The most Italian of pizzas, in Italy, it's Pizza Margherita. Most often, the rest of the world incorrectly names it after the drink, pizza margarita.
In fact, it is one of the earliest incarnation of the pizza as we know it. For centuries, in all corners of the world, mankind has been topping and flavoring bread. But it was the introduction of tomatoes from the Americas in the 1500's and the addition of cheese, not until the late 1800's that the modern pizza was born.
Here's the story...
In June 1889, to honor the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created the "Pizza Margherita," a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag. He was the first baker ever to add cheese. So thank you Naples, Italians, Chef Esposito and my sincere apologies for calling your well thought out and constructed bread after a tequila drink.
So from now on, I will order a margarita to go with my pizza Margherita and toast to the pizza geniuses of yesteryear!
If you are really serious about making pizza, I highly recommend "American Pie" by Peter Reinhart (link above). Plenty of information on history, technique, formulas for dough and sauces and recipes for finished pies.
But, just to wet your whistle and get you started, below I will walk you through the simple steps of home made Dough (it's a yeast dough, but no rising... EASY), Sauce, Cheese and toppings... And proper techniques. So, read on...
First and most important is a Pizza Stone. They can cost anywhere between $20 and $60. Be sure to buy one large enough to hold a pizza without anything hanging off the edge. A pizza stone will hold the heat of the oven, simulating an Italian Brick Oven, cooking and crisping the crust as it cooks. You could use a cookie sheet in place of a stone, but honestly it is hard to get a crispy crust on a cookie sheet.
Next, a Pizza Peel is very handy. Those are one of the handled paddles that makes moving the pizza from counter top to oven (pizza stone) and back to the counter for slicing. Again, a cookie sheet can work, but a peel makes it so much easier.
Next is a good quality pizza cutter. Heavy and large, with a screw on the axle so you can tighten as needed. And again, a knife will work, but you spent all the time and energy to lay out your toppings properly, don't start sawing away with a knife, taking all the toppings with you.
And finally... Parchment paper! Now, you may not see this on everyone's list of must uses. In fact you may hear about some recommendations that cooks sprinkle corn meal on a pizza peel so the dough slides off easily onto the pizza stone. For me, personal taste, I do not like the extra taste that is added with corn meal. I assemble my pizza on a sheet of parchment paper and it always slides off easily. Not a must, but I want to taste the dough I make without the extra.
Below you will see my recipe for tomato sauce. I make mine in a crock pot. It is very easy to make and much tastier than the store bought. Again, your goal is pizzeria quality at home. It's unlikely your local pizzeria buys a jarred sauce, they make it fresh. And why not? Fresh made sauce is easy and CHEAPER than equal amounts of jarred sauce. It also freezes easy so a batch can last for a long time (about 20 pizzas).
Same goes for dough. Fresh made is best. The recipe I will give you will make 4 pizzas. The dough stays fresh in the refrigerator for a week. You can buy a ball of dough at most grocery stores, even fresh made dough at some of the better stores. But fresh made sauce you make yourself deserves fresh made dough... that you make yourself!
And last is a word on ingredients. Authentic Italian pizzas are just a tad different than what you may think of as a pizza. Specifically, less is more. In Italy you just do not see a pizza with 6-8 (or everything) toppings. the most popular pizza in Italy is this simple (yet fantastic) pizza Margherita; Dough, sauce, cheese and herbs. So, as in most cooking, fewer ingredients in a recipe demands better quality.
So pay that extra buck a pound for fresh made Italian sausage and when you are thinking herbs, don't think dried herbs, start an herb garden. Basil, Oregano, maybe some Thyme will get you started. You can even get those packages of herbs that have the roots and put them in a glass of water. Will last a month and is worth the cost.
Here's what I do...
- 4-1/2 Cups COLD Flour (Measure flour and let it chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or more)
- 1 large Pinch Salt
- 1 tsp Instant (quick rise) Yeast
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
- 1-3/4 Cups COLD Water (measure the water, then add ice cubes for a few minutes, remove ice, or measure and put in the fridge for a few hours... Colder the better)
- OK, did you read the 2 COLD ingredients. Takes an extra hour or two of planning, I measure the water and the flour and pop them in the fridge for a couple hours to get cold. The small amount of yeast, relative to the amount of flour and the cold will make for a flat bread, almost no fermentation (rise). Just enough to soften the taste, but not make a big rise.
- In my pre Kitchenaid days, I mixed and kneaded this recipe in a gallon size ziplock bag. Worked great, largely I believe because of the oil in the recipe. Without that, the dough would be too sticky to mix in a bag. But this sure made clean up easy.
- Mix the dry ingredients first
- add the water and oil about a fourth of each at a time
- mix well until all the flour is hydrated and you form a large dough ball in your bag
- continue kneading for about 10 minutes, or if you use your kitchenaid, use the dough hook attachment, and allow the machine to knead for 7 minutes
- And now, time to divide... Generously sprinkle a work surface with flour. Also, prepare 4 ziplock sandwich size bags (bigger works fine as well) by spraying the insides of them with spray canola oil.
- Plop the dough ball into the flour and coat well. Divide into 4 equal parts (or fewer if you know you are making larger pizzas). Put each dough ball into a prepared ziplock bag and refrigerate at least 6 hours, and preferably overnight.
