Introduction: Pizza Margherita (and a $5 DIY Pizza Oven)

This Instructable will show how to make an at home variation on the classic Neapolitan pizza. We'll be doing it with a dough and sauce recipe that has always been used by my family. In this instructable we'll be making a Pizza Margherita (Basil, tomato, mozzarella). If you've never had it before, be willing to give it a try. This is not a recipe for the typical American pizza, overflowing with toppings, but rather about the balance of few, simple, great quality ingredients.

This is the full recipe for everything for the pizzas, including homemade sauce and dough. In theory- you could skip making your own sauce and supplement it with a good quality, tomato-basil sauce - but I think you'll notice a difference in quality. Likewise, you can skip making your own dough, but it's simple, cheap, and well worth the extra work.

Step 1: The Dough

For the dough, we want a crust that will be crispy, strong, and will puff up in the hot oven. We'll need the following ingredients for the pizza:

1.5 Tablespoons of Honey
1 Teaspoons of Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 Cup of warm water
2 Cups of Flour (Bread flour preferred, AP acceptable)
1 package of Active instant yeast

First, start by combing the salt, yeast, and about 3/4 of the flour in a mixing bowl. In the photos, I'm using a stand mixer to do the mixing and kneading for me, but this can easily be done by hand as well.

Slowly add the warm water and combine. For yeast, the water should be at about 115 degrees. The best way to determine this temperature without a thermometer is to keep your hands under the running water while it heats up. The water should be hot enough where it doesn't burn (and you can keep your hands under it), but still warm enough. Lukewarm water will cause the yeast to not activate, and too hot will kill the yeast.

After adding the water, add the honey and oil and continue to mix until fully combined. At this stage, add in the remaining flour set aside from earlier. Depending on a number of factors (most often humidity) you may need to either add a bit more additional flour, or not all of what remains.

At this point, you'll be either ready to knead the dough with your hands or run with a dough hook for 8-10 minutes. After fully kneading, oil the mixing bowl that it was in and let sit, covered, for approximately one hour. 

Step 2: Shaping the Dough

After proofing for an hour the dough will have doubled in size. Remove the dough from its container and lightly knead (this is called the punch-down) to redistribute the carbon dioxide released by the yeast. Separate the dough into two pieces and form the first into a ball by rolling on a lightly floured surface. Now it's time to choose your own adventure: will you:

A.) Be adventurous and authentic and toss by hand.
B.) Do it the easy way with a rolling pin.

Here's the scoop (or slice).
Tossing by hand isn't just for show; there's a logic to it. By slowly pushing the dough into a larger circle, stretching by hand, and tossing, you're creating a bit of horizontal thickness gradient. By tossing, you'll end up with a center that is thin and crispy, and a crust that will have a bit extra dough. 

However- if you choose to use a rolling pin, you'll end up with a dough that has a consistent thickness. While it will still taste great, the pizza's texture won't be quite right for a Neapolitan pie.

So, instructions on both:

A. Toss by hand

After forming the dough into a ball, begin to press out on your floured surface. It will take a bit of spinning, prodding, and pushing, but you'll eventually get to a state where you can lift it and begin to lightly stretch it and let it hang off your hands. When it begins to widen a bit, you're ready to lightly toss in a circular motion. The trick is to try and catch the dough with your hands in a fist shape. If you make a whole, no big deal, just press the dough back together and try again.

B. The Rolling Pin

Alright, you made your choice, who am I to second guess it? Roll the dough out to about an 11" diameter and get ready to top.

Step 3: The Sauce

If you're going to make your own sauce, great. Homemade sauce is infinitely better than the jarred stuff, and you'll have much more control over what goes in based on what you like. This simple marinara sauce will be:

1 14 Oz. Can of Tomatoes (do you have fresh tomatoes? Great! Use them and 1 TB of tomato paste instead)
3 Cloves of minced garlic
Small handful of basil
1/4 Cup finely grated parmeggiano-reggiano (a bit untraditional)
1 Teaspoon of dried oregano
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon of sugar
Salt/Pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients (all, except for only 1/2 of the basil) and cook over a medium heat for approximately one hour. You should then be able to crush the tomatoes using a wooden spoon against the side of the pan. Blend or drop in a food processor if you prefer a super smooth consistency.  Finish with a chiffonade of the remaining basil, along with any other additional touches to taste.

Step 4: The Toppings

This modified pizza margherita will be simply:

Tomato sauce previously made
Small handful of freshly torn mozzarella cheese
Small handful of basil
1 garlic clove, lightly minced
salt and pepper
light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

This is the classic (with garlic). Do you want something else? Go for it- just remember that this pizza is all about a balance of ingredients.

Step 5: The Pizza Oven and Baking

So if you have a pizza stone- great. If you don't, here's how you can make your own brick over in under $5.

You'll need either 2- 12" pieces of UNGLAZED Ceramic quarry tile or 8 pieces of 6" tiles. Again- they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO BE UNGLAZED. I purchased mine several years ago from a very well known chain (big box) hardware store for 50 cents a piece. That's $4+ tax for the whole thing.

I'm also using a paddle because I apparently make lots of pizza. If you don't have one,  use the back of a cookie sheet- you'll be fine.

We want to arrange the tile in the oven in two layers. The base layer will create the amazing crust we want, while the top will help increase the temperature within the pizza's area by creating radiant heat from the stones above. It will also aid in getting a beautiful, lightly burned top crust.

Place the stones into the oven while it is cold and bring up to the highest temperature possible... 500 Degree F is mine. I let the over preheat for about 45 minutes to get the stones very hot. Make sure your paddle is well floured to easily slide the pizza into the oven.

Bake for approximately 5-7 minutes.

Step 6: Finishing Up and Variations

After removing from the oven, enjoy immediately. 

With my second pizza from the remaining dough, I did the same base but added cooked italian sausage and a bit of fontina cheese. 

Add anything you like- but always remember with this pizza to not overdo it. For the last time, this pizza is about balance. Use whatever is good fresh, remembering that simple will always be better.


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