I made a very simple pizza the other day, called Margherita pizza, the one with tomatoes, Mozzarella and basil. Simple and basic, yet it tasted extraordinarily. My wife called a real gourmet pizza. It tasted very light, no greasiness, the crust was very thin and crisp, and it was bursting with tomato and basil flavors. Somehow every component was in harmony with the others, nothing seemed over the top and overpowering. I enjoyed this pizza immensely.
I think what made this pizza so special was the Kumato tomatoes that we love. Their mild taste with notes of sweetness and spiciness, I think, is very well suited for pizza sauce, where you don’t want the sauce to overpower other toppings. It should only compliment them.
Fresh mozzarella is always best choice for pizza, it tastes better, it’s much softer and is full of juice, unlike the old and dry packaged version. I think it makes a huge difference for a pizza.
Now, the pizza crust was something special too. It tasted great. I especially enjoyed how thin and crisp it was and did not easily soften under toppings. The recipe for this pizza dough came from a book I bought some time ago called American Pie by Peter Reinhnart. According to Mr. Reinhart, this pizza dough is called Neo-Neapolitan and is used by places like Lombardi’s, Totonno’s, John’s, Grimaldi’s and Tacconelli’s. It makes a thin and crisp crust with airy pockets in the crown.
Of the dozen or so fabulous pizza dough recipes in this book, this is the one that I keep coming back to most often. Though, for specific toppings I do prefer Peter’s other recipes. It just feels as though there is a specific pizza dough for a specific set of toppings. I can’t imagine pepperoni pizza on Neo-Neapolitan crust, Peter’s New-York style or Americana would be a much better choice.
The dough for this pizza is easy and quick to make, the only thing to remember is to use strong bread flour. I’ve been using King Arthur bread flour for this recipe with great results.
Another thing to pay attention to is proper gluten development. The dough should be strong and stretch easily and thinly. Once you’ve finished mixing the dough, stretch it with your fingers, very gently. It should stretch paper thin. Peter Rheihart calls it ‘windowpane test’. That’s how you know the dough is mixed well enough.
Once the dough is ready and stretched, place it on a pizza shovel dusted with flour. I recommend using rice flour as it does not absorb water easily and is very good at preventing sticking.
Spread olive oil, add sauce, toppings and bake.
Margherita pizza traditionally is baked in wood fired ovens reaching 800F and more. Since I don’t have a wood fired oven I try to get my electric oven as close as possible. I usually bake at 500F to 550F. At 550F this pizza takes about 3-4 minutes to bake, but you have keep a very close eye on it. Start at 500F and see if you want to increase the temperature. I find that pizza baked at high heat tastes the best. It’s not surprising, without intense heat gases inside the dough don’t expand as rapidly and you don’t achieve the same volume or oven spring as bakers call it. Longer baking times produce denser crumbs. Dense crumbs are perfectly fine, maybe for bagels, but for pizza – not so much.
The recipe below yields two 13-14 inch pizzas. You can make them smaller if your pizza stone is small. For a 13-14 inch pizza you will need a stone that is at least 14-15 inches in diameter. I have been using this baking stone for my pizza, baguette, and bread baking for a few years now, with great results. It’s big enough for a 13-14 inch pizza as well as for 15-16 inch baguettes. Quite versatile unlike those commonly sold round pizza stones.
- For pizza dough:
- 2½ cups bread flour
- ½ Tbsp sugar or honey
- 1½ tsp kosher salt or 1 tsp table salt
- ½ tsp active dry or instant yeast
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup less 1 Tbsp water
- 1 to 1½ cups Kumato tomato pizza sauce
- 4 Kumato tomatoes
- Fresh Mozzarella cheese, about 12 ounces
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- To prepare dough, stir all ingredients in a bowl, by hand using a spoon, or use an electric mixer with a dough hook on low speed, for about 4 minutes
- Let the dough rest for 5 minutes
- If using a mixer, mix for another 2 minutes on medium-low speed, or until the dough start to clear off the sides of the bowl. If mixing by hand, mix for 2-3 minutes or until the dough is slightly sticky, soft and supple. With both methods, if the dough is too sticky, add flour by 1 Tbsp at a time and mix slightly more until the dough is soft and supple. Do the same adding 1 Tbsp water at a time if the dough is too dry
- Take a piece of dough and try to gently tug and stretch it with your fingers. If it stretches to paper-thin, almost translucent membrane without tearing, it's ready. If not, mix for another 1-2 minutes
- Divide the dough into 2 equal sized pieces, round each piece into a ball, rub with olive or vegetable oil and place in two separate Ziploc bags.
- Let the dough ball sit at room temperature for 15 minutes and refrigerate overnight if baking the next morning
- If you plan to make pizza the same day, let the dough balls sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours
- Before baking, take dough balls out of the fridge and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours. I sometime feel impatient and go straight to baking, and it works well too
- Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and start gently stretching it with your fingers, constantly turning it around. The dough will be very soft and will stretch easily. Do not try to roll it out. Once you have stretched it to about 6-8 inches in diameter, pick it up with your hands and keep gently stretching in circular motion until desired diameter is achieved, about 14 inches. Be careful, the dough will be very thin in the middle and can tear
- Place on a lightly floured pizza shovel. Use rice flour if possible, it's better for preventing sticking
- Sprinkle olive oil all over the dough, making sure it does not get on the pizza shove to prevent sticking when you slide the pizza on pizza stone. Using egg wash brush, gently spread olive oil around covering the surface of the dough
- Spread pizza sauce
- Top with fresh basil leaves and sliced Kumato tomatoes
- Open the oven and slide pizza from pizza shovel on the baking stone
- Bake at 500F for about 6-8 minutes, or until the sides of pizza are deep golden brown