Searching for a true Italian (and a Sicilian in Moscow)

David Morley

Like many expats in Moscow I am always searching for a good pizza. There is certainly no shortage of choices these days as pizzerias have become as ubiquitous and popular as in any other world metropolis. But where does the discerning pizza lover find a “real” Italian pizza in town?

I was wandering down Tverskaya Street from Pushkin square and took a left down Kozitski Pereulok to find the Etaj restaurant “Pizzeria del Kapo”. I was meeting the resident Italian chef, Vincenzo Abitabile.

Vincenzo has spent the last sixteen years in Russia preparing Italian food, in Lazarevskaya on the Black Sea coast west of Sochi, in the Siberian oil town of Nefteyugansk and, for the past six years, with the Etaj restaurant group in Moscow. I wanted to ask him what makes a real Italian pizza and at the same time find out how a chef from Selinunte, a small village on the south coast of Sicily, found his way to Russia and stayed. I also wanted to try his pizza.

Selinunte sounds like the sort of place you might rather be on a wet and chilly November afternoon in Moscow. Enzo’s dark, Mediterranean eMenu in English shone brightly as he described his native origins. “It’s a place full of antiquities; not Roman, as you think, but Greek!” Selinunte was a major part of the ancient Greek colonial empire, being the most westerly outpost. Indeed, there are the remains of several Greek temples surrounding the town, notably on the acropolis with the imposing Temple of Hera, similar to the one at Olympia but more intact. Hera was the wife of Zeus, as well as conveniently one of his sisters. Her other job in the pantheon of Greek mythology was being the goddess of women and marriage.

So was it Hera who dispatched Enzo to Russia in search of women and marriage? We were chatting in Russian as he speaks no English and his Russian is better than my Italian. “The best pizza is the simplest, not too many ingredients. For example, Napolitana with just a few anchovies and capers, maybe a sprinkle of onion or fresh basil. Otherwise just pizza dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella.”

The key to a good pizza is the dough. Enzo makes a fresh batch every day using only Italian flour and Italian olive oil. “You have to let it stand for an hour before you can make a good disc,” he explained. He hammers a ball of dough with his fist and expertly flicked the spinning pastry in the air to form a perfect circle of just the right size.

“My Russian wife speak Italian, and the bambinos, boys 10 and 8, but their Russian is better! The only Italians I meet are theones who come into the restaurant. They say my risotto better than where they come from!” He brings us his simple pizza to try with just a layer of fresh tomatoes sprinkled with rocket salad, a taste of Sicilian sunshine. We ordered the Caesar salad pizza and, at Enzo’s recommendation, pizza with smoked salmon, both not very Italian sounding, but delicious. Then we could not resist trying the pizza with sliced pear and gorgonzola, an amazing combination! Finally, we ordered the one with pikante Italian sausage and a classic margherita, to take home of course.

“So, when you retire, will you open your own little place back in Sicily?” I ask. Enzo replies: La pensione? I probably go live in Mozhaisk, Moscow region!”