I think we got spoiled on a trip to Naples a few years back. According to legend - or at least our guidebook - Naples is the birthplace of pizza. Wandering the back alleys of the Spanish Quarter, we happened upon a small pizzeria. The menu was simple - pizza with Coke or pizza with beer. For €2.50, we feasted on the best pizza we had ever tasted. It was simplicty itself - thin, salty crust topped with a thin sheen of fresh tomato sauce, a smattering of creamy mozzarella cheese and a single basil leaf. The pizza margherita - as it is known - is now the pizza we try to receate every time we make pizza.
It starts with a good crust:
Makes 6 individual pizzas
1 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for greasing the bowl)
500 gr (or 4 cups) all purpose flour (plus extra for kneading)
1/2 cup warm water (about 100-115 degrees)
1 cup cold water
In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir yeast, warm water and sugar together and let sit for 10 minutes, until the yeast has activated and the top is foamy.
In a food processor, place flour & salt. Pulse 2 or 3 times. Turn food processor on and slowly pour in olive oil, then yeast/water/sugar mixture, then cold water. Process for 60-90 seconds. You may need to pulse a few times if the dough gets stuck.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Form into a tight ball.
In a medium bowl, splash in some olive oil and rub the dough all around to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough will nearly double in size.
Once risen, divide the dough into 6 equallly sized pieces and form into tight balls. Place on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 30 minutes - enough time for you to preheat the oven, prep the toppings and make the sauce.
2 cans Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes (not stewed)
1/4 cup minced onion
1 Tablespoon minced basil
salt & pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Drain the tomatoes (discard the juice) Blend the tomatoes, onion, oil, salt & pepper with a stick blender or in a food processor so the sauce is fairly smooth. A few lumps are OK. Stir in the basil. Season to taste.
Forming the Crust
We are by no means experts, but here are some tips. Carefully remove one ball of dough (cover the rest again with plastic wrap, otherwise a crust will form) and take to a lightly floured surface (we like a bakers peel). Gently lift the dough and let the weight of it slowly droop down, while you rotate it to form a flattish disc. Place on the peel and gently stretch it out, while you rotate it to form an even flatter disc. Then, dimple it with your finger tips - stretching more if needed - until it is about 1/4 inch thick. You can make a makeshift peel by using a cookie sheet turned upside down. Make sure you use plenty of flour though, it easily transfers to the oven.
Don't overload the crust with toppings. The dough is too thin to handle much weight. We generally keep toppings pretty simple - a splash of olive oil, some salt, maybe some red chile flakes. Then, top with some sauce, maybe some thinly sliced onion, torn pieces of the mozzarella, and some minced fresh basil. Add a little freshly grated parmigiano too.
For a crowd - it is fun to set out a little buffet of toppings to choose from: artichoke hearts, chopped olives, ham or pepperoni, baby spinach, sauteed mushrooms or zucchini, roasted garlic, etc. Baking the Pizza
We've worked hard to try and create the hottest possible temps in our home oven, in a vain attempt to recreate the wood-fired pizza taste. It is not close by a long shot, but does improve the taste & texture quite a bit.
Place a baking stone on a rack in the center of the oven. Heat to 550 degrees for at least 30 minutes. While you are assembling your pizza, set the broiler to medium high (for about 5 minutes). Once your pizza is ready, turn the oven back to 550. [Gavin likes to keep the broiler on for the entire cooking time, but I think it overcooks the top]. Bake for 7-10 minutes until crispy on the botttom and bubbling on the top.