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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.

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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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