The Platinum Pizza Awards

pizzeria la notizia- margherita_post.jpg

Photo by Faith Willinger

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, and 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.

Being passionate about pizza, I have decided to create the Unofficial Platinum Pizza Awards for the greatest pizzerias in Italy in three different categories—traditional, innovative, and by the slice. I've tasted all over the country. The winning pizzaioli are 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 Platinum Pizza Awards are...

Traditional: La Notizia

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. He makes a perfect crust: chewy, thick in the Neapolitan style, blasted for 60 to 90 seconds in a traditional domed wood-burning oven—temperature 770 to 890 F. Toppings are classic and first-rate, like local anchovies, barely cooked tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, zucchini flowers (fiorilli), and broccoli greens. The proportion of dough to toppings is just right. Enzo's marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano) and Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) are the best I've ever tasted. There's also a nice selection of sparkling wines and artisanal beer. Enzo is expanding in April, moving down the street to via Caravaggio 94/A, where he will have a bigger wine and beer selection and a counter of artisanal cheese and salumi. His current location will be take-out only.

Recommended Reading

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. (Dough hint I've already extracted from Enzo: when you measure ingredients, don't weight the flour, weigh the water.)

Innovative: I Tigli

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. He's obsessed with every ingredient—organic Petra flour from Molino Quaglia, superior cheese, aged prosciutto, super-fresh seafood.

His dough, made with natural yeast that began (years ago) with yogurt, 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 and crispy) and Neapolitan. Pizza is baked in a wood-burning oven for 4 minutes at 500 to540 F, longer and with less heat than I'd 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 one's hands—including Simone's pizza riff on the cheeseburger. The wine list is amazing and inexpensive, with lots of biodynamic wines, and there's an ample selection of artisanal beers, some unfiltered and unpasteurized.

By the Slice: Pizzarium

In the "by the slice" category, Gabriele Bonci's Pizzarium, not far from the Vatican Museums in Rome. The city 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 Mulino Marino, experimenting constantly with different grains and blends such as rye, farro, and Kamut wheat, all organic and stone-ground. His natural yeast and rising times—up to 72 hours—vary with the flours and seasons. Gabriele bakes his rectangular pans of pizza in an electric oven at 575 F but claims he can make pizza anywhere—stovetop, over coals, or in a wood-burning or normal home oven.

Outstanding choices are pizza bianca (with olive oil—perfect for really tasting the splendid dough), rossa (with super-thick tomato sauce), or versions topped with cherry tomato rounds, sausage and potato, or slivered seasonal vegetables. They're sliced to order from pans that exit the ovens all day long and served on a piece of butcher paper, with a cutting board replacing a plate. Return it when you're done.

The shop is tiny and almost always packed, with an indoor counter and an outdoor bench for diners. The 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. Teo and Gabriele have recently joined forces at Open, an Italian-style pub with a huge selection of artisan beer and Gabriele's snacks, a Roman take on street food. Next trip.

Pizzeria La Notizia
Via Caravaggio 53/55
80126 Napoli
Tel +39-081-714-2155

Pizzeria I Tigli
Via Camporosolo 11
37047 San Bonifacio, Verona
Tel +39-045-610-2606

Via delle Meloria 43
00136 Roma (Cipro stop on Metro A subway)
Tel +39-06-397-45416