I told her I made a Pizza Margherita and, not sure if she knew what it was, listed off the ingredients (essentially tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese). I also clarified it had nothing to do with a Mexican “margarita” cocktail.
My mother-in-law then asked, “Why is it called a Margherita Pizza?”
To which I then provided a complete history, explanation and short story as to the origin of the name.
In actuality, I said I had absolutely no idea as to why a pizza margherita was called a pizza margherita. In fact, I had never even thought about why it was called what it was called. And this is one of my favorite pizzas!
And I call myself a chef! Oops.
As you can imagine, I then did some research. And this is what I found:
In the 19th century, Umberto I, King of Italy, and his wife, Queen Margherita di Savoia, noticed peasants in Naples eating a large flat bread covered with tomato paste and tomatoes. The queen called for Chef Rafaelle Esposito, the most popular of the pizzaioli (pizza chefs) in Naples, and ordered him to prepare his specialties.
Chef Rafaelle prepared three kinds of pizzas: one with pork fat, cheese and basil, one with garlic, oil and tomatoes and another with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (to represent the colors of the Italian flag). The last pizza became the favorite pizza of the Queen and so Chef Rafaelle dedicated his specialty to her and called it “Pizza Margherita.”
This pizza set the standard by which today’s pizza evolved as well as established Naples as the pizza capitol of the world.
Pretty neat, eh?
So, the next time you order a pizza margherita (or get asked by your mother-in-law why it’s called what it is), you’ll have this cool little story to share.
Makes 1 large pizza
1 pizza crust/dough
1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, not including juices
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2-3 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
7-8 oz. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 oz. fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Drain tomatoes and puree in a food processor (or blender). Add olive oil, oregano dried basil, salt and pepper and pulse to combine.
Spread sauce over pizza dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge for the crust. Create a layer of the thinly sliced tomatoes over the sauce. Line the sliced mozzarella over the tomatoes.
Bake pizza for 8-10 minutes until cheese is melted and the crust begins to turn golden brown. Remove from oven.
Toss fresh basil over cooked pizza and let sit for 3-5 minutes. Slice and serve.