Margherita Pizza is the ultimate in taste and simplicity. When Susan and I were in Paris earlier this year, we seemed to eat pizza a lot. Part of the reason was that there was a wonderful little pizza restaurant right across the street from our hotel.
Our pizza of choice was Margherita pizza which is a very simple pizza with only a tomato sauce, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese.
Although I’ve been tempted to try my hand at making pizza, I have to say that it’s one thing that I have resisted making for some time. It’s not that I don’t like pizza – I do! Rather, I never could bring myself to try sliding a pizza onto the stone from a floured or corn mealed peel. How could that not be a huge mess?
One day, however, I thought, why not build the pizza on parchment paper and go from there? The first time I tried that, the parchment paper scorched pretty badly. The second time, I used reusable parchment paper – problem solved!
The first step in making the pizza was the dough. I wanted a dough that would both be easy to work with and result in a thin crust. I settled on Neo-Neopolitan Pizza Dough from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day. It didn’t disappoint!
The ingredients for the pizza dough included bread flour, salt, sugar, yeast, olive oil and water.
I used my Danish Dough Hand Whisk to mix the dough for about a minute. At this point, the dough was coarse and slightly sticky.
Per the recipe, I let the dough rest for 5 minutes to fully hydrate the flour. After 5 minutes, I resumed mixing the dough for another couple of minutes. Now the dough was somewhat smoother, but still soft, supple and somewhere between tacky and sticky.
I transferred the dough to a large piece of parchment paper on which I had spread about a teaspoon of olive oil. With oiled hands, I stretched and folded the dough one time, reaching under the front end of the dough, stretching it out and then folding it back onto the top of the dough. I repeated this from the back end and then each side, and formed the dough into a ball. I cut the dough into 5 pieces with an oiled dough scrapper and formed each into a ball.
Then I coated each dough ball with olive oil, and placed each one into a quart-size ziploc bag. Into the refrigerator the dough went for an overnight sit. Per the recipe, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for several months.
The next day, I removed the dough from the refrigerator a couple of hours before the pizza making was to start. Even though it had been in the refrigerator, the dough had risen a bit. After an hour or so, I removed each piece of dough from the ziploc bag, stretched and rounded each piece into a tight ball, and placed them on a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper. I loosely covered the dough with plastic wrap until it was time to form the pizzas.
The reason for using all five pieces of dough was that Susan was going to make and cook 3 pizzas, and experiment with par-baking the remaining pizza dough, and topping and freezing them for a later time. It’ll be interesting to find out how this works.
Susan has now arrived, and the master gets to work! The first thing that she does is to make the tomato sauce, which consists of a large can of crushed tomatoes, 4 cloves of garlic that have been minced, and several teaspoons of olive oil. She heats the olive oil in a saucepan over medium high heat until it’s shimmering, and adds the minced garlic. After about 30 seconds (she doesn’t want to brown the garlic, just allow it to become fragrant), she adds the crushed tomatoes. Still over medium high heat, she stirs the mixture just until it begins to bubble, and removes it from the heat.
After the tomato sauce has cooled a bit, She begins forming the pizza crust, first on a floured surface. She then transfers the crust to a piece of reusable parchment paper for the final forming.
Then, she carefully slides the pizza and parchment paper onto a pizza peel, and carefully slides the pizza and parchment paper onto the stone that has been heating in a 450° F oven for about an hour. We could have gone as high as 550° F, but were concerned about burning the pizza.
After about 8 minutes, the pizza was perfectly cooked. Removing it from the oven was just as easy as sliding it onto the stone – Susan carefully grabbed a corner of the parchment paper and slid the cooked pizza back onto the peel. She let it cool for about 5 minutes before transferring it to a cutting board and cutting it into sections.
For the Dough:
5 1/3 cups (24 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon bread machine yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons (17 ounces) filtered water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
For the Dough – Ahead of Time: Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil and water; mix until well blended for about 1 minute using Danish Dough hand whisk, or large spoon. The dough should be coarse and slightly sticky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes to fully hydrate the flour.
Continue mixing by hand for 2 to 3 minutes, until the dough is smoother, but still soft, supple and somewhere between tacky and sticky.
Spread 1 teaspoon of olive oil on a large piece of parchment paper, then use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to the oiled surface. Rub your hands with the oil on the work surface, then stretch and fold the dough one time, reaching under the front end of the dough, stretching it out, then folding it back onto the top of the dough. Do this from the back end and then from each side, then flip the dough over and tuck it into a ball. Divide the dough into 5 equal pieces, each weighing slightly less than 8.5 ounces. Form each piece into a ball; roll in olive oil, and place into a quart-size ziploc bag. Seal the bag and refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for several months.
For the Tomato Sauce:
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds, or until fragrant (do not brown the garlic). Add the crushed tomatoes; continue cooking over medium high heat just until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; cool.
For the Pizza:
1 piece of dough from above recipe
½ cup tomato sauce from above recipe (more or less according to taste)
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, coarsely chopped
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded whole mozzarella cheese (more or less according to taste)
About 90 minutes before you plan to bake the pizza, remove the dough from the refrigerator; place dough ball on a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper. With oiled hands, stretch and round the dough into a tight ball. Place the ball on a lightly oiled surface; loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature until ready to form the pizza.
About 1 hour before baking the pizza, preheat the oven and a baking stone at 450° F. While the oven is preheating, prepare the cheese, tomato sauce and topping(s).
When ready to assemble the pizza, dust a piece of parchment paper with flour; place the pizza ball on the parchment paper and sprinkle top with additional flour. Gently tap the dough down with your fingers to form a disk. Slide the backs of your hands under the dough, then lift it and begin to rotate it, using your thumbs to coax the edges of the dough onto a large circle. Don’t stretch the dough with the backs of your hands or knuckles, but rather let your thumbs do the work. If the dough starts to resist and shrink back, place it on the floured surface and let it rest for a minute or two.
Transfer the dough to a reusable piece of parchment paper and continue forming it until it is about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. It should be thicker at the edges than in the center, and the center should be thin, but not paper-thin.
Top the crust with tomato sauce to within about 1-inch of the edges. Then sprinkle on chopped basil. Finish with shredded mozzarella cheese. Carefully slide the pizza and parchment paper onto the peel, and then carefully slide the pizza and parchment paper onto the baking stone. Bake for 8 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Carefully remove from oven onto the peel; transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve. Yield: 1 10 to 12-inch pizza.