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Authentic Pizza Margherita? [split from Los Angeles board]

Will Owen Feb 8, 2010 12:05 PM

Amid all the back-and-forth of this thread is the unspoken assumption that everyone not only knows exactly WHAT a truly authentic pizza Margherita is, but that everyone agrees on said definition. Now, my time in Naples was basically a half-hour of waiting for my mom and sister to do some clothes shopping, with no pizza in sight, so my idea of the perfect PM is the first one I had, in Nashville, which was so simple and yet so good: olive oil, mozzarella, thin slices of Roma tomato and fresh basil leaves. I've found only one in SoCal that comes close to that. If my definition is in error, please enlighten me.

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  1. a_and_w RE: Will Owen Feb 8, 2010 02:01 PM

    Believe it or not, there's actually an association in Naples called Verace Pizza Napoletana that promulgates guidelines for "authentic" Neapolitan pizza. The US branch, which certifies pizzaiolos in the US, was founded by the owner of Antica.

    http://verapizzanapoletana.org

    18 Replies
    1. re: a_and_w
      Will Owen RE: a_and_w Feb 8, 2010 08:35 PM

      As this website specifies only the basic ingredients for a generic Neopolitan pizza and the methods by which it may be made, it still does not answer my request for a description of or recipe for that particular pizza, the Marghareta.

      1. re: Will Owen
        a_and_w RE: Will Owen Feb 9, 2010 07:38 AM

        The description of a "generic Neapolitan pizza," as you put it, is basically the same as your own description of the ideal Margherita:

        "00 flour, San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural fior-di-latte or bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast."

        "so my idea of the perfect PM is the first one I had, in Nashville, which was so simple and yet so good: olive oil, mozzarella, thin slices of Roma tomato and fresh basil leaves."

        The differences are that authentic Neapolitan-style pizza Margherita is always made with San Marzano tomatoes, and always cooked in a wood oven. Antica does all these things, and I highly recommend it.

        1. re: a_and_w
          k
          kevin RE: a_and_w Feb 9, 2010 07:41 AM

          so what's a real good one except for that one in marina del rey?

          1. re: kevin
            a_and_w RE: kevin Feb 9, 2010 08:07 AM

            I don't know of any other certified Neapolitan pizzaiolos in the area, but Bollini's gets a lot of love from folks. If you want recs in NYC or SF, let me know and I'll post them on the relevant board.

            1. re: a_and_w
              k
              kevin RE: a_and_w Feb 9, 2010 11:20 AM

              I'd definitely like revs for NY and sf. Thanks

              1. re: kevin
                a_and_w RE: kevin Feb 10, 2010 07:06 AM

                Here are some links to threads containing my recs and those of others. Note that the owner of Una Pizza Napoletana in NYC closed shop and reopened in SF as Tony's Pizza Napoletana.

                San Francisco: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/597045

                New York: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/635627
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/546969

                1. re: a_and_w
                  t
                  tomatoaday RE: a_and_w Feb 10, 2010 12:36 PM

                  No, Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony's Pizza Napoletana, previously was co-owner and worked at Pyzano's in Castro Valley, which is now run by his brother. As far as I know, the pizzaiolo from New York has yet to open his shop in San Francisco. Too many pizzas and makers to keep track of these days!

                  1. re: tomatoaday
                    a_and_w RE: tomatoaday Feb 11, 2010 07:24 AM

                    D'oh -- you are absolutely right. Sorry for the misinformation.

                  2. re: a_and_w
                    k
                    kevin RE: a_and_w Feb 10, 2010 02:47 PM

                    I've only been to DiFara's and Lombardi's the last time I was in NY. What styles would that fit in? I think Lombardi's may qualify as slight Neapoltina style.

                    1. re: kevin
                      k
                      KTinNYC RE: kevin Feb 11, 2010 03:39 AM

                      Lombardi's is NY-Neaolitan style. This will answer all your questions about pizza styles.

                      http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives...

                      1. re: KTinNYC
                        a_and_w RE: KTinNYC Feb 11, 2010 07:29 AM

                        I believe DiFara is NY-Neapolitan, too. Both it and Lombardi's aren't true Neapolitan because they don't use a wood oven (among other things). Lombardi's is coal, and DiFara is plain old gas. BTW, Slice has great recs from all around the country, including Bianco's place in Phoenix, which we discussed on another thread.

            2. re: a_and_w
              Will Owen RE: a_and_w Feb 9, 2010 02:14 PM

              "The differences are that authentic Neapolitan-style pizza Margherita is always made with San Marzano tomatoes, and always cooked in a wood oven." As San Marzano is a locale and not a tomato variety, I think we can assume that any decent plum tomato (I tend to use "Roma" generically for these) will fill the bill. And this Margherita of which I spake (at Bosco's in Hillsboro Village, if anyone's going to Nashville) was baked as were all their pizzas in a very fine wood-fired oven. I'll bet they still do that. I'll bet they aren't $7 anymore...

              So is Antica Pizzeria the only one that does this?

