homemade margherita pizza

Is there anyone who doesn’t like a good pizza? I think not. But most of us don’t make one at home. If you live in Manhattan, frankly, you don’t need to. Check out this super-cool map of every single pizza spot in Manhattan!*  Until a few years ago, I used to buy pre-made crusts from the grocery store, but more recently, I have started getting freshly made pizza dough from the neighborhood pizzeria. But it’s way more fun to do everything on your own occasionally, no?

Pizza originated in Naples, most likely. And one of the most famous Neapolitan pizzas is Margherita. In 1889, the queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, visited Naples with her king. A local pizza chef, Don Raffaele Esposito, was asked to prepare a special dish in honour of the Queen’s visit. Along with his wife, he developed a pizza featuring tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag. He named it the Margherita Pizza, after the guest of honor. And that’s how the story goes.

But not all pizzas with tomato, mozzarella and basil can be called a Margherita. Just like Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gorgonzola and Prosciutto, the name “Margherita” is now protected under the “Protected Designation of Origin” laws of the European Union. So, when you come across a pizza called “Margherita d.o.p.”, the d.o.p. implies that the recipe fulfills the requirements of an authentic Margherita pizza. The inclusion of Margherita in this list was a result of the movement known as Vera Pizza Napoletana, whose goal is to promote and protect the True Neapolitan Pizza. They have their own certification system and some basic requirements for an authentic Margherita are a wood burning oven, Tipo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. How do I know all this? Well, I decided to follow Mario Batali’s recipe for making this pizza and his recipe was called “Margherita d.o.p.”. So, like any curious person would, I Googled d.o.p.. Simple!

The first thing one needs to make this pizza is flour. In Italy, flours are classified based on how finely milled they are. So, Tipo 00 is finer than Tipo 0, for example. It’s not very easy to find “00” flour in regular American grocery stores, but I found it in Whole Foods and you can always order from Amazon. This flour can also be used to bake bread and cookies. I used the one made by Antimo Caputo. You can substitute regular all-purpose flour if you can’t find it.

Next, one needs tomatoes. Batali recommends using Pomì brand of tomatoes. Again, you should be able to find them in specialty grocery stores.

You can also use San Marzano (SM) tomatoes, which are sort of the gold standard for tomatoes. A word of caution here. You should always read the label when you buy a can of SM tomatoes. Many of the brands sold in the grocery stores are “domestically grown in the US”. There are 3 basic requirements for authentic SM tomatoes that you can read here.

Next comes the cheese. Try and use buffalo mozzarella or mozzarella di bufalo d.o.p. Most regular mozzarella is made from cow’s milk. You can buy salted or unsalted varieties, but adjust the salt in the recipe accordingly.

There are many ways to bake a pizza. At home, we don’t have access to wood-burning or coal-burning ovens, obviously. So, people have tried various ways to replicate the flavors of an authentic pizzeria. In the following recipe, I am going to stick to the method recommended by Batali, one that he uses in his restaurant Otto. He par-bakes the crusts in a cast iron skillet on stove and then bakes them under the broiler for a few minutes. There are others who let the dough rise overnight or only cook using the broiler, for example.  I am quite motivated and encouraged by the results of my first pizza-making experience. So, I am going to try some of these other popular methods in future and post about them.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times said this in one of his articles about pizza:

“And be it salad, pasta or pizza, the surest element of success is balance. For pizza that means crispness shouldn’t come at the expense of tenderness, the crust can’t steal the thunder from the toppings, and toppings can’t run roughshod over the crust. As for toppings, they should add a whisper of sweetness or murmur of heat to the milky, tangy, wonderful white noise of cheese.”

I am not sure if the recipe below has all of the above, but it’s a good start for the adventures in pizza-making!

Recipe from: Molto Gusto by Mario Batali

Ingredients for Pizza Dough: 

(makes about 2 pounds, which yields eight 9- to 10- inch round pizzas)

  • 3.5 cups “00” flour
  • One 1/4- oz package of active dry yeast
  • 1+1/4 cup warm water (95 deg F)
  • 1.5 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 scant tablespoons salt (in baking parlance, “scant” just means “almost” or “a little less than”). I would recommend just using 1 regular tablespoon, especially if your mozzarella is salted.
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for Margherita toppings:

(Note: These quantities are for one 9- to 10- inch pizza. My pizza crusts turned out to be a little smaller, so I reduced the quantities accordingly.)

  • 1/4 cup tomatoes (Pomì strained or crushed San Marzano)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small ball (3 oz) of fresh mozzarella, cut into 6 slices (preferably buffalo mozzarella)
  • 6 large fresh basil leaves

Method: 

  • Whisk the warm water, yeast and sugar together in a bowl. Let stand in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is foamy.

  • Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the yeast mixture and oil.

  • Using a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until the mixture is too stiff to stir, then mix with your hands in the bowl until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead, adding only as much flour as necessary to prevent sticking, until smooth, elastic, and only slightly sticky.
  • Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, turning to coat, cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 1.5 hours, until doubled in size.

Before

After

  • Punch down the dough and turn it onto a well-floured work surface. Divide it into 8 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Cover with a tea towel and let stand for 15 minutes before stretching the dough.

  • Dust a large work surface with flour. Meanwhile, preheat a griddle pan/ cast iron skillet until very hot, about 5 minutes.
  • Using your hands and/or rolling-pin dusted with flour, press/stretch/roll out the dough into a 9- to 10-inch round.  Everyone gets better at this with practice, just like with making rotis. I found it easier to use my hands rather than a rolling-pin, since the dough has a tendency to shrink back. You need to work quickly, and be careful not to over-work the dough. Of course, many of my crusts were smaller than 9-inches and not perfectly round, but that’s okay 🙂
  • Carefully place the dough round on the preheated skillet and cook until barely tan on the first side and browned in a few spots, 2-3 minutes. Flip over and cook the other side for another minute or so, until it is completely dry.

  • Transfer the par-baked crust to a baking sheet/wire rack and allow it to cool. Also, brush off any excess flour.
  • Repeat this with the remaining dough. These par-baked crusts can be refrigerated overnight or frozen , well wrapped, for up to 2 weeks.

  • Take one of the crusts and spread tomato sauce evenly over it, leaving a 1/2 inch border.
  • Drizzle the olive oil over the sauce, and arrange the mozzarella slices on top. Be careful not to over-load the crust. What you see below is the first pizza I baked and realized that I had put too much cheese. Putting too much sauce/oil/cheese will make the crust soggy. Also, put the toppings on right before you are ready to bake.

  • Slide the pizza under the broiler, about 4 inches from the heat source, and broil for 7-8 minutes. You really need to baby sit the pizza at this stage. Keep checking every 2 minutes or so. It took me three pizzas to get the quantity of toppings and the degree of charring right. The first pizza I baked was a little less charred than I like and the base was soggy because I had put too much sauce and cheese. The second was burnt :-). The third one came out exactly right. If the bottom is a little soggy, Batali suggests slipping the pizza back on to the skillet momentarily to re-crisp the crust.
  • Put basil leaves on top before serving. Enjoy!

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9 thoughts on “homemade margherita pizza

  1. Great post! I really enjoyed reading this. not least because I love pizza so much. I’d love to try making a Margherita d.o.p.
    You’ve got a great blog here!
    from Dimitri

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