Here's the recipe I use during the 9 months a year I can not get fresh local tomatoes. As far as tomatoes are concerned, canned is better than the tomatoes you buy in the store in January.
Herbed Tomato Sauce
"Salsa di Pomodoro alle erbe"
for Pasta Pizza or Cooking,
Slow Cooker, Crock Pot Recipe
Slow Cooker, Crock Pot Recipe
- 3 TBS Olive Oil
- 1 Large Onion, Chopped
- 1 Medium Bell Pepper, Core and seeds removed, Chopped
- 2 Cloves Garlic, Peeled and minced
- 1 LARGE (28 Oz) Can Crushed Tomatoes in their juices
- 2 Small (6 OZ) Cans Tomato Paste
- 1/2 Cup Wine
- 2 TBS Chopped fresh Oregano
- 2 TBS Chopped fresh basil
- 2 TBS Chopped fresh Rosemary
- 3 TBS Chopped fresh Thyme
- 1 Large Pinch Salt
- Several turns of a Pepper Grinder to taste
- 2 TBS Balsomic Vinegar
- Break out a 6 Quart Slow Cooker, set on Low
- But first, in a large Saute pan or skillet, heat the Olive Oil over medium heat.
- When hot and just starting to smoke, add Onions and peppers and saute for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions begin to turn translucent.
- After 5 minutes, add the garlic and continue to cook for ONLY 1 minute more to release the garlic oils.
- Transfer the vegetables into the slow cooker. Add the canned tomatoes and paste
- Stir in the wine and stir to mix everything.
- Add the spices, stir one more time, close the lid and leave the cooker closed for 8 hours.
- After 8 hours, open the lid and use a hand blender to puree the sauce. If you do not have a hand blender you can puree in batches in a blender or food processor.
- Now, add the final ingredient some sweet Balsamic Vinegar, mix well
- Taste the sauce and add more salt or pepper if needed. Be careful to not over salt as this sauce will may be used to season already salted food. Better too little than too much.
- Return to the slow cooker, set it on high and check every fifteen minutes for the degree of thickness you want the sauce.
- Serve over pasta, as a pizza sauce, or cooking sauce. Store fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze immediately in plastic freezer bags, 2 cups worth is ideal.
OK... We have dough, we have sauce.
All we need now is cheese (I use a mix of 1/2 cup fresh grated Mozzarella and 1/4 Cup fresh grated Provolone). Better to buy a brick of cheese and grate it yourself. The store bought grated cheese in a bag is sprayed with a thin layer of wax that keeps the cheese from clumping together.
And for the spices, I use a dozen small Oregano leaves that I mince plus about 6 small Basil leaves (for decoration) and another six larger leaves that I cut into ribbons.
OK, what follows are the steps, along with a photo "how-to" essay...
First up... Allow the dough to warm to room temperature. Flour your hands and rub some on the ball of dough. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and flatten out the dough. As thin as possible, Italians make thin crust pizza. If you need to (I do), use a rolling pin. If you do that, pinch the edges to make a little thicker crust...
While that is happening, preheat the oven for 1 FULL HOUR at 500 degrees... YES, THAT HOT. Be sure to have the pizza stone in the oven center rack. The stone needs to be HOT HOT HOT, 500 degrees HOT in order to get a crispy crunchy bottom.
Preheat, Preheat, Preheat!!!
Second... Drizzle a small amount (1 TBS) around the crust. Olive oil will help to get that crispy crunch that you want in a pizza.
Third... Quickly, before the oil soaks in, using a brush, spread the oil to coat the entire pizza, paying particular attention to the edges that will not have any sauce. this helps to get the golden brown and delicious color on the crust.
Fourth... Season the crust with Salt and Pepper... For taste!
Sixth... Add the cheese. I like to add mine in clumps that I flatten out to look like slices. This way I get a beautiful look at the sauce as well as the cheese. Again, balance. Too much cheese takes away from the sauce.
And now, Step Eight... Bake the pie! If you made the pizza on a sheet of parchment paper, just slide the paper onto the pizza peel and transfer to the HOT HOT HOT preheated pizza stone. Otherwise, put on a thin cookie sheet and move everything to the HOT preheated oven.
Bake for 8 minutes. Check and see that the crust has turned golden brown, the sauce and cheese is melting and bubbling.
Step Nine... As soon as you remove the pizza, add the remaining whole small leaves on top of each slice of cheese and sprinkle the remaining ribbons around the 'za.
And finally, Step Ten...Rest. You and the pizza need to rest for about 10 minutes before you slice your Italian Pizzeris quality pizza
See how pretty...
Even the bottom...
Crispy and Crunchy, even on the bottom. Notice the dough has browning marks on the bottom and doesn't fold up like a sift dough.
You should be able to hold the slice and not have it fold up on you.
Can you see the red, white and green colors of the Italian Flag to honor the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy???
OK, the basics. I have made a hundred pizzas and still learn more each time I do a new one. Different toppings, combinations, sauces and thickness of crusts. But I will always come back to my first love, with the crunch of the crust and the sweet tangy sauce shining through.
Good luck and let me know if these steps help you on your way to home made Pizza Glory!
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