There are as many versions of pizza margherita as there are versions of apple pie. I am not saying mine is authentic, quintessential or the best. I will say it is darn good. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment creations that turned out better than expectations – crisp, bubbly crust, milky cheese, sweet tomatoes and pungent basil, all accented by a hint of garlic.
I was looking for a different kind of dinner the last time Rich and I had a date night. Nothing really was really sparking our interest, so I started thinking about what we had on hand. Half a pound of fresh mozzarella was begging to be used, the garlic and basil were flourishing in the garden and we had a container of grape tomatoes. Pizza margherita came to mind.
It was the perfect date night meal. Rich and I assembled it together and even had time to document the process with pictures. I can take no credit for the pics. Rich did them all since I was covered in flour and dough for much of the process.
I have a pizza stone, but I don’t always use it. This time I decided to pull it out and chuck it in the oven to preheat. I wanted to get the crust as crispy as possible, since it is a star player in a simple pizza like margherita.
And I did keep it simple, no sauce, and only olive oil and garlic, and a touch of Parmesan, in addition to the traditional mozzarella, basil and tomatoes. I did experiment with adding the basil at different times and we liked it best added during the last few minutes of baking so it didn’t burn.
All amounts in the recipe are approximate. You can’t really go wrong, unless you pile on too much stuff. I got a few too many tomatoes on some of the pizzas, so the middles were a little soggy. Use a lighter hand than you think with toppings and you will be fine.
I roll my pizza out on parchment paper when I am using my baking stone. I have had too many problems using cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking to the counter or the peel. Problems meaning folding pizza that splats cheese side down on the screaming hot stone. Parchment takes away a little of the crispness, but I’ll take it over smoke boiling out of the oven and inedible pizza. Do what works for you, though.
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4 small to medium pizzas
1 recipe all-purpose pizza dough, or your favorite dough recipe
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ pound fresh mozzarella, sliced into ½-inch slices, slices cut into small wedges
1-2 small tomatoes or a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced thin or halved if cherry tomatoes
freshly grated Parmesan (not the green can stuff, please)
a handful of basil leaves, left whole or sliced into ribbons (I did some of both)
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone, if you have one. If you don’t, you can still make the pizza.
Roll out a quarter of the dough onto parchment paper, if you are using a stone. If you aren’t, press or roll out the dough onto a greased baking sheet.
Top dough with a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic and scatter mozzarella over pizza. Add tomatoes between mozzarella slices. Top with grated Parmesan. Wait to add the basil, or it will burn.
Repeat with remaining dough and toppings as the first pizzas bake.
Bake the pizzas, 1-2 at a time, depending on size until the crust is brown on the bottom and edges and the cheese is starting to brown, 10-15 minutes. Times will be shorter with the stone, and will depend on how thick your crust is. Add the basil after 7-10 minutes, or wait to add it after the pizzas come out of the oven, if you prefer it that way.
Leftovers reheat well, especially in a skillet or on a griddle to re-crisp the bottom.