Sunday, September 9, 2007

Pizza Margherita Two Ways

Yes, a Gemini's dream - not having to make up her mind, but having it both ways! Yes, I admit it, I torture my poor husband when we are trying to make a decision. Being Gemini has its good points, but pity the Geminis' significant others who have to wait for the twins to make up their mind. A simple question like, "do you want pizza or seafood tonight?" can turn into a mental debate inside my head that could last for hours, unless someone steps in and makes up my mind for me, which I love! Yes, I couldn't be happier when someone takes the reigns and says, "Let's have pizza!" Ahhhh, I can relax.

The other night we reached a fairly painless decision to make pizza, which we like to do once or twice a month. When I have had a rough day or week or just feeling the need of a mental vacation, I like to make it a "pizza and movie" night in which we eat while watching a good movie. I must digress here for a moment to say that every other night Antonio and I relish our peaceful meals at the table together. It is a sacrosanct ritual - the coming together over food and wine, listening to some nice music with candlelight. It is a perfect ending to a day. However, the other night - after 5 nights in the hospital with my mom - was a definite P&M night. Still, I could net let the easy pizza decision ruin a perfect Gemini mentality. I had to make my Pizza Margherita two different ways, while my husband rolled his eyes and insisted on making his own.

We have been tweaking our pizza recipe and preparation methods for several years now and I think we have finally come to a near-perfect pizza. (At least a near-perfect pizza which can be made in a conventional oven and not in a pizza oven.)

Pizza Margherita - a la Gemini or Two Ways!
Makes three 10-12" very thin crust pizzas

The dough should be made well ahead of time, even the day before is okay. It needs at least 1 1/2 hours to rise.

3 cups 00 "pizza" flour (we like this much more than all-purpose flour and it can be found at gourmet grocery stores or Italian delis.)
Just under one cup of warm water (105-155 degrees, or like bath water to the touch)
2 packets of instant yeast
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Stir the sugar into the warm water then drizzle the yeast over the top of the water. Let stand for a few minutes until it appears creamy. Stir in the yeast until dissolved.

I use a food processor for the initial blending, but this can also be done by hand. Blend flour and salt. Slowly drizzle the yeast mixture until a dough forms. At this point I turn out the dough unto a clean surface to knead just a bit by hand. I find when you do this you get to know what the dough should feel like and can adjust it by adding a bit more flour or warm water should it be too wet or dry, respectively. Form into a ball and place in a bowl covered with plastic or a moist towel. Place the bowl in a relatively warm spot, free from drafts. (I actually pre-warm my oven just a touch then shut it off.) A few minutes later I put the bowl in the oven. Let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

While the dough is rising make the pizza sauce. Empty a box or can of chopped tomatoes (without seasonings!) into a saucepan, add a glug of good olive oil (maybe 1-2 Tbsp.) a generous sprinkling of salt and some oregano (maybe 1/2 tsp.) Simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about 1/3.


We have tried using all kinds of mozzarella and have come to the conclusion that Mozzarella di Bufala is the best tasting, even on pizza. Yes, it is more expensive, but then we go to all the trouble to make everything else perfect, why not have the best cheese? If you can't get the Bufala, use fresh mozzarella.

Dry the mozzarella very well then cut into as thin of slices as you can. Lay out ahead of time on a plate to drain. Before using on the pizza, drain off any excess water.

Chop finely a small handful of fresh basil. (Some will be used while baking and some for finishing.)

Pre-heat oven to its hottest temperature, preferably 550 degrees.

Cut the dough into three equal portions. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. We use a rolling pin as we like the crust very thin. Transfer dough to a cookie sheet or, if easier, the back of a cookie sheet. Once you straighten the dough out, form a border. Bake the crust for about 3 minutes until just set so that it can be transferred easily. (We pre-bake the crust so that it is firm enough to bake directly on the oven racks. Otherwise, if you bake it on a pan, it stays a bit mushy.) Do the same to the second and third pieces of dough, depending on how many you want to make.

At this point we transfer the crusts to a pizza paddle - a very handy tool.

