43. The Road That Led to Romana
The next leg of my pizza journey
TL;DR: A retailer was having its business siphoned off by Amazon, as a result I have a new, low-stress way to make pizza, especially for a crowd.
Let me fill in the missing parts of the story: a major US retailer was steadily losing business to Amazon, so they needed a new ad campaign to help staunch the bleeding. Their ad agency hired me to help come up with that campaign. (In case you don’t know, my day job, the one that pays the bills, is working as a freelance creative director and copywriter.)
One of the locations we ended up filming in was the Faema building in Toronto at Dupont and Christie. Faema is best known for importing and selling coffee and espresso machines, but they also carry a lot of pizza equipment. And while we were shooting I learned that in order to show off what their pizza equipment can do, they have a AVPN-certified Pizzaiolo Verace, Pasquale Ponticello, on staff.1 They also run the Faema Culinary Academy to train both professionals and home cooks on all the equipment they sell. There are classes on coffee, pasta, gelato, and, most relevant to my interests, pizza.
A few months after the shoot, I decided it would be fun to go back to Faema and take a class. Earlier this year I wrote about taking a pizza class at Cucinato Italian Culinary Studio to get myself out of what I called, “the pizza yips.”2 Things had been going pretty well since then, but I thought another class couldn’t hurt. And, more importantly, I hadn’t seen my friend Matt in months. Since he also has a backyard pizza oven, it seemed like a fun way to hang out.
The class coming up next was for Pizza Romana, which, unlike the Neapolitan and New York styles I had made before, is baked in a rectangular pan instead of directly on a stone or steel.3 It’s crisp on the bottom but rises more—its cross-section should look more like a well-aerated focaccia than most round pizzas. Matt and I acquitted ourselves well and went home with a huge pizza and a bag of dough we’d made at the start of the class.4
I didn’t give it much thought at first, but when making pizza at home with the dough I’d made in class, I had a realization: it wasn’t stressing me out at all. Since taking the class at Cucinato, I was much more confident, but the fear of tearing was always lurking somewhere. With Pizza Romana, tearing isn’t a concern. That’s partly because the dough is thicker, but also because if it does tear, just a little sauce or cheese gets on your pan and that’s it. Everything else proceeds as normal.
This means Pizza Romana is a great option for entertaining, when the stakes are higher and you want to a) feed your guests something they will enjoy and, more importantly, b) avoid looking incompetent. But what makes Pizza Romana even better for entertaining is its efficiency. Most home ovens are 16” deep, which means the largest round pizza you can realistically make, 14”, has an area of about 154 sq. in. A half sheet pan (13” x 18”) has an area of 234 sq. in., about 50% more or almost the equivalent of a 17” round pie.5 That means you’re making fewer pies, which is more time spent with your guests instead of the dough and your oven.
This cuts both ways. If you have a bunch of people with wildly different tastes, you can make a bunch of pies on quarter (13” x 9.5”) or even eighth sheet pans (6” x 9”) and give them free reign over what goes on theirs. The other nice thing about baking in a pan is that you don’t have to worry about overloading your dough with toppings to the point that it is too heavy to be launched from your peel.
I’ve made Pizza Romana a few more times at home and I’m slowly dialling in my recipe. The recipe from Faema calls for 30% of the flour to be Crokkia flour, which is supposed to give the finished dough more flavour and crunch. Faema sells it in 12.5 kg bags, which is far too much to have on hand at home. But since the website says it is just regular “00”6 flour with rice flour and toasted wheat germ added, I have been playing around with quantities to see if I can just make it myself.
I have also made a few research trips7 to Woodbridge to try the Pizza Romana at Ciao Roma, one of the few places in the Toronto area that sells Pizza Romana al taglio, or “by the cut.” When ordering, you tell the counterperson how much you want of which pie and they cut it with scissors and charge you by its weight. Their pies give me something to which I can aspire. Very crisp but also very light and airy above the crisp. My first home pies were very airy but not very crisp. My latest were crisp but quite flat. Hopefully I can reach a happy medium soon.
From trying to fend off Amazon to a whole new lease on pizza. It wasn’t the most direct route, but I’m glad I found it.
The 2023 Gift Guide - Follow Up
Here are two late-breaking ideas for the people on your list:
Sheet pan covers ($8-25) I learned about these recently from a post on Serious Eats and knew I had to get some. I have both the half- and quarter-size and they are game changers. They make it so easy to store pizza or anything else fairly low-slung.8
Everyone I have mentioned them to wants to know where to get them. I ordered mine from here, but they are also available from Jeff Bezos (search “sheet pan cover”) or, if you only need half- or full-size ones, from Nella. My pans are made by Nordic Ware but the covers made by Winco fit them just fine.9 Note that these are for the standardized sheet pan sizes, not a cookie sheet you got at Canadian Tire. Also note that HomeSense has Nordic Ware quarter- and half-sheet pans in stock now at pretty good prices.
Capilano Felt and Craft Co.10 ($10-17) My incredibly talented cousin Julie just launched a business selling the cutest handmade felt ornaments in the shapes of food like some dumplings, onigiri, and sauce bottles. There’s still time to make your tree a little tastier!
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If you ever have a chance to shoot at Faema, take it. During our tech scout they fed us pizza after pizza. The same during the shoot. And they were happy to pull espresso the whole time. On top of that, they have enough different looks in the building that you might be able to limit your unit moves.
Recently a friend commented that having the pizza yips sounds like a segment from Portlandia.
Although putting the pan on a stone or steel is definitely the way to go to maximize heat transfer and get the bottom as crisp as possible.
Because most pizza dough needs to ferment for at least a day, the pattern for most classes is first to make dough that you will take home for future use and then make pies in class with dough that someone prepared earlier.
A two-thirds sheet pan (16” x 22”), the largest that will fit in a standard 30” oven, will give you a pie with an area of 352 sq. in.
I don’t understand why everyone glosses over this very important point: “00” only signifies the how finely milled (very) the flour is. “00” alone does not mean the flour is suitable for pizza or pasta or anything. There are “00” flours for each of them. ‘‘00” pastry flour, just like Canadian pastry flour, will make terrible pizza and vice versa. All of this is further complicated by the fact that Italian flour mills refer to their “00” flour as “soft”. In North America, flour is called “soft” or “hard” depending on how much protein they contain (more protein = harder) but in Italy, softness again just refers to the fineness of the milling.
My friend Chelito uses sheet pans to keep jigsaw puzzle pieces corralled. A full-size sheet pan and a lid would probably protect the puzzle and the pieces from being stolen by cats.