From airy dough and milky mozzarella to burnt basil and sour tomatoes, the quality of own-brand margheritas varies wildly. Who says there isn’t much to a Neapolitan?
If you like to cook from scratch, it’s unlikely you eat much pizza. It takes anywhere up to 48 hours to proof the dough, so you can’t rustle one up on a whim. This inconvenience may help explain why, over the past decade, the market in chilled supermarket pizzas has ballooned. Perceived as the thin and crispy connoisseur’s choice, and far preferable to frozen, they have become a staple of Britain’s shopping trolley. But do any of them really rival restaurant quality? We called in the margheritas to find out.
Size doesn’t matter, they say, it’s what you do with it. And this was 8in of disappointment. The packaging boasts that the Pizza Express margherita hasn’t changed since 1965, but on this evidence it needs an urgent update. Despite the generous quantities (24% each of mozzarella and tomatoes), the toppings look and taste parsimonious. Individually, it has a nice tang, but the tomato sauce is spread so thinly it fails to assert itself, and the base (a creditably crisp exterior and soft within) lacks any vibrant flavour. This one-dimensional slice is all about sweet, if meek, mozzarella. 4/10
Co-op, Truly Irresistible margherita, 495g, £4.50
A 12.5in by 9in rectangular beast, this looked terrific. However, the promising toppings cling together in big, unedifying lumps. The middle of the pizza is a quagmire of buffalo mozzarella that, while serviceable, offers only a distant echo of the milky freshness you expect. The wildly sweet, sharply tart “marinated sunkissed tomatoes” dominate any mouthful they appear in. The tomato sauce is not bad, albeit in a flat, muffled, jarred-pasta-sauce way, but there needs to be more of it to titivate a thick, bready base that lacks the lactic zing you expect of a fermented sourdough. 5/10
One of the few where the base cooked properly in the time suggested, this 12in was a cut above. The (semolina-dusted) base could be thinner, but the slices droop authentically at their tips and the dough is crisp but pliable. It tastes of something, too, albeit baked crackers. The topping-to-base ratio is acceptable, and those toppings – well-judged SunBlush cherry tomatoes, mozzarella with good elastic resistance and a pronounced flavour, a relatively sprightly tomato sauce – come together, via some strident seasoning (you would swear there’s sea salt on there), in fine style. An acceptable slice. 7/10
Aldi, Specially Selected hand-stretched tomato, mozzarella and pesto pizza, 453g, £2.99
This 12in looked handsome, but pretty much reprised the Co-op’s mistakes. Three mozzarella pearls melt into sickly pools that taste cheap and, as it cools, feel plasticky, while pieces of semi-dried tomato (unpleasant in their weirdly exaggerated sweet and sour flavour) remind you why most people stopped using this ingredient circa 2001. The supplementary mozzarella is far cheesier, and the base is light, if not crisp enough. Overall, however, this yo-yos between bland and big mouthfuls of unpalatable gunk. Selected by experts, the packaging seeks to reassure us. It needs a rethink. 4/10
Like an old banger tricked-out with a V6 engine, this 10in didn’t look all that, but it was very tasty. The toppings are evenly distributed and the cheese goes up to the edge, giving you delicious browned strands around the rim. The punchy tomato sauce is well-seasoned. The base is airy and crispy, yet still foldable – almost paper-thin in the middle. The blurb overeggs the “real taste of Italy” flannel, but this is clearly designed by a pizza aficionado (Italian 00 flour base; revered San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce; notably creamy buffalo mozzarella, hand-torn and scattered, rather than left in big, showy balls). If you ate this in a high street pizzeria, you would leave well satisfied. 8/10
M&S, wood-fired margherita, 480g, £3.99
This 12in had all the ingredients of a potential winner. It is the first pizza with a proper thick, visible underlay of tomato sauce that, despite its jammy nature, delivers a reasonably true flavour. The buffalo mozzarella from Campania has a sound, stretchy texture and is pleasantly milky, if not profoundly so. However, the poor, lifeless base severely undermines its chances. It is shatteringly dry at its edges, yet lacks that whisper of crisp “bite” you require at the centre, even after extra cooking time. Fundamentally, it doesn’t come together. 6.5/10
A big, woody gust of dried-out basil in the first mouthful (vile cooked on a pizza; it should be added fresh later), put this 11in on the back foot from the off. It never quite recovered. The base is thin (good tip-droop!), if not precision-crisp, and the cheeses (an unusual mix of mozzarella, provolone and regato) nudge up close to the nicely browned edges. However, the mozzarella is pretty meh, and the scarlet nuggets of marinated tomato look more alluring than they taste. Throw in the uneven distribution of those headline ingredients, and this pizza bumps along forgettably. 5/10
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