In a world crazy for pizza, nearly everyone has an opinion on what’s best: Chicago deep dish, Neapolitan-style thin crust, New York style, wood-burning ovens, coal-burning ovens, brick ovens, and on and on. But one thing every casual student of pizza can agree on is its place of origin: Italy, specifically Napoli.
The pizza Margherita, beloved for its simplicity—tomato, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and sea salt—is the standard from which today’s pizza evolved. The origin story is one worth telling. In 1889, the king of Italy, Umberto I, and his wife, Queen Margherita, were in Naples. A local piazzolo, Raffaele Esposito, made her three pies. Her favorite had the red, white, and green of the Italian flag (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil), hence, Pizza Margherita.
Given the fierce rivalries and differing opinions in the pizza world, it should come as no surprise that even the origin story of the Margherita pizza is now in dispute. Scholars have recently combed the archives in Napoli and discovered numerous mentions of similar pizzas as far back as a century before the queen’s visit. A Harvard scholar has also recently cast some doubt on whether the famed visit by the queen actually happened. It seems the only thing not in contention is the pizza’s namesake, Queen Margherita.
In 2004, Italy established standards for what can authentically be called Neapolitan pizza, including specific standards for the Margherita pizza. The law stipulates that the pizza must be round, no larger than 13.8 inches. Double-zero flour, a finely-ground flour low in gluten, must be used. Hand kneading is required, as is extra-virgin olive oil. Tomatoes are restricted to the San Marzano variety grown in the volcanic soil around Mount Vesuvius. Only fresh mozzarella from the southern Apennine Mountains is permitted.
At Pagliacci, ever since we opened on The Ave in 1979, our goal has been to make the best Pagliacci pizza we can. Day in and day out. The fact that we’re still growing and have found new generations of loyal fans is a testament to what we do. We don’t make authentic Neapolitan pizza. We make authentic Pagliacci pizza. However, we are enamored by Italy’s fierce traditions, simplicity and dedication to using the best ingredients.
Our Margherita pizza is a perfect example of this.
First there is the crust. Flour, water, yeast, salt; just the right amount of kneading; three days of proofing, an optimal time to develop flavor and texture. Edgar Bobadilla, who has led our dough-making team for more than 35 years, learned the dough-making process from the founders of the company. Our crust is firm, but not dry, and gets its character and complexity from the extended proofing. All of our crusts are hand-tossed to order.
Crushed Italian tomatoes are the base of our Margherita. We start with whole peeled tomatoes and make them into a sauce. Pure tomato, nothing else added. We tasted many varieties of Italian tomatoes until we found the one with the right balance of tang, sweetness, and rich tomato flavor. The tomatoes we fell in love with are a variety of the plum tomato, similar to the Roma, but thinner in shape and more pointed. They have thicker walls, more sweetness, and fewer seeds.
Next, we layer thin slices of hand-crafted fresh mozzarella on the pie. Delicate, with a rich, creamy flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the pizza.
The finishing touch—the green to complete the “Italian flag”—is basil, along with a sprinkle of course sea salt and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Although the Margherita is a perennial staff and customer favorite, it isn’t for everyone. Some who expect a traditional cheese pizza complain that the sauce is too thin or there isn’t enough cheese (try our Original!). One disappointed Margherita customer even sent a photo of a DiGiornio’s cheese pizza to show us what a real Italian cheese pizza looked like.
Our Margherita pizza may not be certified by the Italians, but it is a Pagliacci classic and an ode to pizza history. When you’re in the mood for a pizza on the lighter side, composed simply of elemental pizza ingredients of the highest quality and flavor, give it a try.