18.12.2017. Naples & around
Yes, we know that’s a bold statement to make. But Naples is the heartland of pizza, and Enzo Coccia is at the forefront of la nuova pizza napoletana.
You will hear other names bandied about. Da Michele. Gino Sorbillo. Ciro Oliva at Concettina ai Tre Santi. Franco Pepe from Pepe in Grani in the Neapolitan hinterland. Believe us, we’ve tasted them all, and they are very, very good. But none quite reach the heights of perfection achieved by Coccia, a quiet, bespectacled 55-year-old pizzaiolo who launched the ‘new pizza’ movement when he opened La Notizia in a western suburb of Naples in 1994.
That’s probably because no-one else combines Coccia’s depth of experience (he was already making and serving pizzas in his early teens, at his parents’ pizzeria near Napoli Centrale train station) with his level of scientific rigour.
Coccia has been studying pizza making in all its aspects for more than three decades. A voracious and wide-ranging scholar, he has delved into anthropology, sociology, nutrition and many other disciplines in order to better understand the core subject that is his life’s work. Other pizzaioli perfect their dough by trial and error; Coccia combines practice and science. In 2015, with chemical engineer Paolo Masi and food technologist Annalisa Romano, he published a book called La Pizza Napoletana that is liberally laced with passages like:
The quantity of heat transferred from the floor of the oven to the pizza is given in the equation:
Qcond = k A (Tb – Timp)
But this is chemistry in the service of a good, honest, natural product. Coccia uses organic flours, though the exact blend is a closely-guarded secret. He also adds very little yeast: air bubbles incorporated into the dough during the kneading process have the same effect, he has discovered, and make for a more digestible pizza. This is also ensured by long rising times: Coccia leaves the kneaded dough balls for 16 hours at low temperatures before use. Equal care is lavished on the choice and preparation of the ingredients that go into the toppings: at La Notizia, around 8 kilos of fresh tomatoes are cut up each day by hand, and never see the inside of a tomato press - they’re simply crushed lightly with a fork, a technique known as lo scamazzo in Neapolitan dialect.
Recently, Coccia invited his friend Gennaro Russo, executive chef of Le Sirenuse’s La Sponda restaurant for a pizza-making session in his original ‘Pizzaria La Notizia 53’ restaurant (this is what great chefs do in their spare time: they cook). Sirenuse Journal photographer Roberto Salomone - himself a serious connoisseur of la pizza napoletana – was on hand to capture the meeting of minds and hands. Afterwards, the Journal sat down with Coccia for a chat – and, of course, a small degustazione (we weren’t about to let all that pizza go to waste). Underneath a Citizen Kane poster (Coccia is a film buff, and the name La Notizia, ‘The News’, is an homage to Orson Welles’ masterpiece) il maestro mused on his career so far, drawing the connection between the family pizzeria he emerged from and his current ‘cutting edge’ pizza emporium in one simple remark: “If you don’t know the tradition, you can’t innovate”.
Those who want to taste the perfect pizza for themselves now have three options, all within close walking distance of each other on the western edge of the Vomero suburb of Naples. Pizzaria La Notizia 53 is the mothership, where Coccia serves up evergreen classics like Margherita D.O.P. (with San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil and grated pecorino cheese) or San Gennaro (with yellow piennolo tomatoes, black olives, anchovies, oregano, parsley and basil). Down the road is the more contemporary Pizzaria La Notizia 94, where ingredients like lemon, liquorice and zucchini pesto make for a more avant-garde, creative pizza experience. Finally, next door to La Notizia 53, new entry ‘O Sfizio d’a Notizia pays tribute to two great Neapolitan street food traditions - fried pizza (believe us, it’s exquisite) and ‘mpustarella, a chunky workers’ panino. Both are elevated to gourmet heights - without sacrificing their street credibility – and served with - wait for it - the best Italian sparkling wines and French champagnes. Noblesse oblige.
Pizzaria La Notizia 53, Via Caravaggio 53, 80126 Napoli, tel +39 081 714 2155
Pizzaria La Notizia 94, Via Caravaggio 94, 80126 Napoli, tel +39 081 1953 1937
‘O Sfizio d’a Notizia, Via Caravaggio 49/51, 80126 Napoli, tel +39 081 714 8325
photos © Roberto Salomone