Sometime around mid-September the website 50 Top Pizza published its annual list of the best pizzerias in Italy (and let’s face it, in the world), and rattled the list of travel destinations around the peninsula after the perfect pizza*.
It has been only 5 years since the list was first published, but the top figures who stand behind the website made it a very prestigious ranking in Italy, maybe even the most prestigious. 5 years is already enough time to create a database big enough to play around with its numbers. It’s such a joy to play with data about data and with food about data!
Here are some numbers:
It’s not a surprise that Campania, together with Naples, is the region that hosts the highest numbers of pizzerias – 13 of the best 50, a little bit more than a quarter. If we look at the large list of 100 best pizzerias, there are 29 of them, a little less than one-third.
43 out of the best 100 pizzerias are located in Italy’s southern regions, a major climb from last year’s list. The same augmentation rate goes for the central regions, which this year have 29 pizzerias. I cannot say it for sure, but since the last year there wasn’t any other explanation, I guess it has to do with the hit North of Italy suffered due to the pandemic.
Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.
When we go deeper, we see, besides the interesting fact that Naples and Rome have the same number of 11 pizzerias out of 100, the small (relatively) Caserta has 3! Including the one that reigns them all for 3 years in a row – I Masanielli of Francesco Martucci.
Such a statement on such a website didn’t leave Wonderful V. and me just standing there, so we set up a less-than-24-hours trip to Caserta for pizza, pizza, and pizza. Are we privileged? It could be.
The strict reservation policy of Francesco’s I Masanielli made us organize the trip around it. And since we were already in Caserta, why not turn it into a family visit?
Not too far down the list another I Masanielli, and also its head pizzaiolo’s name is Martucci! Salvatore, “Sasà” for short, who is Francesco’s younger brother, stands in 11th place after jumping more than 20(!) stages up from last year’s list. And he doesn’t show any signs that he plans to stop.
One might say that after Campania with 29, and Caserta with 3, the Martucci Family has the most pizzerias in the best pizzerias list for 2021.
To get to Sasà’s pizzeria we had to cross Caserta’s main railway and get to the shop that stands not far from the place that hosted Franco Pagliaro’s pizzeria. Pagliaro was Francesco and Sasà’s uncle who taught them the basics of making pizza and is the mastermind of our menu for the following day.
Reservation – check, Green pass – check, and this is the place to say good words to all the places we visited, that all kept all regulations up to the T – and we’re in.
Although we repeatedly checked the menu upfront, we were clueless about which pizza to choose.
The first rule we set to ourselves is to order one Margherita, the traditional pizza that reveals everything and doesn’t let the pizzaiolo hide their creation behind the toppings, as good as they might be. There’s the dough, and tomatoes, and mozzarella and that’s it, and from them, they’ll have to create the best pizza they can.
The second rule was that for the second pizza since we didn’t come to Caserta to eat only one pizza, is that there are no rules. Everything goes – to the oven.
We knew that these are going to be packed for 24 hours, and yet we didn’t resist the waiter’s recommendation and ordered a thick fried disc of Provola cheese in breadcrumbs, and Frittatina, which is a ball, more or less, of pasta, some speck, some Provola, some butter, and some cream. Fried, of course.
Two tasty nibbles, but we couldn’t wait to taste the main thing.
Ant they arrived.
Sasà bakes 3 types of Margheritas: the “simplest” one with “only” sweet San Marzano tomatoes and Fior di latte, therefore a mix of buffalo and cow milk, the “Caserta Pride” one with local tomatoes and real Mozzarella, up to the DOC certified one. What does it mean? San Marzano tomatoes from the San Marzano region (which happens quite rarely), Mozzarella from Caserta which is the most original it can get, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano grated on top, freshened with olive oil that is produced exclusively for the pizzeria.
Here it is.
Soft in the right spots, crunchy in the right spots, satisfying from every side.
We went on the second pizza that we chose like sticking a fork in a turning globe, and we landed on an Umami pizza. What does it mean (according to layers)?
Fior di latte from the local red-spotted cow, slightly bitter escarole leaves, low-temperature cooked local pork belly, Papaccelle – the local squashed peppers – cream, hazelnuts, dried olive powder, and the ancient Annurca apples. How ancient? Whoever visits old Pompeii can spot them on the walls of what’s left of Julia Felix’s house. That’s how ancient.
To tell the truth, we were a little disappointed, especially since the menu promised a lot. All the ingredients were top quality, obviously. The dough – as you can see – was fantastic, the pork was soft, the papaccelle smokey, and the apple was sweet. But the combination of all together created an average of… well, average. And since when are we looking for something average? It wasn’t only the combination, but also the lack of the promised misty umami-ness.
We were left to miss the Fil Rouge pizza we didn’t pick, with the red thread that connects red-spotted cow’s milk Fior di latte, red tuna, and local red onion. We’ll save it for next time.
