Say Ciao to Pinsa
This iteration of pizza Romana is light, crisp — and goes with pretty much any topping you can think of.
Institute of Culinary Education instructors and alumni are playing around with this lesser-known style of pizza, which is made with some alternative flours that give it a unique texture.
As Roman-style pies continue to dominate the pizza landscape (and what a landscape it is), chefs are finding subsets to explore that go far beyond the familiar. The two most popular Roman styles are pizza al taglio (baked in pans and sold by the slice) and pizza in pala (soft and rectangular, sized according to the number of people sharing it). There’s a lesser-known style, though, that has started gaining ground among aficionados.
Pinsa, as it’s called, is typically oval-shaped and lighter and crisper than typical pizza because it’s made with a high-hydration dough. The word “pinsa” comes from the Latin pinsere, which in Italian means “stretch” or “spread out” — and this word makes sense for a few reasons. First, pinsa is the ultimate “stretch” dinner, in that it’s made with simple ingredients — wheat, soy or rice flour, water and salt. Sim Cass, dean of Artisan Bread Baking at ICE, calls pinsa “old-world pizza,” and ICE alum Matt Hyland, executive chef and co-owner of the much-loved Pizza Loves Emily restaurants Emily, Emmy Squared and Violet, agrees that pinsa is definitely a peasant dish. “It fills you up when you have to stretch out a small amount of ingredients,” Hyland explains. And while this explanation could easily apply to any pizza, the second reason “stretch” make sense as a label for pinsa is that the dough is so wet that trying to form it into a perfect circle is a challenge, even for a pro like Hyland. “You have to kind of go with whatever shape it wants to go,” he says, stretching it into whatever misshapen form you can.
So, pinsa is simple and weird-looking — but there’s much more to love about it. Pinsa dough is often made with rice and soy flour, which means it has less gluten than traditional pizza dough. It also consists of 80 percent water, whereas traditional pizza dough is 50-60 percent water. The result is a light and crisp texture, a sort of cross between pizza and flatbread. In fact, Cass hesitates to call it pizza, suggesting pinsa is almost something different entirely. “It’s a bit lighter, a bit airier, a bit crunchier,” he says.
To cook pinsa, Hyland uses the same wood-fired oven he employs for his regular pizza — but lowers the temperature to between 600 and 650 degrees. That’s because pinsa dough has more hydration, he says, so it needs to cook a little longer than traditional pizza would to crisp up and dry out. At the usual pizza-cooking temp of 900 degrees, pinsa dough would be burned on the outside and raw in the middle.
As for what to put on top? “Anything goes,” says Hyland. Orwasher’s, the 103-year-old bakery with three New York City outposts, offers pinsa in a few varieties: pesto, Kalamata olives and Parmesan; fig and goat cheese; ham and cheese; and Caprese (mozzarella, tomatoes and basil). At the Roman restaurant Camillo in Brooklyn, even more options abound: Margherita; pork sausage, broccoli rabe, tomatoes and mozzarella; artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto cotto, olives, tomatoes and mozzarella; zucchini, roasted red peppers, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella); and even a half Amatriciana (tomatoes, guanciale, pecorino romano and chili pepper), half cacio e pepe (mozzarella, pecorino romano, black pepper and sage).
As Hyland points out, “I think all pizza is a vehicle to have fun.” And in that category, pinsa definitely fits the bill.