Ah, pizza; who doesn’t love pizza? We know we do and could happily eat it once (or twice) a week. Our particular standard for pizza is the humble Margherita pizza. It seems humble because of the limited number of toppings: fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and (not always for us) extra virgin olive oil. Simple, right? If you’ve never had one, you might even think it’s a boring pizza, because it isn’t loaded down with a huge list of toppings.
We think, though, that this is one of the best pizzas around. Seemingly simple, yes, but, because it has only a few ingredients, everything must be spot on. That’s why we use it as our standard bearer for pizzerias: if they can make a good Margherita pizza, their remaining pizzas are probably top-notch.
With that in mind, let’s scratch up a pizza. (It won’t be as good in a home oven as in a pizza oven — home ovens just don’t get hot enough).
Oh, my, you know what we’re going to say, don’t you? Don’t skimp. Please. This pizza is delicious because it allows all of the ingredients to shine, so you need the shiniest ingredients you can get. That means the freshest basil (preferably freshly picked from your herb garden), the best tomatoes (if you don’t grow them, hit up your farmers’ market), and the best fresh mozzarella (you might, just might, be able to find a place near you that makes mozzarella daily; otherwise, do the best you can). And, if you use the extra-virgin olive oil, realize that most labels on olive oil — even national brands — are outright lies, meaning they may say they’re extra-virgin, but they aren’t. As always, Parmesan cheese does not come in green shaker cans.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 450°F. If only it were that simple; however, you’ll probably have to try making several pizzas until you find the best combination of where to place a rack and how long to preheat your oven to heat your baking stone. We find that, for us, placing the rack about 1/3 from the top of the oven and heating the oven for at least 30 minutes, works well. Don’t be afraid to try other rack positions.
Roll out dough. Place the dough on a piece of lightly floured baking parchment and roll it out into a rough circle about 14 inches in diameter. We like to use the parchment as it makes it easy to transfer the pizza to the hot stone; just slide a pizza peel (or a piece of stiff cardboard) under the parchment and slide it onto the stone.
Top. With a Margherita pizza, less is more. So, go light on the tomatoes; we found that two tomatoes were just a bit too much, so we had to eat a few pieces of leftover tomato. Remember that tomatoes have a lot of liquid, so again, go light, or your crust will seem as though it was attacked by the sog-monster. You can use a heavier hand with the basil; we thought that ten large basil leaves torn into 1-inch pieces was perfect. Finally, tear off chunks of mozzarella and place them on the pizza. Leave space between the pieces so the moisture can cook off. Again, less cheese means that your crust is less likely to attract old soggy.
Drizzle. We think this is optional, but, if you want, drizzle some olive oil on the pizza; not a lot, maybe a tablespoon.
Bake. Slide the pizza (and baking parchment) right onto the hot baking stone and bake until the crust browns, the cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, and it looks just plain delicious, about 13-17 minutes. We find that 15 minutes of baking makes a perfect pizza in our oven; your oven will likely differ.
Rest. Take out the pizza and let it rest for 5 minutes. If you wish, you can drizzle on a touch more olive oil and dust it with a bit of Parmesan cheese, before slicing and serving.
That’s all there is to making home-scratched pizza. Yes, some people will give you recipes for pizza dough, but, we find that when you look at the proportions of the ingredients, they aren’t much different that a standard bread dough. And, since we make bread once a week, we can cut off a pound of dough for pizza, rather than making a specific pizza dough when we want pizza. If you get in the habit, you’ll find that you, too, can fit bread into your schedule, allowing you to make up pizza pretty much any time you want. As far as taste? We’ll be the first to admit it, home-scratched pizza baked in an ordinary oven is not as good as that baked in commercial — or even better, wood-fired — ovens. Still, it’s pizza, so five stars.