by Enzo Coccia
Naples has always been considered the birthplace of pizza: from Gaetano Valeriani definition in his book “Porta Capuana e dintorni” (1847) to today’s gourmet pizzas the evolution has been unstoppable and complete. But to fully understand the words meaning and above all what these definitions convey, you need to stop and think about it. So, I prefer to start from what Valeriani wrote when he described the pizzas as “Certe schiacciate, focacce fatte di pasta di grano, senza lievito e, perciò, estremamente indigeste che vengono poste nel forno, donde, più bruciate che cotte, si tolgono e si mangiano. Misericordia! Tutte le forze digestive stanno malconce per una buona mezza giornata con questo indigesto peso addosso” (“Some flatbread pizzas, facacce made of wheat dough, without the yeast and, therefore, extremely indigestible that are placed in the oven and, hence, more burned than cooked, are taken out from it and then eaten. Oh dear Lord! All the digestive forces are battered for about half-day with this indigestible weight on).
Since then the pizza has gone a long way and – especially in the social considerations – it has become a symbol of high quality dish, a complete meal, a “gourmet” pizza (as the specialized press likes to call it), a definition that, frankly, I do not understand both as a pizzaiolo and as a simple user.
However, we might say that the expression is in vogue, very popular, especially among the insiders and the new generation of pizzaioli who, in preparing the so-called “gourmet” pizzas, have decided to act on four key factors: the dough, the leavening stage, the toppings, the waiting service and combinations (wine, beer, spumante or champagne).
Regarding to the pizza dough, things have changed a lot from the beginning of the XIX century when it was prepared with the pasta di riporto (fermented mixture) to the postwar period when it was used the fresh yeast and the present day with the pizza makers that use the dried brewer’s yeast, the mother yeast or the dried mother yeast, or the biga (a special fermentation method), and also with poolish method (the Polish leavening system used for making bread), or by autolysis or dough with sourdough and, finally, the dough made without the yeast
Many variations on the issue of the flour used: initially, we observed a return in the use of whole wheat flour (type 1 or 2), then the time of the most varied types of flours: kamut flour, rice flour, yellow wheat, the Italian grain only, the ancient wheat, wheat germ, the cricket flour, that of hemp and organic flours. As well as additional ingredients in the dough: sea water, beer, mozzarella whey and even adding vegetable carbons.
As for the leavening stage we went from quick rising, or rather a process that lasts 2/3 hours to a long leavening that continues for 12/16 hours to help the digestibility and also a very long rising (96 hours) thanks to the use of cold temperatures. I have heard of legends about hydration of the dough to 95%, referring to the ratio water/flour.
For the filling, then, there were used only seasonal and local products, excellent raw materials from a qualitative point of view, which have little to do with the pizza! In the end, for the waiting service the tasting menu was preferred, the pizza cut into slices and served on the cutting board otherwise it can’t be considered as a gourmet pizza, and the combination with craft beers, wines, sparkling wines and champagne.
Well, now you wonder what I think about it, a pizzaiolo with white hair, the pizzaiolo of the so-called “gourmet” pizzas. I am sure: I’ll disappoint you. I won’t give you a definition and, indeed, I believe that the term “gourmet” does not define anything, if not a lot of tries (often risky!) on a simple product that has always required technique and skill.
The journalist Paolo Marchi too, in his preface to Identità Golose Guide, affirms that the word “gourmet” is now old and it should be retired and replaced by the easy expression “quality pizzas”. I can only tell you that all these alchemies and improvised experiments confuse me. I sustain a studied and sophisticated evolution but I am not for the exaggeration, I do not understand the usefulness of it if not for speaking behind someone’s back. I keep having the same dream every night: I only want a good pizza, rather a very good one. Nothing else. And what do you think about it?