Skip to Content

What is the story behind the pizza Margherita?

Pizza Margherita is a popular variety of pizza that features tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil – ingredients inspired by the colors of the Italian flag. It has an interesting history tied to Queen Margherita of Italy in the late 19th century.

The Origins of Pizza Margherita

Pizza has ancient roots in Italy, mentioned in texts as early as 997 AD in Gaeta and later in Naples around the 16th century. Flatbreads with various toppings were sold by street vendors and bakeries as an affordable, tasty food for the working class.

By the late 18th century, pizza was becoming popular with aristocracy and royalty in Naples. King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy were fans of pizza. Legend has it that in 1889, the Queen was bored with the traditional pizza toppings favored by the court chefs. She asked famous Naples pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Raffaele Esposito from Pizzeria di Pietro to make some pizza with toppings representing the colors of the Italian flag – red, white, and green.

Esposito worked diligently and created a pizza with tomatoes (red), mozzarella cheese (white), and basil (green). He named it Pizza Margherita in the Queen’s honor. Queen Margherita loved it! Her approval made pizza Margherita extremely famous, spreading it from Naples to the rest of Italy and beyond.

The Meaning Behind the Ingredients

The ingredients of pizza Margherita – tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil – were specifically chosen by Raffaele Esposito to represent the colors of the Italian flag at the time:

  • Red – Tomatoes – Represented the color red in the flag.
  • White – Fresh mozzarella cheese – Represented the white color.
  • Green – Fresh basil leaves – Represented the green color.

These ingredients came together not just for patriotic reasons but also delicious flavor. The savory tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella, and fragrant basil complement each other perfectly and have made pizza Margherita a standout pizza variety for over 130 years.

Where to Get the Best Pizza Margherita in Naples

Naples is still considered one of the best places in the world to get authentic pizza Margherita. Some top pizzerias known for serving excellent Margheritas in Naples include:

Pizzeria Location Notes
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele Via Cesare Sersale, 1/3 Historic pizzeria open since 1870, known for very simple Margheritas
Pizzeria Di Matteo Via dei Tribunali, 94 Family-owned since 1936, makes pizzas in a wood-burning oven
Pizzeria Brandi Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo, 1/2 Claims to be the inventors of the Margherita in 1889

Other excellent Naples pizzerias for pizza Margherita include Starita, Il Pizzaiolo del Presidenti, La Notizia, and Trianon.

How Pizza Margherita is Made

Authentic Neapolitan-style pizza Margherita is made with these key steps:

  1. The dough is made from high-protein flour, yeast, salt and water. It ferments for at least 6 hours to develop flavor.
  2. The tomatoes are fresh, ripe San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, crushed or pureed into a sauce.
  3. Fresh high-quality mozzarella cheese from Italian buffalo milk is sliced or torn by hand.
  4. Fresh basil leaves are washed and carefully torn by hand.
  5. The pizza is baked for 60-90 seconds in an extremely hot wood-fired or wood-burning oven at 485°C (905°F).
  6. When finished baking, it is topped with olive oil, a sprinkle of cheese, and the basil leaves.

The care taken to make the dough, sauce, and use quality ingredients like fresh mozzarella and basil ensure the flavors shine in an authentic Margherita pizza.

Pizza Margherita Around the World

Thanks to Italian immigrants, pizza Margherita eventually spread from Naples to become popular in the United States, South America, Europe, and beyond. Today, it is made around the world, from high-end pizzerias using imported ingredients to basic versions using local cheese and herbs.

Some places known for their versions of Margherita pizza include:

  • United States – Numerous Neapolitan-style pizzerias in New York, Chicago, and other big cities
  • Argentina – Pizzerias in Buenos Aires
  • Peru – Pizza joints in Lima using Peruvian-style fresh cheese
  • Australia – Italian restaurants and pizzerias across the country
  • Japan – Pizza Salvatore Cuomo, Savoy of Tokyo

While the quality of ingredients and adherence to traditional Neapolitan techniques varies, the basic combination of tomato, cheese, basil, and great flavor makes pizza Margherita universally popular.

Variations on Pizza Margherita

Classic Neapolitan-style pizza Margherita has remained largely unchanged from Raffaele Esposito’s original version in 1889. However, some creative variations have emerged, including:

  • Margherita Extra – Mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, plus spicy salami or prosciutto ham
  • Margherita di Bufala – Tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil
  • Margherita Ripiena – Tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, ricotta stuffed crust
  • Pizza Margherita alla Marinara – Tomato sauce base without cheese

Ingredients like arugula, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, sausage, olives, and different herbs are sometimes added. While non-traditional, these can create tasty variations on the classic.

Why Pizza Margherita is so Iconic

Pizza Margherita has achieved an iconic status due to several factors:

  • It has a compelling origin story linking it to Queen Margherita and the Italian flag.
  • The ingredients are simple but create perfect flavor balance.
  • It represents the classic Naples-style of pizza making.
  • It was a favorite of royalty and helped popularize pizza across Italy.
  • The recipe has stayed largely unchanged for over 130 years.
  • It combines Italian flavors – tomatoes, cheese, and basil – in one delicious pie.

Pizza Margherita’s simplicity, authenticity, tradition, and universally appealing flavor profile have made it a pizza loved around the world over generations. There are countless pizzerias, but Margherita remains the queen of pizzas.

Conclusion

Pizza Margherita’s origins in 19th century Naples are an important part of its story and popularity. What started as Queen Margherita’s request for a patriotic pizza using Italian flag colors became an iconic pizza loved globally. Over 130 years later, the best Margherita pizzas still use quality ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil in the traditional way – paying homage to the classic recipe from Naples that started it all.