PIZZA MARGHERITA VERSION 1 (Antonio's preference): Sprinkle a little olive oil over the crust. Apply sauce. Then apply cheese and a bit of the basil and a sprinkling of salt.

PIZZA MARGHERITA VERSION 2 (Jeni's preference): Sprinkle a little olive oil over the crust. Lay on slices of tomatoes. Sprinkle with the basil and salt. Or, on this night, I was feeling very Gemini and made the pizza half Version #1 and half Version #2.

Slide pizzas off paddle directly onto oven rack (should be middle rack.) Bake until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbling - approximately 7 minutes.

Before serving, drizzle with more good olive oil and a sprinkling of the fresh basil.

Be sure to enjoy this with an Italian red wine/a rosso Italiano, like Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Nero d'Avola or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Buon Appetito!


Anonymous said...

We both must have had pizza on the brain. I made some yesterday :) Yours looks yummy!

Christina said...

Oh yum. I'm making this recipe this week. Thanks for the inspiration.

Also, I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. I admire your peaceful attitude and contemplative approach to the difficulties you are living through right now.

sognatrice said...

Would you believe that I've yet to make pizza? My grandmother used to make it every so often, but she almost always got her dough from the local (Italian) bakery. P's not much of a pizza eater either, but I've already told him that this winter we *will* do it (still a bit too warm to fire up our oven to 500 or so)....

And then? The plan is to put a wood-burning one in the basement of the new (old) house--part of our rustic kitchen :) Guess we should learn to make pizza first though, so thanks!

tongue in cheek said...

Can I come to your house and eat?

rowena said...

Hehe...ahhhh, the Gemini dilemna! I know exactly what you mean and had to laugh out loud since I too, often can't decide on anything that gives me a choice between a selection of two...especially when it comes to food. Love the pizza photos, all that yummy *real* mozzarella Italy is so famous for -- when my husband and I go out for pizza we each get a different combo of toppings, and half way through our pizzas, we switch in order to eat, not taste, what the other has ordered!

I have to admit that it was my husband's idea from the beginning. Not because he's a Gemini but because he's just plain greedy!

The Passionate Palate said...

Maryann - too bad we can't have a pizza party and enjoy them together.

Christina - Glad you are inspired and thank you so much for your comforting words.

Sognatrice - One of my dreams is to have a pizza oven... you have to put one in. Besides pizza, you know you can make all kinds of wonderful things in the wood-burning oven. So, if you don't want to learn to make pizza, I will come over and do it for you. :-)

Tongue in Cheek/Corey - Oh, please do come on over. I love to feed people. Maybe next time you are in CA?

katiez said...

We also sit at a candlelit table, with wine and music for dinner - and have always! It's a nice habit!
I like the pizza with the sliced fresh tomatoes...
Sorry about your mom. My mother had a friend with chronic headaches.
I can't imagine how awful that must be!

The Passionate Palate said...

Katiez - it is a lovely ritual to have dinner like that. Slow eating. Thanks for the kind words.

lorraine@italianfoodies said...

I'm definitely a Margherita girl too, both versions look great!! I totally agree on the buffalo mozzarella - it is the best!!

The Passionate Palate said...

Lorraine - I only had the experience one time of eating really fresh mozzarella di bufala (across the street from the actual farm) in Campania. The memory brings tears to my eyes it was so good. Do you know what I mean?

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

That looks amazing! I like your version too and I am not even a gemini!

The Passionate Palate said...

I guess I could have called it "Have Your Pizza and Eat it Too" instead of a gemini pizza. ;-)

Rebecca Lemke said...

I love homemade pizza. Your photos and your recipes and instructions are inspiring. I'm hungry!

The Passionate Palate said...

Rowena - that is the main benefit of dining with others, isn't it? Sharing the food!

Courtney said...

I just came across your blog and can't thank you enough!
After a weekend in Rome I've decided that I must learn to make a pizza margherita and your recipe sounds delightful!
One question, with the sauce you describe does it have a sweet taste to it? Where I'm from the pizza sauce always has an acidic taste, but in Italy it seems much sweeter.

Thanks for the recipes!