It's not fair. Most of the stuff sold as pizza isn't worthy of the name. True, great pizza is divine, a combination of ingredients, skill, equipment, artistry. Mediocre pizza may satisfy me in a pinch but I draw the line at horrible-over-yeasted, undercooked crusts, inappropriate or excessive toppings, cheap ingredients, less than blistering ovens. Even in Italy, and even in Napoli, the birthplace of pizza, it's not easy. Pizza topped with sliced hot dogs or French fries? Just say no
I, being passionate about pizza, have decided to create the Unofficial Platinum Pizza Awards for the greatest pizzerie in Italy in three different categories--traditional, innovative, by the slice. I've tasted all over the country. The winning pizzaioli are all fanatical about pizza and share an obsession with quality flour, natural yeast, and lengthy rising, which results in a more flavorful, and digestible crust. And we all know how important digestion is for Italians.
And the winners of the Unofficial Platinum Pizza Awards are...
In the traditional category, Enzo Coccia's pizzeria in Napoli, La Notizia ("The News", a reference to Enzo's favorite film, Citizen Kane). Enzo uses La Farina del Pizzaiolo from Molino Caputo, ideal for his long rising at room temperature dough. He makes a perfect crust, chewy, thick in the neapolitan style, blasted in a traditional neapolitan domed wood-burning oven--oven surface temperature 185 F., internal oven temperature 770-890 F., baked for 60-90 seconds. Toppings are classic, first-rate, like local anchovies, barely cooked tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, natal zucchini flowers (fiorilli), broccoli greens. The proportion of dough to topping is just right, balanced. Enzo's marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano) and margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) are the best I've ever tasted. There's a nice selection of sparkling wines and artisanal beer. Enzo's expanding, moving down the street to via Caravaggio 94/A in April, with a bigger wine and beer selection and a counter of artisanal cheese and salumi. His current location will be take-out only. Enzo conducts professional pizza classes with English or Japanese translation. But don't expect to learn all his secrets. I plan to attend in the future. (One dough hint I extracted from Enzo: don't weight the flour, weigh the water.)
In the innovative category, Simone Padoan's restaurant I Tigli in the village of San Bonifacio, between Padova and Verona in the Veneto region. Simone is Italy's greatest proponent of new-wave pizza, with a style all his own. The restaurant is worth a voyage for true pizza lovers. He's obsessed about every ingredient--organic Petra flour from Molino Quaglia, superior cheese, aged prosciutto, super-fresh seafood. His pizza dough, made with natural yeast which began (years ago) with yoghurt, flour and water, is subjected to lengthy risings, up to 32 hours in three different phases, flattened into rounds before the final three-hour rise. The resulting crust is unique, somewhere between Roman (thin, crispy) and Neapolitan. Pizza is baked in a wood-burning oven for 4 minutes at 500-540 F., longer, with less heat than any I've ever encountered. The menu divides pizza into tradition, classics, perfumes of the sea (with seafood), flavors of the earth (with meat), and gioco di mano, stuffed pizza to be eaten with ones hands, including Simone's pizza-riff on the cheeseburger. The wine list is amazing, inexpensive, with lots of biodynamic wines, and there's an ample selection of artisanal beers, some unfiltered and unpasteurized.
In the "by the slice" category, Gabriele Bonci's Pizzarium, not far from the Vatican museums in Rome. Rome has an important rectangular "by the slice" tradition (never a round cut into wedges) but Gabriele has taken the concept to its highest level. He uses flour from Molino Marino, experimenting constantly with different grains and blends--rye, emmer, kamut and quality wheat, all organic, stone ground. His natural yeast and rising times-up to 72 hours, vary with the flours and seasons. Gabriele bakes his rectangular metal pans of pizza in an electric oven at 575 F., but claims he can make pizza anywhere--stovetop, over coals, wood-burning or normal home oven. Outstanding choices are pizza bianca (with extra virgin), perfect for really tasting the splendid dough, rossa (with super-thick tomato sauce), or cherry tomato rounds, or sausage and potato (personal favorite), or slivered seasonal vegetables and extra virgin. They're all sliced to order from pans that exit the ovens all day long, served on a piece of butcher paper, cutting board substituting a plate. Return it when you're done. The shop is tiny, almost always packed, with an indoor counter and an outdoor bench for diners. The artisanal beer and soda selection is fantastic--Gabriele is a fan of Italian superstar brewer Teo Musso who has crafted a special beer for his friend. Note: Teo and Gabriele have recently joined forces at Open, an Italian-style beer pub with a huge artisanal beer selection and Gabriele's snacks, a Roman take on street food. Next trip.
Via delle Meloria 4, Roma
Cipro stop on Metro A subway
-January 2010 link to the article published in The Atlantic Magazine