Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita Recipe

In preparing for the second challenge of Project Food Blog, I came across a line in the prompt that says “We’re bypassing the French and Italian standards in favor of more challenging cuisines.”. The problem is, I’m Japanese, so cooking an “exotic” Asian dish felt like it was cheating. That’s why I decided to make a dish that’s ubiquitous and utterly simple, and yet it’s something that is made wrong ninety-nine times out of a hundred. Yep, that’s right, I’m making a classic pizza.

Not Chicago deep-dish, or even a New York-style fold-in-half thin crust, and most certainly not some new-fangled California-style pizza with, ohh… say some blasphemous combo like kimchi and pork belly on it. Since I’ve never set foot in Naples, this meant hitting stacks of bound fiber inscribed with contrasting pigment. Yes my friends, this food blogger, walked over to a bookshelf and used a table of contents to research the history of a true Neapolitan pizza.

Margherita Pizza Recipe

As it turns out, none of the ingredients in pizza comes from Italy. Tomatoes are from Peru by way of Spain, Basil from Southeast Asia by way of India, and flour is a product of Jarmo cultivation in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). This might be reaching a bit too far back in time, but I thought it illustrates an interesting point: that “fusion” cuisine is nothing new.

Back to the present, my goal was to make a proper Pizza Margherita. The type of pizza that Queen Consort, Margherita of Savoy may have had during her visit to Naples in 1889. That’s right; no canned tomato sauce, no boboli, and certainly no fancy kitchen gadgets like a stand mixer or food processor. I wanted to roll old-school, you know, cooking using your head, hands and heat.

Tossing Pizza Dough

If you’ve ever wondered why Pita and Pizza sound similar, wonder no more. Both flatbreads share a common history with the Greek word for pitch: πίσσα (písa). It’s no surprise that people in port cities near the Mediterranean figured out that you could put stuff on this flat bread. This included Naples, which is traditionally credited with the creation of the modern day pizza.

To get the characteristic snap on the exterior, with a soft pillowy interior, pizza needs to be cooked quickly at a very high temperature. Traditionally, wood-fired brick ovens are used, achieving temperatures as high as 900 degres F. In addition to cooking with radient heat, the bricks under the pizza are extremely hot, cooking the pizza from both above and below. The rapidly vaporizing steam creates big bubbles in the dough giving the pizza loft, and its characteristic ring of puffy crust.

Traditional Pizza Margherita

Since I don’t have a brick pizza oven in my 550 square foot apartment, I knew I’d have to tap my right brain for ideas. This challenge reminded me of my dilema while making naan. I don’t have a clay tandoor in my kitchen, and yet I’m able to make lightly charred, soft, puffy naan at home using a very hot cast iron skillet. It seemed reasonable that I could achieve a similar result for my Pizza Margherita using the skillet. The problem is that unlike naan, pizza has toppings and cannot be flipped over to cook the other side. That’s where the broiler comes in. A minute or two spent a few inches from the broiler is enough to puff the crust like a blimp while melting the cheese into a hot bubbly mess.

I’ve adapted Jim Lahey’s no-knead dough using a little extra salt, and weight measures, which work better for this pizza. For the tomatoes, I wanted the fresh taste of raw tomatoes, but I didn’t want to puree it in a blender, so I steamed them first to make them easier to get through a strainer. Just make sure you use summer sweet vine ripened tomatoes, or the sauce will be a bland watery mess.

Tomatoes for Pizza Margherita

As with most pizzas of the time, Margherita pizzas are simple. Like tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, olive oil and salt simple. Yep, that’s all I put on it, and it was delicious.

Pizza Margherita Recipe

for dough (adapted from Jim Lahey’s recipe)
1 1/2 cups luke warm water
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)
13 ounces high gluten bread flour (about 3 cups)

for topping
3 very ripe tomatoes
olive oil
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
leaves from 1 bunch of basil

To make the dough, dissolve the yeast and salt in a large bowl with the water. Add the flour and use some long chopsticks to stir together (okay they probably didn’t use chopsticks in Italy during the 19th century, but they work so well because they don’t have much surface area for the dough to stick to). Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 12 hours, or overnight in the fridge.

Cut a cross hatch on the bottom of the tomatoes (opposite of where the stem connected) to keep them from popping. Put some water in a pot and place a steamer rack in the pot. Place the tomatoes cut-side-up on the rack. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then cover and steam the tomatoes until they are soft to the touch (about 10 minutes). Remove the lid and let them cool off enough to handle.

