As a student, I was fascinated by the way in which Roman mythology was taught alongside history. Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome and offspring of Mars, the Roman god of war, was documented in the same textbooks that detailed Julius Caesar’s military triumphs.
After moving to Rome in 2003, I wasn’t surprised to find myth and history residing side by side in nearly every facet of life, especially food. Take, for example, the pinsa romana. This oblong flatbread was invented by pizza maker Corrado Di Marco in 2001, and since first being served at his pizzeria La Pratolina on a residential tree-lined street near the Vatican, it has been imbued with an origin story that dates back two millennia.
Di Marco named his creation pinsa from the Latin “to beat or press,” referring to the shaping of the dough. It’s fun to think that when you cut (Romans serve pizza unsliced) into a pinsa romana today, you’re connecting with ancient food, but really, you’re devouring a new pizza style. Google “pinsa,” and you’ll find lots of unsourced articles echoing the claim that the pinsa romana is the offspring of ancient pizza. It’s a good story, but—pardon the expression—it’s a stretch.
While thick-rimmed Neapolitan pies dominated the imaginations of Italians and travelers for the whole of the 20th century, new flatbreads have been popping up across the Italian peninsula for the past couple of decades. Many of them, pinse included, draw on proprietary flour blends and a long leavening period intended to create a deeply flavored and highly digestible final product.
Indeed, Di Marco’s creation uses a blend of wheat flour, rice flour, and soy flour, which he says impart flavor and create a light yet chewy dough. He even sells the flour mix and oversees an association that certifies pinse makers to ensure that the quality of pinse romane remains consistent across the globe.
Now, home cooks can get into the action. The recipes here, which were developed by former Roman chef and professor John Regefalk,
are inspired by the pinse Di Marco serves at La Pratolina. The dough has been adapted for cooking over an outdoor grill, a technique that harkens back to the way ancient Romans baked flatbreads over hot stones or coals. It rises overnight in the refrigerator, producing a soft, elastic crumb and thin, crunchy crust. The cold, slow rise allows a partial breakdown of the protein and starch in the dough, promoting both a light texture and deep flavor.
Measure the dough ingredients with a scale; weights (especially precise metric measurements) are much more reliable for baking recipes than volume measurements. Use a grill with a lid. It’s easier to maintain the ideal temperature, and closing the lid also helps to give the pinsa a better rise, volume, and lightness. Be sure to have toppings prepped and ready to go before you start grilling, as they’re added to the dough right after the it comes off the grill. I also offer tips (see Variation in the Pinse Dough recipe) for baking pinse in the oven so you can enjoy this delicious pizza year-round. These may not be the flatbreads that ancient Romans enjoyed, but I’m certain they’d approve—maybe even the Roman gods, too.