La Renella Bakery and Pizzeria in Trastevere
The windows of La Renella display the bakery’s sweets: ciambelle and assorted biscotti. But the second thing that demands attention and draws you farther in is the array of pizzas topped in a rainbow of fresh vegetables and some meats. The pizzas are spread out on the wooden counter, fresh out of the ovens and are served al taglio (or by the slice). They are covered in fiori di zucca (or zucchini flowers), in mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and rughetta, in slices of prosciutto and mozzarella. If it’s lunch time, dinner time, snack time, or after-the-bar time the counters are also crammed with people getting their favorite slice.
Going even farther inside you’ll notice the window behind which someone tops a pizza. Usually it’s Giovanni, a big bearded man whose personality is the opposite of what his presence implies. Giovanni has been working at La Renella since he was 20—that was 13 years ago. The bakery itself in its current reincarnation is only five years older. But though La Renella is a young establishment by Trastevere standards (where the oldest is over 100), the space has always produced bread and all the other delicacies that come out of an oven. In Trastevere, Rome, and maybe even the world, there are few ovens older and more special than the one backstage at La Renella.
The oven first started baking bread way back in 1870. And it sure looks old, with its strong metal front and tiled interior that evenly disperses the heat. But the oven’s extreme age isn’t the only thing that makes this one an original by modern standards. Instead of running on wood or gas, this oven’s flames are fed by hazelnut shells. That’s right, hazelnut shells, the nut that’s in Nutella and many other delicious sweets throughout Italy (weirdly, the nut is also used in makeup). The shells are brought to Rome from a farm in Viterbo then dropped into the oven over the course of the day and night to maintain a steady fire. With pride, Giovanni says that the shells are both sustainable and longer burning than wood.
Most of the bread that La Renella bakes passes through this oven. And La Renella bakes a lot of bread. It supplies loafs to restaurants and supermarkets throughout the whole city as well as many places in Trastevere. The bread that comes out of the oven smells like hazelnuts, is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. This type of bread is called casareccia (or homemade) and is the loaf served on most tables. In addition to the ancient oven, La Renella uses an 80-year-old steam one, which bakes other softer types of bread, such as the hard-to-find wheat.
Also behind the scenes, to to the side of the oven, is a room that is almost as busy as Via del Moro on a Friday night. It’s one of the most important rooms of the bakery: the one where the dough is made. It’s a small room turned white from so much flying flour. The enormous mixing bowls are not as impressive as the arms of the men that quickly throw the dough into shape then toss it into the stacked wooden pallets where it rises. Their motion is fast, fluid, endless. At La Renella, baking and dough making don’t only happen in the early morning, Giovanni says these continue ceaselessly.
La Renella is more than just Trastevere’s neighbourhood bakery. In a way it is also Rome’s neighbourhood bakery as its hazelnut-scented loaves are set in the center of so many tables throughout the city. So when on Via del Moro stop by to see Giovanni, try a loaf or a slice of pizza.
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