              1. re: Will Owen
                westsidegal RE: Will Owen Feb 9, 2010 03:17 PM

                fwiw, imho the san marzano tomatos taste different from other plum tomatos.
                dunno why, but they definitely have a distinctive taste.

                1. re: westsidegal
                  Will Owen RE: westsidegal Feb 9, 2010 04:13 PM

                  Terroir, I'm sure. What I was getting at is that we aren't going to get any FRESH ones unless we go there, so all our San Marzanos must necessarily be canned. I prefer fresh, and regular salad tomatoes are too watery.

                  1. re: Will Owen
                    a_and_w RE: Will Owen Feb 10, 2010 06:51 AM

                    San Marzano tomatoes are the traditional base for authentic Neapolitan pizza. I hear you re preferring fresh tomatoes, but if we're talking about what's authentic (as opposed to our preferences) they're supposed to be from San Marzano. As a result, you will see cans of them at authentic Neapolitan pizzerias like Antica and the other places that are certified by VPN:

                    http://anticapizzeria.net/vpn/members...

                    There are also probably many places around the country that adhere to VPN guidelines but aren't certified.

                  2. re: westsidegal
                    a_and_w RE: westsidegal Feb 13, 2010 08:58 AM

                    It's supposedly the volcanic soil in San Marzano.

                  3. re: Will Owen
                    decolady RE: Will Owen Feb 12, 2010 06:32 AM

                    Sad to say, the Boscos in Hillsboro Village no longer has pizza Margherita on their menu. The closest thing to it (and I use the phrase loosely) is a four cheese pizza. Prices range from $9 for the four cheese to $12 for a pizza with shrimp. They are still baked in the wood-fired oven. Next time I am there, I will ask to see if they can prepare it off menu. Boscos also has other locations in Franklin, Memphis and Little Rock, AR. I've never been to those, but may possibly check out the one in Franklin.

                    The best pizza Margherita I ever had was in a little hole in the wall Italian place in York, England that used a wood-fired oven. The guy who ran it was an older Italian transplant who was fascinated with Native Americans. He was most distressed to find out I did not have Native American blood in me, even though I looked like I did. Happily my spouse is part Native American, so the owner was thrilled to meet my daughter and prepared his best Neopolitan style pizza for us - on the house. That one remains my yardstick for pizza Margherita.

                    Even though it is not authentic, my personal preference is to make it with good fresh plum tomatoes when they are available. It's hard to find San Marzanos here. While many times San Marzanos taste different from other plum tomatoes, I find they vary from harvest to harvest and among the different canners. I'm sure some of that has to do with the weather when they were grown and exactly when they were picked. And I don't have a wood-fired oven either, so I make do as best I can.

                    1. re: decolady
                      Will Owen RE: decolady Feb 12, 2010 10:19 AM

                      Thank you so much for the Bosco's report. $9 is not that much of a hike - two dollars in ten years!

                      I imagine that it was hard for them to justify the hand-work going into a low-priced item, especially as I doubt it ever was that popular. I found it perfect, but I've noticed that what I like the most is seldom the most popular...

            3. mbfant RE: Will Owen Feb 11, 2010 02:35 AM

              http://www.pizza.it/NotizieUtili/disc...
              the link is to the Italian agriculture ministry's standards for pizza napoletana STG, which also mentions Margherita (with basil, to resemble the flag, but the basil is often neglected these days). The tomatoes do not have to be fresh ("pomodori pelati e/o pomodorini freschi") and S. Marzano are not specified. It is later specified that pelati should be "frantumati" -- broken up into pieces.

              8 Replies
              1. re: mbfant
                a_and_w RE: mbfant Feb 11, 2010 07:26 AM

                Any Neapolitan pizzeria certified by VPN uses San Marzano tomatoes.

                1. re: a_and_w
                  Soop RE: a_and_w Feb 11, 2010 07:29 AM

                  Hey are you A&W like rootbeer?

                  1. re: a_and_w
                    Soop RE: a_and_w Feb 11, 2010 07:30 AM

                    Hey are you A&W like rootbeer?

                    And I see you've eaten at the French Laundry! Oh my... I've been wanting to eat there for 12 years...

