`In Naples, Pairing Pizza with Local EVOOs - Olive Oil Times

In Naples, Pairing Pizza with Local EVOOs

Mar. 10, 2015
Luciana Squadrilli

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For many piz­zaio­los the ques­tion seems to be as old as the famous chicken or egg” dilemma: when is it bet­ter to add olive oil to your pizza, before or after putting it in the oven?

To answer this ques­tion and to dis­pel other doubts about using extra vir­gin olive oil on pizza, Enzo Coccia, owner of Naples’ renowned pizze­ria La Notizia, orga­nized a full-day event ded­i­cated to the prod­uct itself.

Mr. Cocci, who is con­sid­ered the fore­run­ner of the Neapolitan pizza renais­sance” and has always given the great­est atten­tion to the ingre­di­ents he uses to top his piz­zas, decided to make his venue a food cul­ture space,” to explore such high qual­ity prod­ucts. And it was the per­fect place for peo­ple to taste and appre­ci­ate good food, almost a direct response to a recent Italian TV pro­gram’s exposé about unhealthy, badly made piz­zas.

No sur­prise he decided to start with extra vir­gin, thanks to his col­lab­o­ra­tion and friend­ship with the food writer and expert taster Laura Gambacorta and with Raffaele Sacchi, a bon-vivant sci­en­tist who teaches on the local fac­ulty of agri­cul­ture and who spends most of his time when not research­ing olive oil mak­ing it an every­day sta­ple by using EVOO in home made food when host­ing din­ners for friends.

Enzo Coccia, owner of pizzeria La Notizia in Naples

On the morn­ing of the March 2nd, with the help of the extra vir­gin mer­chant Riccardo Scarpellini, they invited experts such as Gino Celletti and the Campania panel leader Maria Luisa Ambrosino, to dis­cuss the prop­er­ties of extra vir­gin and to teach vis­i­tors (jour­nal­ists, food enthu­si­asts, chefs and piz­zaio­los, which included Jonathan Goldsmith from Chicago’s Spacca Napoli pizze­ria) how to taste and detect a good extra vir­gin olive oil on a pizza as well as a stand­alone pro­duce. With them were local pro­duc­ers from the Campania region — one of Italy’s rich­est in olive vari­eties includ­ing one called Aspirina” (aspirin), as Scarpellini noted.

Even in Italy, the land of olive oil, many peo­ple still believe that acid­ity” can be tasted and that a pun­gent olive oil is no good. On the other hand, many piz­zaio­los (and chefs) still use cheap, low qual­ity olive oil which can spoil their dishes or piz­zas, and the cos­tumer’s expe­ri­ence with no doubt, just to save a few cents. Or, in the best case, one will be prob­a­bly offered a bot­tle of extra vir­gin from Liguria or Tuscany in Naples’ best pizze­rias, because own­ers don’t know enough about their own region’s pro­duc­tion. Which is, indeed, excel­lent and extremely assorted, fea­tur­ing five dif­fer­ent PDOs.

Prof. Sacchi, besides explain­ing the chem­i­cal and nutri­tional fea­tures of EVOO, finally answered the ini­tial ques­tion: one should put a lit­tle of extra vir­gin on the raw pizza, to let it merge with other ingre­di­ents as they cook in order to estab­lish har­mony between them, to soften the pizza and mostly to acti­vate” the toma­toes’ lycopenes that, in a chem­i­cal reac­tion with extra vir­gin polyphe­nols, result in a dou­ble antiox­i­dant effect.

But, since the very high tem­per­a­ture of a wooden fire oven removes around half of the extra vir­gin polyphe­nols and almost every volatile com­pounds respon­si­ble for the aroma, it is a good prac­tice to pour an extra driz­zle of oil as soon as the pizza is out of the oven, to add fruit aro­mas and taste.

To demon­strate it the pizze­ria hosted a spe­cial tast­ing event where five piz­zas cre­ated by Enzo Coccia where matched with just as many extra vir­gin olive oils by the invited pro­duc­ers.

Pizza with pacchetelle tomatoes with Le Tore organic extra virgin

The first one was a pizza with fiordi­latte cheese and pac­chetelle” toma­toes (the tra­di­tional Vesuvius Piennolo toma­toes cut into halves and pre­served in glass jars) paired with Le Tore organic extra vir­gin. The oil — a blend of Carpellese, Frantoio and a good 60 per­cent of the local vari­ety Minucciola — was a medium, green olive fruity with notes of grass, almond and wal­nut and with a dis­tinc­tive bit­ter taste slightly over­pow­er­ing the pun­gency, that went per­fectly with the sim­ple but rich pizza.

Incredibly, it was a two-year-old oil, since the farm and coun­try house located in the heav­enly Penisola Sorrentina did­n’t pro­duce any oil this year fol­low­ing the dif­fi­cult sea­son and a sum­mer hail­storm, and owner Vittoria Brancaccio had already sold out last year’s pro­duc­tion.

Pizza with buffalo mozzarella, zucchini flowers and pecorino cheese, came with the excellent PDO Colline Salernitane extra virgin Diesis from Frantoio Torretta

The sec­ond pizza, with buf­falo moz­zarella, zuc­chini flow­ers and pecorino cheese, came with the excel­lent PDO Colline Salernitane extra vir­gin Diesis from Frantoio Torretta run by Maria Provenza in Cilento, the south­ern area of Campania. This was a medium fruity with notes of green olive and a neat arti­choke leaf smell that was con­firmed by the tast­ing and worked incred­i­bly well with the pizza.

The third pizza showed the cre­ative side of Enzo Coccia and the incred­i­ble Campania food her­itage fea­tur­ing raw endive, black olives, local medium-matured sausage and yel­low toma­toes. To match and bal­ance those unusual fla­vors, the cho­sen oil was the fan­tas­tic pit­ted Carpellese monocul­ti­var from Madonna dell’Olivo. The small farm in Cilento is man­aged with obses­sive care by Antonino Mennella, which this year was not able to pro­duce three out of four of his oils and was not com­pletely sat­is­fied with the remain­ing one either, even though we really appre­ci­ated it for its great ele­gance and its charm­ing notes of bit­ter almond and herbs, both alone and onto the lux­u­ri­ous pizza.

The all-time-clas­sic” Margherita made with San Marzano PDO toma­toes was paired to Frantoio Romano’s Ortice sin­gle vari­ety extra vir­gin made in the Sannio region which, with its notes of herbs and ripe tomato, was sim­ply per­fect with the pizza.

Finally, the Marinara with San Marzano PDO toma­toes — one of Enzo Coccia’s sig­na­ture piz­zas — was the only excep­tion to Sacchi’s sug­ges­tion to add oil after cook­ing as well as before, but not with­out a rea­son: the dairy-free pizza is sea­soned with tomato (which links” with the oil at high tem­per­a­ture) and with gar­lic and oregano which give the pizza a full range of aro­matic scents and fla­vors, so that the extra vir­gin. made by the Capolino Perlingieri farm, could­n’t have added any­thing fur­ther.

The evening was a clever and enjoy­able way to spread the cul­ture of local extra vir­gin olive oils and great food, thanks to Coccia’s piz­zas and to the tal­ented experts who kept things sim­ple.

As Raffaele Sacchi said, despite all his advanced knowl­edge, the best way to define a good extra vir­gin olive oil is still the one he heard from a child at a school he recently vis­ited: a good oil tastes of liv­ing olives, and a bad one tastes of dead olives.”

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