By Arthur Bovino
January 20, 2018
When the Adrià brothers are involved, you never know what bite to expect next. But when it comes to one upcoming project of these two world famous modernist chefs, a food hall in the Hudson Yards, there are hints. Albert told Eater they plan it to be their “homage to the Spanish cuisine” and that there would be “three restaurants and smaller places to taste Spanish specialties, mostly tapas.” In addition to tapas and jamon bars, and a tortilla stand, some pizzaphiles may have been intrigued to hear Adrià say it will also serve coca, “the mostly unknown Spanish pizza, which we intend to put on the world’s food map.”
So what is coca?
According to my former colleague Colman Andrews’ book Catalan Cuisine: Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret, coca (the plural is coques) is basically a Catalan pizza — a flat base made of a simple bread dough usually in the shape of an oval and covered with a wide variety of sweet and/or savory toppings. The name supposedly comes from coquere (Latin for to cook), though food site, The Culture Trip speculates that ‘coca’ can “be traced to the Dutch word kok meaning cake or baked good.”
Pizza is an interesting comparison considering coca often only features one topping, “just onions, say, or just anchovies,” and has some decidedly non-pizza like qualities. Consider:
☻ Cheese and herbs are rarely added
☻ The oval shape
☻ Coques are typically served at room temperature
If you look at photos of coca online, they can look square or rectangular like grandma pizza, or long and oval-shaped—more like Roman pizza al taglio.
According to Catalan Cuisine, the basic coca recipe is coca de pinyons (pine nuts).
“Though sugar and pine nuts are called for as topping, a wide range of other items may be substituted. This particular version, which may be served warm or at room temperature and which should be slightly chewy in texture, is usually eaten for breakfast or as a sort of mid-morning snack — sometimes with a modest glass of cava (Catalan ‘champagne’) or sweet wine of one variety or another.”
Coca (the plural is coques) is basically a Catalan pizza — a flat base made of a simple bread dough usually in the shape of an oval and covered with a wide variety of sweet and/or savory toppings.
Substitutions for sugar and pine nuts include lightly sautéed, thinly sliced onions or peppers (red or green), thinly sliced raw zucchini or tomatoes, botifarra sausage, anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped olives (both black and green), par-cooked bacon, Swiss chard or a mix of chard and spinach (cooked, drained, and chopped), and raw, wild mushrooms. ”But to remain authentically Catalan,” Andrews writes, “don’t mix too many of them together on any one coca.”
That is unless you come across coca am recapte. “Recapte” means provisions, and coca am recapte means coca “with everything.” It’s the coca that “breaks the rules.” Catalans make it to use up leftovers, and the only guiding principle seems to be that they be colorful. That seems to translate to a mix of red peppers (“They rarely eat green ones,” Colman told me) and/or tomatoes with one or more green vegetables, and at least one kind of meat or fish (sardines, anchovies, herring, ham, sausage, and pork loin, for instance).
Catalan Cuisine also mentions a duck and olive coca popular in the Roussillon (the southern French département of Pyrénées-Orientales) called a “turnover coca,” which it compares to a calzone, and a Saint John’s Day Coca “that’s sweet, egg-enriched, lighter and thicker than most varieties, traditionally served on the eve of Saint John’s Day, June 23.” Colman calls it “Good breakfast material any day of the year.”
We’ll have to wait to see how the Adrià brothers execute their plan to put coca on the world’s food map. In the meanwhile, here’s something to consider after experimenting with a recipe from Catalan Cuisine. The moment you tell someone you’re thinking of making Spanish pizza, they’re going to ask you to explain what it is. Here’s how that conversation is going to go:
“What’s Catalan pizza?”
“Coca am recapte? It’s kind of like a cross between grandma pizza and Roman pizza al taglio. It’s an oval-shaped flat base made of a simple bread and covered with a variety of sweet and/or savory toppings.”
“So… no cheese?”
“No cheese. No sauce.”
“. . .”
And then you’re going to get a look that says something like, “Seriously?”
I reached out to Colman to clarify a few things, and he said he was sure some people have put cheese on coques. So here’s a suggestion based on the fact that the recipe below makes enough dough for two coques, each big enough to fill a cookie sheet: make one the traditional way, and one with cheese and sauce. To stay on theme, consider a grated manchego (about a half pound for one coca), and maybe just go light on the sauce (about one cup).
The other thing you can do — given that coca am recapte is the coca that’s pretty much anything you want it to be — is to channel another Spanish bread tradition: pa amb tomàquet. Take two large tomatoes and pulse them in a food processor or blender with three or four garlic cloves and kosher salt until the tomatoes are pulpy and spread that over the dough before dressing it with the sautéed vegetables.
Coca a Recapte (“With Everything”)
Colman says they don’t really use green peppers in Spain, but like he says, when it comes to coca a recapte, anything goes. Speaking of which, you’ll see photos of whole sausages or big hunks of sausage laid on top. He suggests thinly slicing it instead. As for the shape, he says, “the traditional shape is indeed oval, sometimes really elongated (in bakers’ windows there are sometimes long ovals measuring at least a couple of feet in length), but there are also square and round versions.” The original recipe suggests stretching the dough out a half-foot wide, about 2 feet long, and ½ inch thick.
1 package dry yeast (¼ oz)
4½ cups flour
2½ tsp kosher salt
1 cup water
12 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 small zucchini, unpeeled, sliced paper thin
1 small Japanese eggplant, sliced paper thin
1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 orange pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large onion, sliced paper thin
2 cups wild mushrooms, sliced (or any sliced mushrooms)
½ pound botifarra sausage, thinly sliced
- Dissolve yeast in 8 tsp warm water.
- In a stand mixer bowl, add yeast mixture to flour, 2 tsp salt, water, and 3 tbsp olive oil. Mix using a dough hook, kneading for a total of 5 minutes on low.
- Place dough in a large bowl and brush surface with 1 tbsp olive oil. Let rise 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Punch dough down. Divide in half to make two coques.
- Use 2 tbsp olive oil to grease a baking sheet. Layer zucchini and eggplant slices in pan, brush tops with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and cook 5-10 minutes. Remove from oven before they start to brown and reserve.
- Warm a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sauté vegetables 5 minutes, then remove from pan and drain of any liquid.
- Add 2 tbsp olive oil to saucepan, add sliced mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté 5-10 minutes. Reserve.
- Either wait for the baking sheet to reach room temperature, or use 2 tbsp olive oil to grease another baking sheet.
- Use your fingers to press out and flatten the dough into a flat oval in the pan so that it touches the center of each side.
- Brush surface of the coca liberally with 2 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spread sautéed vegetables over the top of the coca.
- Arrange botiffara slices on top of the vegetables.
- Place coca in the oven 10-15 minutes (or until golden-brown). Repeat with other dough round if you’re making a second
- Serve room temperature or slightly warm.
Get your copy:
Catalan Cuisine: Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret, Colman Andrews, Collier Books, 1997