Staple #7: Margherita Pizza
This is the last of the seven staples. The real staple in this recipe is the pizza dough. I have several favorite pizzas but today I thought I would start with the original pizza as we know it today—Margherita.
The legend of Margherita pizza goes back to 1889 when the king of Italy and his queen consort, Margherita of Savoy, visited Naples. The baker, Raffaele Esposito, now considered the father of the modern pizza, made a pizza with the colors of the Italian flag—green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). According to the tale, this combination was named Pizza Margherita in the queen’s honor.
Prep Time: 30 minutes plus rest time
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yields: 2 10-inch diameter pizzas
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
2 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cornmeal, for dusting
1 cup pureed or crushed canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano or Italian plum)
2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-3 large pinches of kosher salt
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 – 6 large fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons, plus more for garnishing
Prepare Pizza Dough: Put 1 cup lukewarm water in a mixing bowl (use a stand mixer with a dough hook if you prefer). Sprinkle yeast over water and let dissolve, about 2 minutes.
Add flour, salt and olive oil. Mix well until flour is incorporated and dough forms, about 5 minutes. It may look a little rough or pockmarked.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn dough out onto surface and knead lightly until it looks smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Cut dough into 2 equal pieces. Each dough ball will make a 10-inch diameter pizza.
Place the dough in lightly oiled bowls and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for several hours or, for best results, overnight. You can also freeze it for future use. You can skip this rise in the refrigerator and use the dough right away, but this cool, slow rise makes it easier to stretch and gives the pizza a crisper texture.
Preheat Oven: Place a baking sheet on the center rack of your oven. If you are making two pizzas, place two baking sheets in the oven. Preheat the oven and baking sheet(s) to 450°F .
While the oven is preheating, assemble your tomato sauce. In a small bowl, stir together the pureed tomatoes, minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pepper, and salt.
Assemble the Pizza: Gently stretch one ball of pizza dough into roughly a 10-inch circle (don’t worry if its not very uniform – mine usually come out more oval). The edges of the dough can be slightly thicker, but make sure the center of the dough is thin.
Once the baking sheet is heated up, remove from the oven and sprinkle with approximately 1 tablespoon of cornmeal. Gently transfer the dough onto the cornmeal-dusted baking sheet, being careful not to burn yourself.
Drizzle the dough lightly with olive oil (about a teaspoon). Using a large spoon, add 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce onto the pizza dough. Use the back of the spoon to spread it evenly and thinly. Add half of the cubed mozzarella, distributing it evenly over the entire pizza. Sprinkle basil over the pizza. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling. Remove the pizza carefully from the oven, transfer to a wooden cutting board or foil, drizzle the top with olive oil (if desired) and more fresh basil. Slice and serve immediately and/or prepare the second pizza.