'Healthy' margherita puts pizza purists in a spin

The classic pizza margherita has had a controversial 'healthy' makeover in its hometown of Naples.
The classic pizza margherita has had a controversial 'healthy' makeover in its hometown of Naples. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

A Michelin-starred chef in Italy has triggered a storm of protest from pizza purists loyal to the original Neapolitan dish for daring to produce a "healthy" version of the humble pizza margherita to which he has audaciously added wholemeal grains and cereals.

Carlo Cracco put his alternative "crunchy" recipe, featuring petal shapes of mozzarella and a heavy tomato sauce, on the menu of his restaurant in the smart Victor Emanuel Gallery in the Italian business capital of Milan, charging as much as €16 ($25 AUD).

But his modifications of the original recipe was met with disdain in the proud southern city of Naples, the birthplace of the margherita.

Angelo Forgione, the Neapolitan writer, spearheaded the criticism, quipping that the new gastronomic creation was nothing more than "a cracked pizza".

Another purist noted that Cracco, a former judge in the Italian Masterchef, recently lost a Michelin star at one of his restaurants. "After making his own 'pizza,' they took away not only his other Michelin stars but also his Italian citizenship and his driving licence," the commentator said, adding that migrant Egyptians who often work as pizza bakers in Italy could do better. "When I saw Cracco's pizza I immediately awarded the Egyptian cook downstairs eight Michelin stars," he said.

Legend has it that in June 1889 Raffaele Esposito, a pizzaiolo - a man who makes pizzas in a pizzeria - invented Pizza margherita in honour of the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, and Italian unification, since the toppings are tomato (red), mozzarella (white) and basil (green), representing the colours of the national flag of Italy. The world's love for the traditional margherita led to Unesco last year recognising Neapolitan pizza with official world cultural heritage status.

The latest debate over the modern provocation by the chef from Vicenza recalled the furore that raged last year over whether it was acceptable to use pineapple on pizza to create the so-called Hawaiian pizza.

Some Neapolitan connoisseurs in Milan who tasted Cracco's pizza, described on the menu as "a variation on a theme", acknowledged grudgingly that it was tasty but they suggested he produce a more popular, low-cost version in line with pizza's proletarian origins, the leading Corriere della Sera of Milan newspaper reported.

"They advised the chef to come down from the stars to the level of alleyways of Naples, not as a celebrity pizza maker, but like bakers who make pizzas that cost  just €2," the Corriere said.

One resident of Naples, quoted by the Huffington Post, said: "For  €16 here in Naples you can also have zeppole (traditional carnival cakes) and panzerotti (Neapolitan potato croquettes) as well as a beer and still have change."

Gino Sorbillo, a celebrity chef who recently opened a pizzeria in New York, weighed into the fray in defence of Cracco, saying that at the end of the day pizza is a snack, not a sacred cow.

The Daily Telegraph, London