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21st Nov 2019

You’ve had enough Pizza Napolitana, it’s time to appreciate Pizza Romana

Shane Molony

Unless you have been living under a rock of late, you must be aware that a Neapolitan pizza renaissance has arrived in Dublin.

Naples is rightly acknowledged as the birthplace of pizza and Dublin’s trendy Neapolitan pizza havens have justifiably attracted the attention of food critics and pizza enthusiasts. In all the noise, however, it is easy to forget that there is more to pizza than the Neapolitan pie.

In Italy, the pizza universe is wide and varied, from thin cheese focaccia in Liguria to the thicker bases served with tomatoes and olives in Puglia. It is safe to say no one style is the ‘correct pizza’. That said, in Ireland, two styles are ruling the roost – the Neapolitan of course – and our old friend, the trusted and reliable Romana. Given the importance pizza plays in all our lives, I reckon we need to be able to tell the difference.

Neapolitan pizza, typical of the Campania region of Italy, is characterised by a gooey soft centre which is boarded by a tall, fluffy, charred crust or ‘cornicione’. Neapolitans are scrupulous about the process – there is even a registered disciplinary authority in the Associazione Verace Pizza Napolitana.

Pizzas cooking in wood-fired oven in Quattro

They use no fat in the dough and add lots of water to make it wet and sticky. Typically, the dough is left to rise at room temperature for 8-24 hours, before it is rolled and cooked in a wood-fired oven. Neapolitan pizza cooks at soaring temperatures (above 450 degrees) and for a short amount of time (max 90 seconds). This fast-cooking time and moisture results in spots that rise and char – a kind of ‘leopard spots’ affect.

One other thing to note – Neapolitan pizzas typically have fewer toppings. The most traditional pizzas in Naples are a Marinara (tomatoes, garlic, oregano and olive oil) or Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil and olive oil).

Romana pizza, typical of the Lazio region, is thin with a crunch and is lighter. Its edge is low, and it maintains a perfect hold without flopping so it is very easy to distinguish it from the Neapolitan pizza. Olive oil is added to the dough and there is much less water than the Naples version.

The dough proofs for longer – 48 to 72 hours. The pizza is cooked for up to three minutes at around 350 degrees. Gas and electric ovens are perfectly acceptable for cooking Romanas, but they do benefit from wood-fired flavours. The lower temperature and longer cooking time gives this style its even colour and unmistakable crunch. And finally, the Romana enthusiasts are not afraid of toppings (but don’t utter the words ‘pineapple’ or ‘chicken’)!

Pizza at Fellini's

From reading this, you have probably picked your favourite style already. But, in practice, every pizza is ‘a pizza of circumstance’. The question we must ask is what’s your given circumstance and what pizza is most enjoyable in these circumstances?

Neapolitan pizza is heartier (you can’t not be satisfied). And it’s faster. If you are ‘marvin’ and want to pop in for a quick bite then this is the pizza for you.

Romana pizza is lighter, easier to digest, and works better as part of a full restaurant experience – with starters, desserts, a bottle of wine and a lengthy natter.

In my view, a pizza’s ability to travel is important – think of how many pizzas you get delivered. The crisp sturdier base of a Romana travels better and holds toppings better in a pizza box. And I do like my toppings!

My personal favourite pizza is a classic on all menus in Rome – the Capricciosa – topped with ham, mushrooms, olives, artichokes, tomato and an optional egg. So, in terms of versatility and ‘travelability’, and my love of toppings, Romana wins the day for me!

So where in Dublin do we find the best of Romana? It is always said if you want to eat authentic Italian fare, you need to find places run by Italians and serving Italians. The following are three long-standing temples of Romana in a city becoming increasingly Neapolitan – all family run by Lazio natives and serving pizza with a crunch.

First, there is Quattro Wood Fired Pizza in Stepaside Village by Paolo Borza. The wood burning oven at Quattro is the heart of the Stepaside community, and this stylish and comfortable restaurant is always busy, serving pizzas as good as anything you’ll find in Rome, to families, romantic couples and anybody really, in any circumstance.

Fellini’s in Deansgrange has got the crunch as well – Paolo Di Adamo and Emilia Macari giving 100 per cent to perfecting the electric oven baked Romana pizzas they serve.

Another Italian serving authentic Romana pizza from a wood-fired oven is Tino Fuscardi in Da Mimmo, North Strand – again a bustling neighbourhood spot dishing out top quality pizza with a perfect hold.

I am sure of my favourite style, but the pizza debate will inevitably roll on. Whatever your favourite is, consider your circumstances!

Shane Molony is the General Manager of the @RibaStillorgan restaurant in Stillorgan. Shane loves all things Italian food and wine and every summer he spends time in the Lazio region of Italy eating pizza. Quattro Wood Fired Pizza in Stepaside is RIBA’s Sister Restaurant.