To sweeten a bit of the bitterness of Escarole and miss a great pizza, we decided again to leave the waiter the right of choosing the dessert for us. We hoped he will pick the same thing that we wanted – and it worked!
What do you say about that?!
The dessert, which is also a theatre, is called Tiramibù, which is a tiramisù made from ricotta of buffalo milk instead of mascarpone cheese, and cold coffee which is spilled happily onto the plate. Such a fun treat!
We were already ready to go to the main reason for we went to Caserta in the First place, but since we had already visited one brother, and before going to the other one, it would have been very rude not to visit the sister as well.
Attached to Sasà’s pizzeria we found the cafè IM, an abbreviation for – that’s right – I Masanielli, run by the sister Sabina. Coffee, Cornetto with Cream in Caserta in Campania will give you all the Vitamin C you need.
Here we are in front of the best pizzeria in the world. Well, we really hope so, since following maps and instructions brought us to a tiny mall, next to a bank and a baby clothes shop. Are we sure it’s here?
Oh yes, here on the wall is the face of Tommaso Aniello, or Masaniello, who inspired Martucci, and his empire of pizza its name. The Neapolitan fisherman fought in the mid-17th century against the tyranny of Habsburg Spain in Naples and became a local hero after giving the local population – even for a very short period – the illusion that they will gain parity next to the city novelty.
Behind that wall spreads 600 m2 divided equally between the kitchen and the sitting area, declaring that the pizzaioli are equal to the diners. Like Masaniello wanted.
The restaurant is painted all black, as for the waiters’ uniforms, as the masks and gloves. Another sign of time is the plexiglass plates that separate the tables, and entering the restaurant gives a sense of a house of mirrors, one of the attractions in MartucciLand.
We followed our pre-decision and ordered one Margherita, picking only the best of the best pizzeria can give. And it was the best. Soft and cloudy, bringing to the front each one of the ingredients, and composing them into such a light harmony that one might think “Is that it?” Yes, this is it and that’s the whole point.
Although the menu is endless the second choice was rather easy since Martucci is pizzaiolo, but he also invents and re-designs the world of pizza. From the same kitchen that hosts the two huge ovens for classic Neapolitan pizzas, we got the best pizza for 2020 – “The Future of Marinara” (“Futuro di Marinara”.)
Margherita might be a more famous pizza, but together with it, a pizzeria is measured by its Marinara.
They are the same classic Marinara ingredients – but different:
The tomatoes were baked before becoming the sauce, the normal garlic became ramsons pesto, the olives came from Caiazzo (where resides Pepe in Grani, the pizzeria that shared the first place with I Masanielli until last year, and now stands “only” in 5th place), the oregano from the mountains around Caserta, and the capers and anchovies from Sicily, in a delicious union of the South. Maybe like Masaniello wanted.
But the main innovation is the way of preparing the pizza. Unlike the classic ones that are only baked in a wooden oven, the “Dough of the Future” goes through three passages: steamed, fried, and baked.
The result is a very tall and very crunchy dough, and the toppings are in charge of the flavor.
We might need to get used to the idea that also this futuristic Marinara is a pizza – traditionalists surely will refuse to touch it – and that it’s not less tasty than the classic Marinara. If someone has the right to reset the borders of the pizza kingdom, it’s better if he’ll do it from the top.
We are already here, watching Francesco running around the kitchen, spotting him as he opens another ball of dough to a pizza disc. We cannot stop here.
No appetizers and no dessert, we had to pick another pizza, and we picked “Quattro Pomodori”, the healthy version of “Quattro Formaggi”: semi-dried cherry tomatoes, red and yellow plum tomatoes, and when it gets out of the oven also dried ones that come from the slopes of Vesuvius, together with Primosale, one of the early stages of Pecorino cheese, yet here at FrancescoLand, it’s made of buffalo milk.
Such a beauty.
The crust is so high you can easily drive through.
While eating we imagined how great it is to live in a place where your home pizzeria is the best in the world. Not like local Copenhageners that cannot pop up at the door of Noma, there is much less struggle for residents of Caserta and the surroundings to decide that today they prefer to eat at one of I Masanielli venues, or at least order the pizza in.
Actually, the Martucci brothers want to send their pizza everywhere, so together they developed pizza that can get anywhere in Italy, Europe, and the world.
The unique way of preparing “the pizzas of the future” makes it possible to prepare at the restaurant the first two stages, and send it anywhere with the toppings aside. All that’s left to do is follow the instructions for finishing the baking in the home oven – and that’s it. According to Antonio Fucito, senior editor of Dissapore and the mastermind behind Garage Pizza, therefore a top authority when it comes to pizzas, apart from slight differences the result is (almost) the same as you’d eat in Caserta.
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