Being the curious cook that I am, I cannot make something called Pizza Margherita and not know why Margherita got the honor of having my most favorite pizza named after her? Why not me? Well, it turns out that I would have had to be the queen visiting Naples in the late 1800’s, where I was duly served a pizza representing the Italian flag of Tomatoes (red), mozzarella, (white) and basil (green)! Makes perfect sense, and I am so glad that the Italians were patriotic enough to come up with this fantastic combination of flavors; Viva Italia!
Despite the fact that I am not Italian, and, have no business making pizza (again!), but, when I got these tomatoes from my local farmers this week, I had to try my hand at making this famous pizza. I knew it could not touch anything served in Naples, but I can say that something made at home with love and determination tastes better than any delivery or store-bought pizza from around here! I did, after all, have fresh locally grown tomatoes, and, basil from my garden to help me along.
I love everything about pizza; the bread, gooey cheese, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. It tastes comforting (bread and cheese), and highly evolved (basil and olive oil), all at the same time. Washed down with a glass of good red wine, and you have one of the meals I might request if I had to request my last meal!
The pizza dough I make is extremely simple and is so easy to remember; basically 4 cups of flour to 1 of each of the other ingredients (salt, 1 packet of yeast, and starting off with 1 cup of water). In a pinch, you could buy the dough from the supermarket. My friend Kathleen swears by the basic white bread dough from her local grocery store, and I must say, she makes a killer pizza!
It was a hot evening, but heating the oven up to 500* was worth it. My Pizza Margherita tasting pretty great, and I felt like the queen of my castle when I served it to myself. The glass of wine I served myself along with it didn’t hurt either!
You will need: 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 packet of yeast, 1 (plus more if needed) cup warm water, 16 basil leaves, 3 beautiful red tomatoes, sliced, 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced or pulled into bite-sized pieces, extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling.
*Place your pizza stone in oven and Preheat to 500* 1 hour prior to baking pizza.
1 – Put the flour and salt into a big bowl and mix with a whisk. Make a well in the center.
2 – Mix the yeast with a few tablespoons of water in a cup and let it sit until it foams a little (about 5 minutes). Add this to your warm water (use a glass jug) and stir. Pour the water and yeast mixture into you flour and mix with a wooden spoon. Add more water if necessary. The aim is to form it into 1 dough ball.
3 – Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball and put into a bowl and cover with a damp cloth for a couple of hours. You could do this in the morning (doesn’t take long) and leave it in the fridge. Take it out about a 1/2 hour before you want to shape the pizza.
4 – Divide the dough into 4 pieces and form into discs. Flatten each one on a floured surface to about 7 or 8″ with your rolling-pin, or with your hands if you feel confident. The edge should be a little thicker than the middle.
5 – Put the dough onto your pizza paddle and add the sliced tomatoes, followed by the basil and then the cheese. I like to tuck the basil under the cheese to prevent it from burning up in the oven. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and slide from paddle onto your pizza stone. Start checking after 8 minutes. Mine were all cooked in about 8 to 9 minutes.
*While the pizza is in the oven, form the next pizza (do not put the topping on until your paddle is free).
Take out of oven, (I used the paddle and tongs to pull the pizza onto it), drizzle with a little more oil, and serve immediately.