Pizza Margherita (Italy)
Can you make this classic Neapolitan pie at home? No. No you cannot. You don’t have Neapolitan flour, Vesuvian tomatoes, Campanian water, fresh mozzarella from Italian buffaloes… or a dome-shaped wood-fired brick oven.
So whatcha gonna do?
Well… You can improvise.
I like to grill my pizza in the summer - which gives a nice char and crisp but still provides a good chew. But it’s not Neapolitan.
To replicate the Neapolitan experience, you’ll need your oven. It won’t BE Neapolitan. Your oven can’t get up to a Vesuvius-like 700 degrees, so it will never be the same. But it can be delicious. So step one is getting a pizza stone.
Now, I hate the concept of buying a giant piece of rock that you’ll rarely use and will take up space in your house. But you can actually use a pizza stone for all sorts of other thing that you’d like to bake or roast. A pizza stone is just a slab of rock or ceramic that absorbs heat from the oven and provides that heat to whatever you’re roasting in a nice even, consistent way. Better than an aluminum baking sheet, anyway. So get one, but remember, have it in the oven as your preheat. If you put it in after you’ve preheated, it will crack, as both pizza stones I have ever owned have done because I’m an idiot.
OK. So dough. Flour, salt, yeast, and water. But not just any flour. It has to be type 0 or type 00 Italian flour, which are very finely milled flours, so they are super powdery, almost like baby powder. You can find this at specialty groceries, or you can substitute all-purpose flour, if needs be.
Mix up the flour with salt, water and yeast. Knead it up, divide into a couple of balls, cover and let them rest overnight in the fridge. So no, this isn’t a spur-o-the-moment thing.
Put the stone in the oven and preheat it to full hot for an hour. Flour a surface and stretch out the dough with your hands. Don’t twirl it over your head unless you’re an expert or comfortable with having floor dirt in your pizza. Get nice and thin so you can almost see through it.
Sauce is next. You can get canned San Marzano tomatoes at many stores, although note that a lot of canned tomatoes claim to be San Marzano without actually being San Marzano, so double-check. Just puree the tomatoes to make the sauce, with a smidge of olive oil and a pinch of salt. That’s it. And DON’T USE MUCH.
Next: fresh mozzarella. Again, quality matters. If you can’t get the buffalo mozz, cow’s milk will do, but it has to be good. Get it in the fancy cheese section, not in the dairy case in the back. And make sure you drain it, if it’s packed in water. You do NOT want that extra moisture, unless you like soggy pizza. Slice some thin slices and plop them on the sauce. Again, NOT TOO MUCH.
And then scatter a few pieces of torn basil leaves on top. Some people leave their leaves whole, other like a fine chiffonade. Whatever. I like torn pieces, but the key is 4 to 5 leaves per pie. That’s it.
Use a pizza peel, which is a pizza-size super-thin spatula, to move the pie onto the stone. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes and buon appetito!
Wait. Drizzle some good olive oil on top at the end. Then buon appetito.
306 grams 00 flour (2 cup plus 2 tablespoon)
8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
1 can whole tomatoes (
Extra-virgin olive oil (approx 15 ml)
2 2/3 ounces (75 g) fresh mozzarella
4 to 5 basil leaves, roughly torn
Place a pizza stone or tiles on the middle rack of your oven and turn heat to its highest setting. Let it heat for at least an hour.
In a food processor or blender, blend tomatoes, 5 ml olive oil and dash of salt
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (a little less than 1 cup) lukewarm tap water and the yeast, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)
To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares.
Put the sauce in the center of the stretched dough and use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly across the surface, stopping approximately 1/2 inch from the edges.
Break the cheese into large pieces and place these gently on the sauce. Scatter basil leaves over the top.
Using a pizza peel, pick up the pie and slide it onto the heated stone or tiles in the oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling, approximately 4 to 8 minutes.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the pie, and serve.
Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016231-pizza-margherita
Photo from wikipedia user Lombroso