Everyone has their favourite “splurge” food. For me, pushing my sweet tooth aside, it’s pizza; specifically, a thin crust, wood-fired oven one. I knew I’d be eating a few slices in Italy, but I hadn’t actually set out to eat it every day, never mind FIVE in one day.
To be fair, pizza served in bakeries is sold by the slice, where you choose how small or large the portion, so this isn’t quite as gluttonous as it sounds. They’re made by the meter, and once the long rectangles come out of the oven, pizzas are sliced to order, and folded over like a sandwich easily shared by two people. It’s also cheap – a slice never costs more than about 2 Euros, so it’s easy to sample a few flavours. And, when in Rome ... actually, this pizza journey goes from south to north. Turns out, all over Italy pizza and gelato are the only foods considered acceptable to eat standing outside, as opposed to sitting at a table. So let the pizza tour commence.
It begins with breakfast. We get a late start, and head to the nearest bakery, Forno ai Serpenti in the Monti neighbourhood of Rome. It’s mid-morning and the pizza ovens have already put in a full day’s work. Unless you’re hankering for a particular kind, it seems fairly obvious to choose what’s fresh. So we do. This morning it’s the white verdure, topped with cheese, no sauce, broccoli and spinach. A generous dosing of olive oil creates a buttery, more-ish taste.
Amazing Margherita on Campo de’Fiori
A few hours of wandering and shopping finds us at Campo de’ Fiori where, just the day before, I’d tasted the amazing Margherita pizza. There’s often a queue the length of the bakery at Forno Campo de’ Fiori, and today is no different, except we’re starving and can’t bear to wait for the fresh Margherita, especially since five people are in front of us. We settle for the pizza al funghi, with mushrooms sliced paper-thin; it’s delicious. While we’re contemplating a second slice, the owner recognises me from our interview the day before. Connections are EVERYTHING in Italy. Two minutes later, we’re brought slices of Margherita so hot the cheese hasn’t had a chance to stick yet.
Three pizzas down, and it’s time to catch a train north to Florence. We avoid pizza at the station, anticipating our final doughy meal once we arrive. Happily seated in First Class, we arrive in Florence in less than 90 minutes. Mussolini really did get the trains running on time.
We arrive at a former palazzo on Piazza Carmine where we’re staying with our hostess, Penny Howard, who coordinates art, food and wine tours of Florence (see separate story).
It’s just a ten-minute walk to San Spirito Square, where there’s a small, artisan food market every Saturday and Borgo Antica, a restaurant with a heated patio and a lively, local vibe. It’s Hungarian owner is warm and friendly, greeting us with glasses of prosecco.
We’re tempted to stay true to our favoured Margherita, but Penny points us toward the Pizza al Borgo, with a base of passata, topped with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella buffalo. The tangy, salty passata match the mild buffalo perfectly and we’re instant converts. One pizza hardly seems enough for three people, so we also order the Pizza al zucchini e pecorino. Tomato is absent, and shredded zucchini is topped with melted pecorino, and there seem to be hidden bits of gorgonzola. This is a combination to try at home – either in a pizza or frittata. The flavours will haunt me the rest of the trip. And we’ve come full circle, with veggies on our first, and last pizzas. In fact, I think between the tomato sauce and the toppings, I’ve managed my five-a-day.
Travel to Florence sponsored by Trenitalia.
Breakfast: Pizza al verdure
Forno ai Serpenti - Rome
Lunch: Pizza al funghi and Pizza Margherita
Forno Campo de’ Fiori - Rome
Dinner: Pizza al Borgo and Pizza Zucchini e Pecorino - Florence