One of the most colourful characters in the short history of modern Italy must undoubtedly be Queen Margherita of Savoy.
Born in 1851 Margherita, daughter of Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Genoa and Princess Elizabeth of Saxony, married her first cousin Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, in 1868. The only child to the marriage was the diminutive Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples, later to become Victor Emmanuel III of Italy in a reign that was to last almost to the end of the Italian monarchy (his son Umberto II acceding to the throne just in time to see the nation vote to become a republic in 1946).
In 1878 Umberto became King of Italy and Margherita the Queen consort. Both ruled until 1900, when Umberto was assassinated by an anarchist.
Although nobody knows the real truth of the matter, stories abound that the royal marriage was not a happy one, and that there were in fact more than two people in it. Umberto, it is said, was actually in love with another woman with whom he is alleged to have fathered a child. In an eerie parallel of a more recent situation, Margherita was loved by the people despite being spurned by her husband, her wisdom and cultural awareness lending much to the young cause of Italian unification.
Her place in pizza history was sealed with a tour of the Italian Kingdom in 1889 where she is said to have been intrigued by the sight of peasants eating this large, flat bread seasoned with olive oil. As the story goes she tried it herself and liked it very much, causing much flapping amongst Italian court circles who believed it to be demeaning for the Queen to be seen in public eating peasant food.
Undeterred, she continued to indulge her passion and eventually summoned the chef Rafaelle Esposito who baked a special pizza just for her comprising tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and herbs – the red, white and green of the Italian flag.
Thus was the Margherita pizza born, which today is held by the purists to be one of only two or three “real” pizza dishes.
At Eco Restaurant, one of the most well-known and popular restaurants on Clapham High Street, the still famous Margherita is baked on a light, nutritious dough base which is healthy as well as delicious and brings out the taste of the sumptuous toppings to the full. It is truly a right royal delight.