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Pinsa in Phoenix: We Try Two Places Serving Pizza's Old Roman Cousin

Pinsa in Phoenix: We Try Two Places Serving Pizza's Old Roman CousinEXPAND
Chris Malloy

The Phoenix pizza scene has taken a fresh new path. This turn tracks a development in Italy. Over in the cradle of plum tomatoes and mozzarella, an ancient flatbread called pinsa has started to carve into pizza’s sacred real estate. More Italians are eating pinsa. The bread has even spread to metro Phoenix.

At Pizzicata, which opened in Carefree in late 2017, Federico Venturini specializes in pinsa. Venturini grew up in Umbria, Italy, where he ate pinsa in his youth.

“It’s popular in all parts of Italy now,” he says. “The last two years, a lot of new pinserie.”

Stefano Fabbri, a local pizza fixture for his Neapolitan-style pies at Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana, started to serve pinsa last year. A native of Rimini, Italy, he traveled to his home country to learn how to make the flatbread. You can find his pinsa at Meat the Ball, the north Scottsdale eatery he opened last year. “Pinsa is an old recipe from the old Romans,” Fabbri says. “But now, it’s a new way to eat pizza in Italy.”

Pinsa isn’t pizza. Yes, it's also a yeasted flatbread cooked at high heat, often with sauce and cheese. It even looks like pizza, though it has less of a puffy-crusted rim.

Authorities on this kind of thing, though, are quick to draw a sharp line between the two. There are vital differences. The biggest: dough composition.

Pizza dough is made from wheat flour. This wheat flour has a lot going on, including the binding, chewy protein known as gluten. Pinsa dough is made from wheat and other flours (commonly soy and rice flour), a vestige of the old days, when people scrapped together whatever ingredients they had. This means, among other things, that pinsa's gluten content is lower.

That makes for a crust with a less audacious architecture, and a bite with less swagger — especially relative to the metro Phoenix pizzerias that use high-protein American flour blends. (Note: We have you covered if you want a deeper dive into flour, technique, and the local pizza scene.)

Everything about pinsa seems to cultivate lightness. There's its high hydration, which requires makers to finesse dough that is unbelievably wet, in some cases 85 percent water. (Fabbri goes 80 percent; Federico goes 85 percent.) Fermentations last for days, kindling nuance and subtlety. (Fabbri ferments dough for 48 to 72 hours; Federico sticks to 72.) The result is an oval-shaped flatbread — one that, if you eat just a piece or two, sits in your stomach no more heavily than a cup of tea.

Venturini owned a restaurant in Umbria before moving to the U.S. and opening Pizzicata. He says Pizzicata has multiple other branches: two in Umbria, two in Ancona (Italy), one in Nice (France), and one in Barcelona. Because pinsa dough is so wet and finicky, Venturini skips the common wood oven and the heat vacillations they bring. In Carefree, he bakes pinsa with a gas oven and on seven stones.

His menu is dominated by different pinse. You can order them personal size (round) or long (oval). They come out to the north end of the dining room on boards, where people sipping spritzes lift them under a black-and-white mural-size photo of the Trevi Fountain.

Pizzicata's pinsa lavished with burrata, mortadella, and crushed pistachios.EXPAND
Pizzicata's pinsa lavished with burrata, mortadella, and crushed pistachios.
Chris Malloy

If you’re looking to gauge the crust, I’d skip the margherita. The Pizzicata version is coated in a thick blanket of cheese. Instead, check out the pinsa with burrata, mortadella, and pistachios. You cut the burrata, it oozes, and you spread it over the cooked dough like whipped butter. That dough is light but crisp, almost a shade crackery on the perimeter, especially where crimped. It's lighter than wheat and doesn’t have the windblown, grainfield fullness of a great wheat crust.

You trade that fullness for airiness, for a milder chew.

Similarly, Meat The Ball makes pinsa in many versions. The crust has a micro-thin veneer of snap. It's light, but retains a strong, elastic chew. Seen from above, the dough is a rolling landscape of crags and hills. Again, it doesn’t have that fresh-bread intensity. Here, too, I'd skip the pinsa topped with what might obscure the crust. Keep it simple, and knock down a pinsa like the one with potato and rosemary.

So yes, seek pinsa. But keep the doors to your mind open, knowing that what you're about to eat ain't pizza.

Pizzicata
7212 East Ho Road, #4, Carefree; 480-488-2848
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Meat The Ball
16211 North Scottsdale Road, Suite A5, Scottsdale; 480-68709117
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

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