Recipe: Classic, Simple Pizza Margherita

November 11, 2011 9:41:40 AM PST
ABC7's Hungry Hound gives a detailed introduction to a simple method for making delicious, superfast pizza.

Thin-crusted Pizza Napoletana (Neapolitan- Style Pizza) is a touchstone for great pizza. The standard version -- with mozzarella, tomato, and basil -- is known in Italy as Pizza Margherita, which was named after Italy's Queen Margherita, for whom this patriotic pie with the three colors of the Italian flag was developed in 1889. It's crispy, thin, and delicious and a great way to start.

The crispiest crusts are baked right on a hot baking stone or a cast- iron pizza pan, having been transferred there from a pizza peel.

The secret to getting the pizza to slide right off the pizza peel and onto the stone is to minimize the time the dough spends sitting on the peel. That calls for one very strong recommendation: Have all the toppings prepared and measured in advance. Otherwise you will end up delaying at the crucial moment, and the dough might stick to the peel. Unfortunately, many of us who've made pizza know the result: when you try to slide the pizza into the oven the dough is hesitant to slide off, but the toppings aren't. Off they go to the back and bottom of the oven, which causes a smoky mess- and deep disappointment. If you really don't want to take a chance, you can bake pizza on a sheet of parchment paper, baking sheet, or heavy- duty half sheet pan.

Recipe courtesy Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in 5 Minutes a Day
Makes 8 Pizzas

  • 3 1/2 cups lukewarm water (100°F or below)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated yeast
  • 1- 11/2 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 7 1/2 cups (scoop and sweep) unbleached all- purpose flour
  • 8 tomatoes
  • 2 2/3 cup tomato topping of your choice
  • 24 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2- inch chunks
  • 48 fresh basil leaves, whole, thinly slivered or torn
  • Olive oil for drizzling over the pizza before baking
  • Flour, cornmeal, or parchment paper for the pizza peel

1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100°F. Using warm water will allow the dough to rise to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold tap water and get a great fi nal result; but this initial rising will take longer.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5- quart bowl or, preferably, in a lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or foodgrade bucket. Don't worry about getting them to dissolve completely.

3. Measure the flour with the "scoop-and-sweep" method or weigh the ingredients. Then mix in the flour- kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour and mix with a wooden spoon, Danish dough whisk, 14- cup food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). You might need touse wet hands to get the last bit of fl our to incorporate if you're not using a machine. Don't knead, it isn't necessary. You're fi nished when everything is uniformly moistened, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields dough that is loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight), leave it open a crack for the first 48 hours to prevent a buildup of gases; after that you can usually seal it. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it begins to flatten on the top, approximately 2 hours, depending on the room's temperature and the initial water temperature. Do not punch down the dough! With our method, you're trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks out gas and will make your pizza and flatbreads dense.

5. After rising, refrigerate and use over the next 14 days; the dough will develop sourdough characteristics over that time. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it's best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before use. Once it's refrigerated, the dough will collapse, and it will never rise again in the bucket- that's normal for our dough.

On Pizza Day

6. Prepare and mea sure toppings in advance: This will help you top thepizza quickly so you can get it into the oven before it sticks to the pizza peel.

7. Thirty minutes before you're ready to bake, preheat a baking stone at your oven's highest temperature, with a baking stone placed in the bottom third of the oven.

8. Shape a ball in 20 to 30 seconds. First, prepare a pizza peel with fl our, cornmeal, or parchment paper to prevent your pizza from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with fl our. Pull up and cut off a 1/2- pound (orange-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the piece of dough in your hands and add a little more fl our as needed so it won't stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the dough a quarter-turn as you go to form a ball. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it's not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the ball may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will fl atten out and adhere when you roll it into a pizza or flatbread. The entire process should take no longer than 20 to 30 seconds.

9. Roll out and stretch the pizza crust: Flatten the dough with your hands and a rolling pin on a work surface or directly onto the pizza peel to produce a 1/8- inch- thick round, dusting with flour to keep the dough from adhering to your work surface. A little sticking to the surface can be helpful in overcoming the dough's resistance to stretch. Use a dough scraper to unstick the dough as needed, and transfer it to the prepared pizza peel if you haven't already stretched the dough directly on one. When you're finished, the dough round will be about 12 inches across, and should have enough flour under it to move easily when you shake the peel. As you add toppings, continue to test for sticking by gently shaking the peel. The pizza should move freely. If it doesn't, use the dough scraper and some flour to free it.

10. Add the toppings: Spread the tomato topping over the dough, leaving a 1/2- inch border at the edges, then add the cheese and basil (for a different effect, put the basil on after baking). We prefer using well- spaced chunks of cheese, which gradually melt and spread (giving the crust a longer opportunity to crisp before the toppings burn). Drizzle a little olive oil over the pizza if desired.

11. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone: Place the tip of the peel near the back of the stone, close to where you want the far edge of the pizza to land. Give the peel a few quick forward- and- back jiggles and pull it sharply out from under the pizza (if you're using a sheet pan, place it right on the stone). Check for doneness in 8 to 10 minutes, and turn the pizza around in the oven if one side is browning faster than the other. It may take up to 5 minutes more in the oven. Using a spatula may be helpful in getting the baked pizza back onto the peel. Allow to cool slightly, preferably on a wire cooling rack, so that the cheese sets. Buon appetito!

12. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days: You'll find that even one day's storage improves the flavor, texture, and the color of pizza and fl atbread crusts. The dough begins to ferment and take on sourdough characteristics. Cut off and shape more dough as you need it. The dough can also be frozen in 1/2- pound portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks; defrost overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.This is a particularly nice option for an egg- enriched dough, which has a 5- day refrigerator life.

VARIATION: Olive Oil Dough
Substitute 1/3 cup (21/2 ounces/70 grams) of olive oil for 1/3 cup of water, and the result is a marvelously flavorful, slightly richer pizza dough, or our preferred base for focaccia.