My love affair with pizza margherita can be traced back to my absolute smittenness with caprese salad. It’s really not all that surprising — you start with basic, fresh, delicious ingredients, then you put it on a pizza. What could go wrong????
I had made this pizza before about two years ago. The first time, Cory was my dining companion and instead of a tomato sauce base we used freshly made pesto and topped the pizza with tomato slices. Delicious, but I would recommend custom-making the sauce for the pizza and using a lighter hand with the oil, as it will mix with the fat in the mozzarella. While I loved it, it certainly wasn’t truly authentic.
So, of course, when Cory and I went to Italy, one of the things I had to eat over there was the pizza margherita. We wasted no time on that count — our first lunch in Florence was in a trattoria outside of the city’s famous Mercato Centrale. Cory had a pizza topped with prosciutto and I, of course, indulged my tricolore tastebuds.
The pizza was unlike any I had ever had before. The crust was very, very thin but not cracker-crunchy and the sauce was, for lack of a better description, true tomato red. I thought it was pure, simple, and delicious, and Cory was known to say “the sauce is so fresh it still had seeds in it!” The pizzas we were served were probably a good 12 inches, but they were nowhere near as heavy as their American counterparts. Since we had had a typically light Italian breakfast and had been walking all day and climbed to the very very top of the duomo (the Santa Maria del Fiore) Cory polished his off easily. I packed my leftovers out and devoured them later that day.
Of course, upon returning to the States, I wanted to make it, but the whole-grain fiend in me wanted a whole wheat crust. I finally found a recipe for it, and of course wasted no time making it. Next time I make it I will probably try to lengthen the rising time (true Stacey fashion) and I will make my crust much much thinner, even if I have to discard some dough. And I will buy a pizza peel. Save yourself the anguish — buy one too!
Pizza Margherita with a Whole Wheat Crust
Crust recipe adapted from the summer issue of King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion. Topping recipe adapted from Saveur’s Authentic Italian special issue (a must-buy!!!).
Makes one 12-inch pizza or two 8-inch pizzas. Recipe can easily be doubled.
1 teaspoon active dried yeast
3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (white whole wheat flour if you can find it), plus more for dusting
1/2 tablespoon wheat gluten
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb very ripe fresh roma (plum) tomatoes
16 small fresh basil leaves, or larger ones torn into pieces
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup tomato puree (optional — use if your tomatoes lack flavor, like most store-bought do)
1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
Pour the yeast into the water in a small bowl, dissolving the yeast well, and stir in the honey. Let it stand for a few minutes and stir again.
Pour the yeast mixture into a large bowl, stand mixer, or bowl of a food processor and stir in 1/2 cup flour. Cover the bowl and let the mixture stand for 30 minutes. The mixture will be very soupy.
Mix 1 cup of the remaining flour in a bowl with the wheat gluten and salt. Add the dry flour mixture to the yeast mixture with the olive oil and sesame seeds. Mix with your hands, stand mixer, or food processor until the dough moves away from the sides of the bowl and a ball forms. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour (up to one tablespoon) a little at a time.
Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead it for about five minutes. Place it in a bowl, cover, and allow dough to rise until doubled in size, about two hours.
When the dough has about 30-40 minutes left in its rising, begin the rest of the preparations. First, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. If you are using baking stones, put them in the oven at this point.
Secondly, begin preparing the topping. Score an X on the bottom of each tomato and drop them into a medium pot of boiling water for 10 seconds, then cool them in a bowl of cold water. Slice off the tops, slip off the skins, and squeeze out the seeds. Finely chop the tomatoes. Place tomatoes in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and drain for 20 minutes.
Transfer the tomatoes to a medium bowl, stir in the basil and olive oil (and tomato puree, if using), and adjust the seasonings.
If you are making two 8-inch pizzas, divide the dough into two. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface into 8- or 12-inch rounds. If you’re using baking stones, place the dough on wooden peels, dusted with cornmeal.
Spread the tomato mixture over the pizza dough and place the mozzarella slices on top. Bake for 12-15 minutes until crusts and cheese are nicely browned. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.