Pizza di Formaggio

April 20th, 2011
Pizza di Formaggio

Easter is, naturally, a big holiday in Italy and one of the traditional foods served in Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany during the season is Pizza di Formaggio or Crescia al Formaggio. Despite the image this name evokes in America, this pizza is actually a yeast-leavened bread, heavily flavored with grated Parmigiano and Pecorino cheeses and makes a great meal paired with some good salami or ham and a glass of white wine!

Pizza di Formaggio

If budget or availability prevent you from using imported Parmigiano and Pecorino, their domestic versions are a fine substitution. Just make sure you grate it yourself or ask your deli-person to grate it for you!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c Water
  • 1 packet of yeast (2.25 tsp)
  • 1 c Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, grated
  • 1 c Pecorino Romano, grated
  • 4 oz Pecorino, cubed
  • 1/4 c olive oil 5 eggs
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 1 1/2 tsp table salt or 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 3 1/2 c Flour

Directions

Combine water and yeast in a small bowl and set aside to bloom. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add grated cheeses, olive oil, and wine, salt, pepper, and cubed cheese. Add water/yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add flour, 1 cup at a time until combined into a lightly sticky dough. Lightly wetting your hands will help you to handle the dough without getting covered in it. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled, 1-2 hours depending on temperatures.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and generously grease a high-sided pan, such as a dutch oven. Gently fold the dough over itself a couple of times before transferring to the pan, and allow to proof (rise) for 45 minutes.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the outside is deep golden brown and a long toothpick or skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool briefly, and turn out to cool on a trivet or wire rack. You may need to use a knife to loosen the edges. Allow to cool completely before serving.

A word on cheeses:

Pizza di Formaggio can have a mild or strong flavor depending on the proportion and type of cheeses used. The amounts and ratios are a matter of preference, and vary from one prized family recipe to the next.

Just as champagne refers to a wine grown in a very specific region of France, Parmigiano refers to a very specific cheese produced in specific region of Italy. This cheese is the only one allowed to use the name “Parmigiano Reggiano”, so if you find it by this name in your local grocers it will by definition be imported. Reggiano has a very strong, nutty flavor with a definite sweetness and a grainy texture.

Another import, Grana Padano,  has a similar profile to Parmigiano yet produced in different regions, mostly Lombardy. It has a smoother texture, and its flavor is not quite as strong as Reggiano. It’s also cheaper, both in Italy and exported and is a frequent stand-in for it’s bolder cousin.

Other “parmigianos”, domestic and foreign produced, are generally less complex in all senses of the word.

Pecorino is a sheeps-milk cheese and there are distinct varieties in different parts of italy. In the US, we generally associate Pecorino with the specific aged variant known as Pecorino Romano, or just “Romano”. Pecorino Romano also has a strong flavor, though less nutty and brighter than Parmigiano.

Traditional Pizza di Formaggio uses these cheeses in various proportions, but given price and local availability, it may be hard to get your hands on either of them. You can experiment with other cheeses such as Manchego Viejo (a spanish cheese similar to Pecorino), Asiago (fairly common in the US, much sweeter than Parmegiano but with some of the same nutty elements)

The most critical rule is that you avoid the green-can offerings and anything pre-grated. Pre-grated cheese will almost always include cornstarch as an anti-clumping agent, and you can clearly taste it in the final product as a “flour-y” or “babypowder” overtone. As for Kraft shelf-stable “parmesan” cheese, the less said the better.

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