Margherita Pizza (and Beyond)

Finding a truly great slice of pizza is a quest for many food lovers, and leads pizza-pie hounds to fill web message boards with critical dissections of restaurants’ crusts, wood oven technique, and topping philosophy. But the hunt does not have to take you beyond your own kitchen, since you are more than capable of making radically good pizza at home. No wood oven required, and no special sauce—just a bright and piquant uncooked tomato sauce and some great homemade dough.

 

1 recipe Pizza Dough (recipe follows), separated into 2 balls

½ cup Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 8-ounce ball whole-milk mozzarella cheese, chopped or torn into small pieces

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

½ cup (loosely packed) finely sliced fresh basil leaves

Makes two 10-inch pizzas

Position an oven rack to the upper third of the oven and place a pizza stone or upside-down large, heavy baking pan on the rack. Heat the oven as hot as it will go—at least 500°F.

Using the heel of your hand, gently press and stretch the first ball of dough on a well-floured surface into an 11-to 12-inch circle, about ¼ inch thick, and lay it on a sheet of parchment. Repeat the process with the second ball of dough.

Spread about ¼ cup of pizza sauce over each disk of dough and sprinkle each with about ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Spread half of the mozzarella cheese over each disk, then sprinkle another ¼ cup Parmesan cheese over each pizza. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Open the oven and slightly pull out the oven rack with the baking stone or sheet on it. Carefully lift one pizza by grasping the parchment sheet by the corners, and place the pizza on the stone. Bake the pizza for 5 to 10 minutes (baking time will vary greatly depending on how hot the oven is and how thin you were able to stretch the dough). The pizza is done when the edges have browned deeply and the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Carefully remove the pizza from the oven by picking up the edges of the parchment and sliding the pizza onto a platter or wood cutting board. Sprinkle with half of the basil. Let cool for 3 to 5 minutes to let the cheese set. Repeat with the second pizza.

To serve the pizzas, cut with a pizza cutter or kitchen shears and eat immediately

 

Pizza Dough 

Makes two 10-inch pizzas

¾ cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water

1 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 ½ teaspoons salt

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water and yeast and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. The mixture should look cloudy and begin to foam. Place the paddle attachment on the mixer, add the flour and salt to the bowl, and mix until a shaggy dough is formed. If the dough is too wet, add more flour as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, along with any loose flour still in the bowl. Or, if using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook. Knead the dough until all the flour is incorporated, and the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. The dough should still feel moist and slightly tacky. If it’s sticking to your hands and the countertop or the sides of the stand mixer bowl like bubble gum, work in more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it is smooth.

If you have time at this point, you can let the dough rise, covered in an oiled bowl in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour and 30 minutes). After the dough has risen, you can use the dough or wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. (Bring the dough to room temperature before proceeding.)

Cover the dough with the upside-down mixing bowl or a clean kitchen towel while you prepare the pizza toppings, or let the dough rest overnight.

 

Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce 

Makes about 2 cups, enough for 6 to 8 pizzas

1 15-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, or to taste

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a blender or food processor, blend the tomatoes with the garlic, balsamic vinegar, and a drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The sauce will keep for up to a week in the fridge and much longer frozen. Freeze in ½-to 1-cup portions in individual freezer bags, then defrost overnight, snip off a corner, and squeeze out the sauce. Or freeze in muffin cups, then slip the frozen disks into a large bag. (Each muffin cup will hold enough sauce for 1 to 2 pizzas.)

 

PIZZA TOPPING IDEAS

Every topping is fair game, including some you may not have considered. We love unorthodox flavors such as potato and sauerkraut. Here are other favorites.

  • Very thin sweet potato slices, caramelized onions, finely chopped fresh rosemary, Gruyère cheese
  • Very thin white potato slices, caramelized onions, sliced prosciutto, Gorgonzola cheese
  • Diced fresh tomatoes, crispy cooked sausage, chopped fresh kale, mozzarella cheese
  • Roasted diced butternut squash, cooked bacon, chopped spinach, smoked mozzarella cheese
  • Sliced black olives, sliced artichoke hearts, soft goat cheese
  • Thinly sliced smoked German sausage, sauerkraut, fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Ricotta instead of red tomato sauce, thinly sliced garlic, fresh dill, fresh basil, red pepper flakes, Parmesan cheese

Reprinted with permission from The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand, copyright © 2014. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House LLC.

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