Sunday, February 21, 2010

Recipe: Pizza Margherita

I make a lot of different kinds of pizza at my house. In fact I build social events around big pizza nights when I prepare old favorites and new experiments, (THIS WILL BE OBVIOUS BY THE COPIOUS AMOUNT OF COMMENTS THAT MY GRATEFUL FRIENDS AND FAMILY WILL LEAVE BELOW IF THEY EVER WANT TO BE AT A PIZZA NIGHT AGAIN!). Summer squash and black pepper, Coney Island hot dog, BBQ chicken, CHOURICO, roasted red pepper, shrimp scampi and buffalo chicken are a few of the more popular kinds that come out of the oven on those nights. I'm even thinking about a potato pizza and a mussel and linguica arrabiata pizza next time out. Keep an open mind people!

Traditionally, I try to always start pizza night with pizza Margherita. It's a purist's pizza and if you use the freshest and best ingredients, and you combine them perfectly, eating it is almost a religious experience. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of its ingredients and preparation, this is a transcendent food experience if it is done right.

I'll get into the magical ingredients and the mystical preparation of Pizza Margherita below, but before that allow me to address four primary ingredients to every pizza that all but guarantees that you can make pizza at home that is as good or better than the average local shop. Get used to seeing these important "ingredients" because I am going to add them to every pizza recipe I write on Chop Onions, Boil Water. They are critical to your success.

Cornmeal: Cornmeal's tiny grains act like little ball bearings between flat surfaces. Spread cornmeal on the surface of what you build your pizza on and you'll be able to slide your masterpiece right off it and into your oven. Speaking of what you stretch your dough on, go get yourself a...

Pizza peel: Buy one, construct your pizza on it, use it to put your pizza in the oven, use it to take your pizza out of the oven. Seems like a small thing right? Try it! By the way, when you're using your peel to slide your pizza into your oven make sure your oven contains a...

Pizza Stone: Nothing is going to make your home pizza match or exceed the quality of the store bought stuff more than a pizza stone. Get a thick one and get a big one. I park mine right on the lowest rack of my oven and that is where it stays. It makes all the difference in the world and in no time you'll be pulling pizzas out of your oven that will make the thought of a store-bought pie a less-than-ideal option. The pizza stone is not going to work optimally though unless you...

Preheat your oven: Flat out, no joke, crank her up to 500°F and do that a full 45 minutes before you plan to sprinkle that peel with cornmeal, stretch that dough and then slide that pie onto that stone.

In the recipe below I specify grape tomatoes, I think they are superior on Pizza Margherita. You can substitute any tomatoes you like but should stay with meatier tomatoes that aren't too juicy. If the only tomatoes you can get are very juicy, dice them and allow then to drain well before crushing them for your sauce because soggy pizza sucks! Also, you'll notice I offer some leeway regarding the amount of mozzarella, basil and oregano you add to your pizza. Some people like it cheesier, some folks love oregano, some people (me) like a lot of basil. A LOT of basil.

In the end, you are going to have your own Pizza Margherita, fine-tuned to your taste and preference and when has that not been a good thing?


Pizza Margherita

Enough pizza dough for 2 -16" to 18" pizzas
1 cup grape tomatoes (crushed)
3 Tbs Olive oil
3-5 pinches of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup of whole grape tomatoes
1/2 cup of basil (julienned/chopped)
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese (grated)
1/2 to 1 lb. of fresh mozzarella de buffalo* (sliced into 1/8" to 1/4" slices)
2 pitted kalamata olives

Preheat oven to 500°F for 45 minutes to one hour before you plan on cooking the pizza.

To the crushed grape tomatoes add olive oil, a pinch of oregano and salt and pepper to taste, mix well to make a slightly chunky sauce. Set aside and let flavors blend while you prepare other ingredients.

Stretch one of the dough balls to a 16" to 18" disc and place it on your cornmealed peel. I'm not going to go into dough stretching here because it is a learned thing and there are a variety of methods each with its proponents, each for good reason. Do a little research and practice a bit. Don't plan on a perfectly round pizza all the time!

Divide the tomato sauce and spread half of it over the stretched dough.

Sprinkle a pinch of the oregano over the pizza.

Sprinkle some of the basil evenly over the pizza (reserve most of the basil for when the pizzas comes out of the oven).

Take half the reserved whole grape tomatoes and squish them in your hand and distribute them over the pizza.

Sprinkle half the parmigiano-reggiano over the the pizza.

Evenly distribute 1/2 the sliced mozzarella over the pizza.

Place one of the kalamata olives in the center of the pizza (yeah, I stole this from Bertucci's because I like it. I think they've since punked out and no longer do it).

Place the pizza in the oven until the bottom is slightly browned and the cheese is bubbly (8 to 10 minutes). Remove, add additional basil and oregano to taste, drizzle with some olive oil, allow to cool for about 5 minutes, slice and and serve.

*This is the mozzarella that is formed in balls that are in water. It doesn't have to be buffalo milk mozzarella but that is authentic. You cannot make authentic Pizza Margherita with deli-style or shredded packaged "mozzarella". Save that stuff for regular pizza.


  1. My oven doesn't get hot enough for pizza, it's close enough but not idea. Anyway, this means I'll be looking forward to some in October, particularly the Coney Island Hotdog because I never got around to making this one myself.

  2. i very like pizza, thank you for give me this recipe!

  3. Glad you like it. It is my wife's favorite pizza recipe.