This distinction, between red and white, is an important and ubiquitous one in Roman society. Well, at least when it comes to snacks and drinks and—if you’re talking to children—dinner. There’s, of course, red or white wine. (But these are just the most basic distinctions. In addition to the great array of differences based on geography and terroir, there’s also the difference of fizz. But fizz, we’ve found, covers the spectra of bianco through rosato to rosso, and of seca to dolce. In other words, it’s possible, and a pleasure, to find a dry fizzy pink wine and a sweet fizzy red wine.)
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I thought moving to Italy would expand my son’s diet into the far reaches of foreign flavors and textures. He already liked olives and peppers. We seemed to be on the right track. But for some reason, living in Rome has contracted his taste. His favorite choice, when it comes to dinner, is pasta bianca or pasta rossa. And usually, he’ll choose the bianca: pasta with olive oil and grated parmesan. He seems to have given up green things, which drives me nuts, because there are so many more wonderful green things here than there have been anywhere else he’s lived—except Berkeley, where he lived when he was just cutting teeth. Green leaves with cheese, green leaves with nuts, green leaves with sweet onions, green leaves with grains, gazillions of great greens! He won’t have any of it.
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The third important category of the rossa/bianca divide is pizza.
Pizza rossa is a thin, tasty crust spread with savory tomato sauce; each good forno will have its own sauce, some more salty or herbaceous than others. Pizza bianca is a bubbly pizza crust topped simply with olive oil and salt. Again, each forno’s dough has its own taste and consistency, and is topped with more or less salt. You can also order pizza bianca morbida (soft) or dura (hard-crunchy). My favorite place to buy both is Panificio Beti, in our neighborhood. The lines are always long, and the family behind the counter always bustling and full of banter.
These Roman basics serve as snacks or sides at any time of the day. Italian life is riddled with rules, but, as far as I can tell, pizza rossa and bianca exist in a looser realm. As a rule, Italians don’t eat on the run the way Americans do. Even to-go coffee is a very rare sight. But pizza rossa can be eaten with dignity while one is walking along the sidewalk. The pizzeria guy will cut a piece in half, slap the parts together sauce-side-in, and wrap the bottom half in a piece of paper—a process that takes about a second and a half—so the snack is ready to eat as soon as it passes from his hand to yours. I’ve seen people eat it for breakfast, for elevenses with beer, for a late afternoon snack, and for dinner.
Last night, still satiated from the big Saturday Academy lunch, we had salad, pizza rossa, and vino rosso, for dinner. Jack had the white ribs of the lettuce, pizza bianca, and milk. I wish he’d broaden his taste at least to complete the color combo of the Italian flag.