The Incidental Artisan: A Neapolitan Pizzaiolo
New York, Tokyo, and other major cities are home to startling numbers of authentic Neapolitan pizzerias, many with ovens handmade by Neapolitan craftsmen. In those places, pizza making is definitely considered an elevated craft. Perhaps Neapolitans do not think of their cooks as artists because so much of the city’s cuisine is rooted in cucina popolare, or people’s food. What strikes me most about the food of Naples is the uniformly high standards in even the humblest restaurants. That goes for pizzas as well, which makes it impossible to single out one pizzeria. Or so I thought until I visited La Notizia, located up in the hills on the edge of the gritty working-class borough of Fuorigrotta (too far from central Naples to be reached on foot). Owner-chef Enzo Coccia is as obsessed with the details of materials and technique as any Neapolitan tailor.
From my first bite, Coccia’s pizza struck me as something categorically different and decidedly better than anything I had tasted in Naples—or anywhere else in the world. It was feather light but still chewy, the way Neapolitan pizza should be. The thin middle crust didn’t dissolve into a soupy blend of cheese and tomato. When I asked Coccia about his technique, he formed two small test rounds of dough. He flattened one by hand; the other he rolled out with a can. He threw them both into the wood-burning oven and pulled them out 30 seconds later. The hand-formed dough was light and airy. The can-leveled dough was dense. “I prepare my dough at seven in the morning,” said Coccia. “It needs 14 to 16 hours to rise. I make only 300 pizzas’ worth of dough, and when that’s done, we close. Of course it takes the best and freshest ingredients—artisan mozzarella and local extra virgin olive oil—but it’s more than that. You need a passion for the traditional way. Then pizza can be as artisanal as a suit. 39/(0) 081-714-2155. This appeared in the September, 2012 issue. Read Tom Downey's "Tailor Made in Naples."