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By the Book: Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzas

July 5th 12:07pm, 2014



I first learned of chef Gabriele Bonci on an episode of Travel Channel’s “The Layover,” when host Anthony Bourdain traveled to Rome and went to a tiny restaurant near Vatican City called Pizzarium. There were no seats, just a counter, and under a sheet of glass, Roman-style pizzas were on display. These long, thick rectangles are definitely not the traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas commonly associated with Italy.

Bonci used scissors to cut up dozens of pies for Bourdain, from a more traditional Margherita and a potato pizza to the show-stopping foie gras with berries and a Hawaiian pizza. His toppings were inventive, but Bonci is best known for his dough, and that’s what spurred me to try Pizzarium last month during a trip to Italy – and to try my hand at his new cookbook, Pizza: Seasonal Recipes from Rome’s Legendary Pizzarium.



{Our selfie with Bonci at Pizzarium}


He’s been called “The Michelangelo of dough,” and while it’s a pretty lofty title, I can’t really argue after trying his pizzas. The crust isn’t pillowy and airy like Neapolitan-style pizza; instead it has a more artisan bread feel. It’s denser with more chew. It’s also complicated; he spends nearly 14 pages of the book detailing exactly how to make it.

Cooks more ambitious than I will attempt to make the dough, but for my impromptu pizza party, I used my go-to pizza dough and experimented with his fun topping combinations instead. Several recipes require baking pizzas with only some toppings, then finishing them with fresh or raw ingredients after they are removed from the oven – a revelation!




I started with Bonci’s Margherita, which requires that you only bake the dough with the sauce, the remove it from the oven at top it with mozzarella and basil. This worked well; it kept the crust crisp, the herbs had more flavor and the cheese started to melt when it was served but wasn’t a watery mess.




Next, I tried his zucchini pizza (Uncle Pietro’s Uncle Pizza), which saw the sliced summer squash baked onto the crust, then removed from the oven and finished with ricotta, raw zucchini and olive oil. The flavor was bright, redolent of springtime, and instantly took me back to my visit at Pizzarium, where I had this exact pie. Finally, I made the shrimp pizza. Like the Margherita, only the sauce was baked onto the dough, and was then topped with sauteed shrimp and a nice remoulade-type sauce – think shrimp cocktail via Italy.

I loved cooking out of this book for its inventive toppings, but most of all, I loved reliving my Roman holiday through my kitchen and sharing it with family and friends.

Classic Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, and Basil
3 to 4 servings

1 12-oz. ball pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
2 cups canned peeled tomatoes
Fine sea salt to taste
1 lb. buffalo mozzarella
3 cups loosely packed basil leaves

• Preheat the oven to 450 to 475 degrees.
• Stretch the dough and place it in a well-oiled pan. Place the tomatoes in a small bowl. Drizzle the tomatoes with a little oil, season with salt and toss to combine. Squeeze the tomatoes through your fingers to break them up and drop them onto the dough.
• Bake the pizza until golden brown and well-risen, about 25 minutes.
• Remove the pizza from the oven. Immediately tear the cheese into pieces by hand and scatter it over the pizza. Scatter on the basil leaves, then drizzle with some oil and season with salt.

Uncle Pietro Uncle’s Pizza
3 to 4 servings

1 12-oz. ball pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
1 lb. zucchini
10 oz. sheep’s milk ricotta
Fine sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg to taste

• Preheat the oven to 450 to 475 degrees.
• Stretch out the dough and place it in a well-oiled pan. Slice the zucchini very thinly (a mandoline works well) and arrange about two-thirds of the zucchini slices in a single layer on the dough, reserving the rest.
• Bake the pizza until golden brown and well-risen, about 25 minutes.
• Remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for at least 5 minutes. Distribute the ricotta on top of the cooked zucchini, then place the raw zucchini slices on top of the cheese. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Shrimp Cocktail Pizza
3 to 4 servings

1 yellow onion, minced
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
1 apple, peeled, cored and minced
2 cups tomato puree
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 whole cloves
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 12-oz. ball pizza dough
2 cups canned peeled tomatoes
10 large shrimp
1 head frisee (I used arugula.)

• Make the ketchup: In a medium saucepan, saute the onion in a small amount of oil over medium eat until softened. Add the apple, tomato puree, bell pepper, sugar, vinegar and cloves. Bring to a simmer and simmer until thickened, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the cloves, then puree the entire mixture in a blender and set aside to cool. (This is more ketchup than you will need for this recipe, but if you place the remaining ketchup in a clean jar and refrigerate it, it will last for up to 1 week.)
• Make the mayonnaise: Emulsify the eggs with the ¾ cup oil. An immersion blender is the best tool for the job.
• Make the cocktail sauce: Combine about 1 ½ cups of the mayonnaise with 3 tablespoons of the ketchup.
• When you are ready to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 450 to 475 degrees.
• Stretch the dough and place it in a well-oiled pan. Crush the canned peeled tomatoes and scatter them onto the dough.
• Bake the pizza until golden brown and well-risen, about 25 minutes.
• While the pizza is baking, in a saute pan over medium heat, cook the shrimp in a small amount of oil until just pink, about 5 minutes. Shell and devein the cooked shrimp, but leave them whole.
• Remove the pizza from the oven and tear the frisee leaves over it, letting them fall on top of the tomatoes. Top with the cocktail sauce and the warm shrimp.

Reprinted with permission from Rizzoli International Publications

What recipe takes you back to a favorite vacation? Tell us about it in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Pizza.

By Meera Nagarajan

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6 Responses to “By the Book: Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzas”

  1. ZoZo Pizza Says:
    July 10th, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    I absolutely love chef Bonci! I have seen him on the Travel Channel several times and I always record it to show it to my friends. I work at a Mission Beach pizza shop and I wish our pizza could look like this. It is harder when you are making mass pizzas instead of just one or two to eat for dinner or lunch. Great article, keep up the good work!

  2. Hao Says:
    July 10th, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    so my parents adn i went to china a couple years ago and by aruond 11 am i was starving. we were about to go up some historical tower thing to see the old city around us from above but i just HAD to stop by a random stand and get a meat pancake thing. i expected to eat it and never think about it again but it was one of the most amazing things i’ve ever had! the dough was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. there were layers! and between the layers, there was delicious szechuan peppercorn seasoned beef. i think there was also some ginger and cumin flavors as well… mmmm…

    after i got home, i tried to make my own version using a 5 minute pizza dough recipe and substituting olive oil with sesame oil. as the dough was rising, i cooked some ground beef with cumin, ground szechuan peppercorn, salt, ground black pepper, and paprika. then i tried to cook the beef with the dough… it turned out ok flavor-wise but not right at all texture-wise. it was still good enough that the aroma brings me back to that pastry i fell in love with.

  3. Stephanie Says:
    July 11th, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    We were on vacation in Spain and knew that the one meal we had to have was paella. We found a great little spot in Barcelona near the beach and devoured a whole pan of it. While we can’t quite reproduce the flavors at home, whenever we make paella it takes me back to a warm summer evening looking over the Mediterranean Sea.

  4. Dan Blevins Says:
    July 11th, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    On our trip to Barcelona, it has to be the paella.

  5. Jessie Says:
    July 12th, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Crawfish boil or crawfish anything makes me think of NOLA. Love vacationing there!

  6. erin earley Says:
    July 12th, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Many years ago I went to New Orleans with a friend. If ever you need your taste buds awakened that is the place to go. I sampled many dishes and we went to a crawfish boil at an outdoor garden cafe. I was in heaven!!!

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