Pizza sotto il fuoco is the traditional Umbrian flatbread.
The roots of Pizza ‘under the fire’, referred to as “pizza sotto ‘l foco” or even “pizza sotto lu focu”, a typically Umbrian dish which, like many specialities that distinguish the regional cuisine, date back to quite a remote past.
It was invented by our forefathers – or more likely our foremothers – as an alternative to bread: in fact this Umbrian flatbread was prepared quickly and on the fire which, especially in the winter, was always on, and was ideal for feeding large groups of people who would meet for their work routine in the fields.
It is common and very popular across Umbria, but known by different names and is prepared with slight variations depending on the zone and also on personal preference.
The “original” pizza ‘under the fire‘ is especially typical of the area of Terni whereas Perugia is the home of torta, Gubbio features crescia and in the Tiber valley it is known as ciaccia.
It is generally also known by the name torta al testo.
The recipe for the Umbrian flatbread -Pizza “Under the fire”
Preparing pizza ‘under the fire’ is quick and easy and even the ingredients are particularly simple and affordable.
In fact the basic components are flour (500 grams), water (250 ml approx.) and salt to taste. To make it rise a bit you can add a pinch of baking soda or yeast.
To make it softer and fragrant you can also add a drop of oil. Pizza ‘under the fire’ is usually prepared on a wood pastry board. You begin by making a mound with the flour, then you add salt, baking soda or yeast if they are required, and water added a bit at a time. Some people prefer using hot or warm water. The dough must me kneaded by hand until it is smooth and consistent: it mustn’t be too sticky and it must unstick easily from surfaces, but must also remain soft. The dough needs to be rolled out with a rolling pin or by hand: it must be round and about one centimetre thick.
It can now be baked, and this step is what mostly distinguishes it from traditional pizza ‘under the fire’: this type is baked right under the fire, or rather, right under the ashes.
Before you start making the dough, it is necessary to take a good amount of red hot coals and spread them on the bottom of the fireplace, right on the bricks. When the dough is ready the coals need to be cleared from the floor of the fireplace, now well-heated, and the pizza is placed right there for baking, and then covered with some ash and coals. Wait five minutes and then check to see if it is cooked, removing ash and coals. The pizza now needs to be flipped over and covered again on the other side, just like on the first side. It is necessary to check if it is baked through often: when the surface is crisp and black in some spots, the pizza is ready. You then need to get to the table quickly, as it should be eaten while still piping hot.
Baking ‘torta al testo’ umbrian flatbread is different as it requires a cast iron testo pan which needs to be pre-heated: the result is nevertheless good, but certainly different from the traditional method.
How to stuff your Pizza “Under the fire”
Since it is usually served hot, umbrian flatbread is even good plain, but it is usually stuffed with cold cuts, cheese, cooked greens or meat.
It is particularly delicious stuffed with ham – preferably Umbrian ham which is especially savoury – or with salami, or ham and cheese or salami and cheese. Pizza ‘under the fire’ is also commonly served stuffed with cooked greens and roasted sausages. It is ideal for wiping up gravy and therefore goes magnificently with meat stews, especially wild boar, but also chicken or rabbit.
Anyone with a sweet tooth can try it as a dessert: strictly hot, just slice it and spread a layer of Nutella in it for a truly mouthwatering result.