The margherita pizza has garnered worldwide fame and popularity. In fact, it's now featured at many pizza and Italian restaurants across the US. But the only way to find a truly authentic margherita is to dine in Brooklyn, NY, where pizza is king.
While the margherita might seem simple, its flavor is so rich and balanced that it almost seems like a perfect recipe. So few ingredients go so far. If you're curious about how this pizza came to be, read on to learn the fascinating origins of the margherita, and where to find the best version of this historic recipe in the US.
History of the Margherita
In 1899, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita reigned in the region of Savoy, poised high in the Alps of Western Europe. During a visit south into Naples, of southern Italy, which was the capital at the time, the queen wanted something different to eat. Tired of the French cuisine that was popular across Europe at the time, she summoned one of the most celebrated chefs in Naples, Raffaele Esposito. He was commissioned to make 3 different pizzas to satisfy Queen Marghertia's temptation for something distinct, unique, and fresh.
According to the story, Raffaele eagerly presented the queen with her first pizza: a local classic, made with marinara and fresh garlic. She wasn't pleased, and demanded her second course. The second pizza Raffaele made was topped with anchovies. Again, the queen was displeased.
Aware he was on thin ice, aware his reputation was on the line, Raffaele had one more chance to please Queen Margherita. And so he whipped up something completely original: a pizza that consisted of a simple tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and a sprig of fresh basil.
Queen Margherita heartily approved. Amazed at the reaction, Raffaele Esposito went on to name this pizza the margherita, and asked her for a royal seal of approval.
Amazingly, the note of thanks from the king and queen still hangs on the walls of his descendants' pizzeria, where today's Espositos continue the tradition of making a simple, fresh, and delicious pizza named for the queen of Savoy.
An Alternate Theory
That was the story that some people believe about the origins of the margherita. However, the story has raised some doubts and suspicions. For instance, is it a coincidence that one of Italy's most famous pizzas happens to resemble the Italian flag? Red sauce, white cheese, and green herbs are a delicious combination, but the story seems too neat. A queen approves a great Italian delight that happens to be so characteristically Italian.
Some historians dug deeper, and what they found was actually more shocking than the story of Queen Margherita and her demand for 3 pizzas.
According to historians, the famous letter of appreciation from Savoy was given an odd royal stamp, one that is similar to, but not actually accurate to other royal stamps of the time. It was placed in a different spot than was traditional, and was written on cheap, standard paper rather than the high-quality royal stationary that the queen of Savoy would have surely used -- or that her chamberlain, writing on her behalf, would have used.
Does this mean that the Esposito pizzeria is displaying a fake letter? Was the entire story a concoction as fascinating as the pizza itself? Unfortunately, the story was a fake. The Espositos, who had fallen on hard times in the 1930’s, devised this story to attract attention, as well as new patrons.
However, some people still verify the authenticity of the story of Queen Margherita, but state that the original letter had been destroyed and a fake was recreated in its stead.
However you may feel about this story, all that matters is that the margherita is a staple at pizza restaurants around the world. But the best pizza restaurants will still make the pizza with authentic ingredients, according to the old recipe. If you're hunting in Brooklyn, NY, for pizza that amazes, not just satisfies, visit Barano, one of the best pizza restaurants in Brooklyn. We serve margherita pizzas the old-fashioned way, which is the most delicious way.