                    1. re: a_and_w
                      mbfant RE: a_and_w Feb 12, 2010 10:44 PM

                      I have been trying to figure this out, because the Italian ministry document setting forth the standards for Pizza Napoletana STG (specialità tradizionale garantita) does NOT specify San Marzano but the US VPN association does. The answer, I believe, lies in misuse of the term San Marzano by the US VPN document. It actually says "San Marzano (plum) tomatoes". In Italy the term is correctly used (and an official document would have to use it correctly) only for plum-type tomatoes grown in the locality of San Marzano and would be followed by DOP (denominazione d'origine protetta). The US doc should have said "San Marzano-type", but the Italian ministry doc doesn’t even go that far in specifying type of tomato. But there are two Italian documents, I discovered, and the Italian VPN is more specific than the ministry and more correct than the US VPN:
                      "Pomodoro fresco: nelle varianti S.Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-nocerino D.O.P.,
                      Pomodorini di Corbara (Corbarino), “Pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio” D.O.P. Pomodoro pelato: pomodoro pelato S.Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino
                      D.O.P .. E’ consentito l’uso del pomodoro fresco o industriale per pelato del “pomodoro lungo tipo Roma”."
                      That is, if the pizza has fresh tomatoes, they can be of three different Neapolitan varieties, Canned tomatoes (pelati) have to be San Marzano DOP. But the last sentence seems to open up the choice: "the use of Roma-type oblong tomatoes is allowed fresh or canned." Roma tomatoes, of course, look like San Marzano but are not grown (necessarily) in the San Marzano area and are thus not certified.
                      So my interpretation is the US VPN just took the last bit: "you have to use plum tomatoes" but erroneously used San Marzano as a generic term synonymous with plum (pomodoro lungo, or oblong, in Italian).
                      I confess I have not printed out and compared the three docs (Italian ministry, US VPN, and Italian VPN), so if anybody has further clarification on this, I would be happy to hear it.

                      1. re: mbfant
                        a_and_w RE: mbfant Feb 13, 2010 07:26 AM

                        Perhaps you should write US VPN and inform them of this mistranslation lol! Seriously, I find it hard to believe that the knowledgeable pizzaiolos who run US VPN would insist on San Marazano tomatoes based on a mere mistranslation. Everything I've heard or read about Neapolitan pizza suggests the tomatoes are supposed to be from San Marzano, which is why you see cans of them in Neapolitan pizzerias. Maybe the Italian ministry refrained from citing San Marzanos specifically for fear of alienating tomato producers from other regions of Italy.

                        1. re: a_and_w
                          mbfant RE: a_and_w Feb 13, 2010 08:21 AM

                          Hey, don't laugh. I have been translating Italian for 25 years, more even, and specializing in gastronomic terminology for at least 15 of them, and I find it EASY to believe that mistranslations find their way into EVERYTHING. San Marzano alone is not correct usage, and there is no need to worry about other regions of Italy. There are other prized varieties of tomatoes from the Naples area alone, famous as perhaps the greatest tomato-growing area in the universe, and they are mentioned specifically and correctly in the Italian VPN document. To me it is clear that the US document uses the term as a synonym of plum tomato, which is incorrect since the correct usage of San Marzano associates the tomato variety with a specific geographical area.

                          1. re: mbfant
                            a_and_w RE: mbfant Feb 13, 2010 08:40 AM

                            Point well taken. I'm just saying it's pretty unlikely that the trained pizzaiolos who enforce the US VPN guidelines are doing so based on a mistranslation, rather than tradition. This isn't a situation where some random schlubs promulgated a bunch of rules based solely on a foreign text. They're people who have devoted their lives to a craft.

                            Besides, San Marzano tomatoes are WELL KNOWN among pizza aficionados for their flavor -- google this if you don't believe me. Many NON-Neapolitan pizzerias like DiFara use them for sauce because of this. I don't mean to question your knowledge of Italian, but the textual ambiguity you cite just doesn't comport with what I know about Neapolitan pizza.

                            1. re: a_and_w
                              mbfant RE: a_and_w Feb 13, 2010 12:27 PM

                              I don't disagree that San Marzanos are the tradition and preferred. i am saying that the documents are ambiguous. The Italian VPN document is ambiguous because it seems to contain conflicting statements and the US VPN because it uses the San Marzano designation incorrectly. The Italian agriculture ministry document doesn’t mention the tomato variety at all. In any case, Italian cooks have never required legal documents to make good food, and often the so-called "disciplinare" -- the written standards for a given quality designation -- are drafted under pressure from large producers with the consequence that small producers using truly traditional methods are excluded or choose to forgo the designation. I haven't sorted out all the links and documents, but it is possible that the ministry standards are indeed less stringent than those of the producers' association. The fact remains that in English, the tomatoes are not properly identified.

                  2. Soop RE: Will Owen Feb 11, 2010 06:47 AM

                    I think you'll find that it's actually the shittiest, cheapest pizza the restaurant can make most of the time.

                    It infuriates me that rather than being a standard to measure the basic quality of the retaurant, it's just seen as the cheapskate option. When I don't actually want meat on a pizza, but just want to taste the holy trinity of tomato, basil and buffallo mozzerella, I get handed a piece of half-assed flatbread.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Soop
                      Will Owen RE: Soop Feb 11, 2010 10:09 AM

                      It annoys me even more when some idiot chef thinks it's too plain, and wants to gussie it up. Shortly after I'd discovered the one at Bosco's, we went to another restaurant that had a rep for adventurous cooking, and found they had a Margherita on their menu. Alas, it had a sweetish whole-wheat crust, globs of red sauce, swaths of dried basil... Imagine tomato sauce on a graham cracker!

                      The Margherita at Bosco's was very plain, almost austere, but one of the most compelling things I've ever eaten. I want one right now.

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