differs also in that olive oil and often sugar are added to the dough. This enhances crispness and flavor. I absolutely savor a slice, al taglio, of Roman pizza. I enter the pizzeria and am transported to olfactory paradise – the commingling aromas are delightful and enticing. The display case is replete with pans of many varieties of pizzas with various toppings. I am immediately drawn to the pizza crowned with cherry tomatoes, prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), and fresh mozzarella. As is customary, the counterman cuts my slice from the rectangular “pie” with a pair of scissors. He places it into the oven to heat it up. My mouth is gushing with saliva. I can already imagine how good it is going to taste. I peruse the offerings. Some are topped with zucchini, eggplant, potatoes (yes, as if the pizza itself isn’t carb-laden enough!), anchovies, etc., etc. I could easily sample one of each, but I must control myself. The slice is priced according to weight, not the piece itself. Hey, this is Rome – they do things differently here. Besides, because each slice is cut with scissors, the sizes vary. There’s invariably a method to the Italians’ madness. Remember, they do manage to get things done. The pizzaiolo hands me my slice and smiles, says “Grazie,” and turns his attention to the next customer.
The pizza is steaming hot. I blow on it momentarily. I very carefully take a nibble from the corner. Wow! The sweetness of the cherry tomatoes excels with the ham’s saltiness and the moist creaminess of the mozzarella. I am anxious for it to cool down so that I may eat with complete and utter gusto. I take another bite. I am in pizza paradise now. This experience eating a slice of pizza is like no other I have ever had.
I have consumed inestimable slices and pieces and wedges of pizza in New York City, Chicago, California, Japan, Miami Beach, Italy, etc., but nothing can compare to this. The slice is generously topped with savory ingredients, and it is not collapsing as is often the case with other styles of pizzas. The tomatoes – they use fresh – are slightly charred and oozing sweet juice. The ham is browned around the edges and has just the ideal amount of chewiness. The cheese is ridiculously smooth and silky and soft. No aged mozzarella here; only the fresh stuff. The good stuff. The way the Italians like it. IAH
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The author of this series, Robert Damien Santagata, is a “rabid Italophile” and the author of the 2020 book “The Paradise of Exiles.” This series presents his vivid, evocative descriptions of his search for the soul of Italy – rapturous descriptions that the author attributes to Stendhal syndrome, a psychosomatic condition in which overexposure to any form of great beauty induces a state of euphoria that can include elation, dizziness, confusion, hallucinations and even fainting.