Pizza Margherita

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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.

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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.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Pizza Margherita
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4 small to medium pizzas

1 recipe all-purpose pizza dough, or your favorite dough recipe
olive oil
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.

Thin Crust Pizzas

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We make pizza at least every two weeks, sometimes more often. I know I have posted about homemade pizza probably way more than I should, but I really like it. I loved pizza nights when I was growing up. We lived out in the country and there were no pizza places close. Unless we really made a production of it and drove forty-five minutes to a pizza restaurant, our choices were homemade or frozen. Homemade always won.

I felt like thin crust pizza the other night. I knew that the no-knead crust I have been making lately wasn’t going to work this time. It is an easy to dough to make, but it is kind of wet and sticky and wouldn’t press out as thin as I wanted. I used the recipe we always used when I was growing up instead. I have changed it over the years, as I tend to do, adding an extra tablespoon of oil and replacing most of the white flour with white whole wheat.

The ingredients are the same as the no-knead dough I have posted before, but the method is different. You knead the dough (only for 5 minutes – don’t let this discourage you from making it). And it only rises for an hour.

The kneading and relatively short rise result in a dough that is easy to handle. This is essential if you are trying to make thin crust pizza. I was going for the same thickness (thinness?) as Domino’s thin crust, or Imo’s, if you live in the St. Louis area – but with mozzarella, not provel. Sorry St. Louis-style pizza fans, this native is not a fan of provel cheese (or Imo’s pizza), no matter how you slice it. Don’t come after me with flaming torches and pitchforks, please.

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Give yourself some time to get the crust thin enough. If the dough bounces back, give that piece a rest and move on to another one. Or step back for a few minutes so both you and the dough can relax.

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Use your choice of toppings for this, but don’t pile them on, since the crust is thin and can’t bear the weight of loaded toppings (make two medium thick crusts if you really want to pile on the toppings, and bake them a little longer). We used red sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan and pepperoni for our pizzas. Calvin had a small one with garlic, olive oil, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan. Unfortunately we forgot to take pictures of the finished pepperoni pizzas – we only have pictures of Calvin’s white pizza. But you can get an idea of how the crust looks before and after it bakes.

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Download or print the recipe here.

All-Purpose Pizza Dough
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 3 14-inch thin or 2 14-inch medium crusts

This is the recipe we used for pizza dough when I was growing up, with a few tweaks. I have made it so many times that I don’t need to look at the recipe anymore.

1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-3½ cups flour, approximately *
all-purpose flour for kneading
Your choice of toppings

*I use about 3 cups white whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose flour. You can use entirely all-purpose flour if you prefer. Note that the dough will be whiter than the pictures if you use only all-purpose flour.

Measure water, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil and 2 cups flour into a large mixing bowl. Stir until well mixed. Continue to add flour, about ½ cup at a time, until a soft dough forms. Sprinkle kneading surface with flour and turn dough out of bowl. Sprinkle dough with flour and knead until soft and elastic (about 5 minutes), adding flour if it sticks to your hands or the counter.

Lightly grease a large bowl. Place kneaded dough into bowl, cover bowl loosely with a wet towel or tightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise. Dough should double in size in 45-60 minutes.

Grease pizza pans. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

For thin pizza crusts, divide dough into three pieces. For medium thick crusts, divide into two pieces. Place dough on pans and use your hands to press it out to the edges. If dough springs back, let it rest for a few minutes for the gluten to relax. Be patient, especially if you are making thin crusts. If you end up with holes, gently press the edges back together.

Top with your favorite pizza toppings. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Lower heat to 350 and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes, or until bottom and edges of crust are browned and cheese is melted and browned.

Let pizzas cool for about 5 minutes before cutting. Serve hot. Leftovers reheat well in a skillet, on a griddle or in the microwave. Or eat them cold.