Introduction: Homemade Pizza Margherita
It doesn't get any better than this - combine a tender and crispy crust with gooey, flavorful cheeses and vegetables fresh from the garden, and you get not only Italy's most traditional pizza dish, but also a fabulous way to celebrate the season's harvest of juicy tomatoes. Made with ingredients reminiscent of the Italian flag, pizza Margherita is a wonderful late summer treat on those days when it's just cool enough to warrant heating up the oven.
Step 1: What You'll Need:
For the pizza dough:
- 1 1/2 c. hot water (as hot as you can run it from the tap, NOT BOILING or you will kill the yeast)
- 1 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 3 c. all-purpose flour
- oil for greasing the bowl
For the Margherita topping:
- olive oil for brushing
- 4 cloves sliced garlic
- 2 large ripe tomatoes, or similar quantity of small ones, or cherry tomatoes (whatever you have on hand, can purchase at the grocery store, or can pick out of your garden)
- 3/4 c. grated mozzarella
- 1/4 c. grated parmesan
- about 15 large fresh basil leaves
Step 2: Making the Pizza Dough
(IMPORTANT NOTE: this dough recipe is good for TWO pizzas, so if you want two Margherita pizzas, just double the amount of Margherita topping ingredients, OR you could top that second pizza spicy eggplant-style by hopping over to my companion instructable, Homemade Spicy Eggplant Pizza)
This dough recipe is one that I have had since I was in grade 8 Home Economics class, and it has never failed. It makes great pizzas every time, and can also be used for tasty calzones, or even an easy focaccia.
1. Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the hot water. Use the hottest water that you can run from your kitchen tap. DO NOT use boiling water or you will kill the yeast, and your dough will not rise. Let the yeast "bloom" for 5 minutes.
2. Add the olive oil, sugar and salt to the yeast, and stir.
3. Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and, using a wooden spoon, stir until well combined. The dough will appear VERY gooey - this is normal, as it makes a much more tender dough. DO NOT add more flour to the dough during this step.
4. Brush or spray some oil over the sides of the bowl and the top of the dough. Flip the ball of dough over and oil the other side. This will help when removing the dough after rising.
5. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and set in a warm location to rise for 1 hour. Looking for a warm location? Try above the fridge, above you cabinets, or on the stove as you're preheating the oven for the next step!
Step 3: Preparing the Toppings
Onto the good stuff - this is where you can easily diverge from the recipe and top your pizza however you want, but I STRONGLY suggesting Margherita toppings. If, however, you choose to go your own way, skip ahead to the next step for directions for how to bake the pizza.
1. Slice the tomatoes as thinly as possible. Use a serrated knife to make the task easier. The more thinly you can slice them, the less soggy your pizza will get after baking. If you include cherry tomatoes in your mix, cut them in half so you don't end up with explosive bomb of hot juiciness. Very dangerous for biting into. Set them aside for now.
2. Mix the mozzarella and parmesan together. Set them aside for now.
3. Thinly slice the garlic cloves and set them aside. Wash the fresh basil to remove any traces of dirt, then lay them out on paper towels to dry. These will only go on the pizza AFTER baking, or else they will dry out and lose all their flavor in the oven. By putting the basil on the pizza after basil, they will slowly release they flavor as they warm with the residual heat of the freshly-baked pizza. Now you are ready to garnish your pizza!
Step 4: Topping and Baking Your Pizza
1. Preheat the oven to 500 F. Set one rack in the lowest position in your oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the rack before you preheat, so that it can heat to the same temperature as the oven. If you don't have a pizza stone, you can just as easily bake the pizza on a baking sheet. A pizza stone is a good investment, however, as it makes for a nice crisp outside and tender inside to your pizza crust. I highly recommend it.
2. Generously flour a section of counter or a silpat* mat. This a really important step. The dough is very sticky, and this is when you will be adding in enough flour to make it workable, but not so much as to make it tough. So flour the counter well, and the rolling pin, and the top of the dough. Roll out half the pizza dough for one pizza, to 3/4-inch thick. You can make it round, or square, or free form in shape - I haven't found that either one tastes better than the other, but I've always like the rustic look of the free form pizza. (*A silpat mat in a silicone baking mat that can be laid over your counter before flouring. It will make transferring the dough to the pizza stone easier, and make cleaning up a cinch. If you don't have one, but ARE baking on a pizza stone, transfer your dough to a floured, reverse baking sheet, so you can then slide the dough onto the stone once it is topped.)
3. Now for the toppings: Brush or spray the top of the rolled-out dough. This is important, as it creates a barrier between the dough and the juicy tomatoes, which prevents the dough from getting soggy. Sprinkle the garlic slices over the oiled dough. Place the tomato slices/halves/pieces over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch space on the edge for holding the crust, and overlapping the slices where necessary.Sprinkle the mixture of cheeses over the top of the tomatoes. That's it - your pizza is topped!
4. If you floured your surface really well, this part should will be easy. However, I have made this pizza half a dozen times, and this step has not gotten any easier. Using the help of a large spatula, slide the pizza off the counter and onto your baking sheet, or if you are using a stone, off the silpat or reversed baking sheet and onto the stone. Don't worry about squishing and smushing the pizza as you move it, you can adjust its size slightly once in the oven. Be careful not to burn yourself on the pizza stone - it is currently at 500 F! Close the oven and bake the pizza for 12-15 minutes, depending on how brown you like your crust, and how hot your oven runs. Remember - no two ovens are the same.
Step 5: And You're Done!
Now for the piece de resistance: Once that timer rings, remove the pizza from the oven, either on its baking sheet or using a pair of tongs to slide it off the stone and onto a cutting board. Turn off the oven.
Immediately place the fresh basil leaves on top of the freshly-baked pizza. The heat from the melted cheese will wilt the basil and release all the flavorful oils into the air and into the pizza. Yum.
Time to enjoy a taste of traditional Italy - grab your pizza wheel and slice into a piece of heaven.
Remember, there's still enough dough left for a second pizza, so you always recreate this one, or hop on over to my recipe for Homemade Spicy Eggplant Pizza and try that one out too. The two topping combinations compliment each other nicely.
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