Crushing Tomatoes for Pizza Margherita

Remove the skins, then place them in a stainer and use a pestle or the bottom of the spoon to press the tomato through. It would be faster to use a blender first before straining, but Queen Margherita’s chef in Naples didn’t have a blender. Plus using a blender would break up the seeds which would add a slightly bitter taste to the sauce.

When you’re ready to start making the pizzas, move your oven rack to the top position and turn the boiler on high. Put a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Flour your hands and flat surface to roll the dough out on and cut off a ball of dough about the size of a large orange. Shape it into a ball, then roll it in flour to keep it from sticking. Use your hands or a rolling pin to flatten the ball into a round flat circle about the same diameter of your cast iron pan. Since it will be difficult getting the dough into the pan once the toppings are on, I recommend having your toppings at the ready, and putting the dough straight into the pan at this point.

Neapolitan Pizza Margherita

Once the dough is in the pan, drizzle some olive oil on top, use a spoon to spread a few spoonfuls of tomato puree on top of the pizza. You want enough to make a very thin layer, but don’t add too much or your pizza will be watery. Lay a few slices of mozzarella on top, then sprinkle with salt.

By the time you have all the toppings on the pizza the dough should have puffed up slightly and a peak under the pizza should reveal a crust that’s just starting to brown. Transfer the pan to the broiler (directly under the heat source), and broil for one to two minutes, or until the edges of the crust are just starting to char and the center of the pizza is bubbly and caramelized. You may need to turn the pan part of the way through cooking to get even browing on the crust.

When it’s done, use a spatula to transfer the pizza to a plate and sprinkle with basil. Personally I love lots of basil, so I like covering it with a mound of basil, but we’re being traditional here, remember? There should be enough dough to make four pizzas and you can turn the leftover tomato puree into a pasta sauce with any leftover basil.

  • http://twitter.com/eatlivtravwrite eatlivetravelwrite

    Marc, that’s a gorgeous pizza!! I *wish* they had allowed us to work with Italian and French cuisine since I find aspects of both challenging (case in point – pizza dough! – or a how about a French soufflé?). I did go Asian (Laotian, in fact) because I had a story to share but I don’t think the challenge stipulated it had to be Asian? Good luck with Round 2!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=592353223 Deborah Nicholas

    Good luck with round 2 – loving the fact you made pizza dough from scratch too as so many often cut corners with the ready made bases :) I went Jamaican with my recipe :)

    countryheartandhome.blogspot.com

  • Selma – DUSBAHCESI

    This pizza looks extremely yummyyyyyyyy!:)

  • http://www.tomatokumato.com Emiglia

    Gorgeous pizza! And what an interesting approach…

  • http://twitter.com/sippitysup sippitysup

    Fantastic I just knew you’d find an original and entertaining solultion to this challenge. GREG

  • http://www.thelittlefoodie.com Mariko

    Cast iron. That is brilliant. I’ve been using the back of the cookie sheet, but I think the more heat the better. Your dough looks pillowy and beautiful.

  • Lemons and Anchovies

    Nice job. I’m very picky about my Margherita pizza and you got it just right. Love the dough-flipping action shot. You get my vote!

  • Tasteslikehome

    Oh Mark, I am definitely voting for this when voting opens!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_E4JMV7J34EAXLHPVAWCTHNSSV4 Gabriele

    this recipy is really far from original italian tasty pizza….
    and would never use instant yeast … the worst choice o make a real good italian Pizza Margherita

    • Anonymous

      Hi Gabriele, thanks for leaving a comment pointing out my mistake. Part of
      this challenge was to cook something from a cuisine you’re not
      very familiar with and despite doing a fair amount of research I seem to
      have overlooked the yeast. What type of yeast would you recommend using?
      Also, you mentioned the recipe is “far off” what other changes would you
      recommend making to make it closer to the original. Thanks!

  • Delishhh

    Cool pizza. I went Moroccan instead, i decided to make something from a country that i had never been to and never cooked their food but was on my vacation list. So Moroccan it was.

  • http://myboyfriendcooksforme.blogspot.com my boyfriend cooks for me

    Using a skillet when a wood-fired brick oven isn’t an option – genius! Now we just have to master making our own pizza dough and we’re all set…

  • Kelly Lenihan

    Cast iron pan for pizza = GENIUS! This recipe looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it.
    P.S. You are a fabulous writer.

    • Kelly Lenihan

      P.S.S. You got my vote!

  • Duchess

    Looks wonderful! And such fabulous pics this post!

  • Amy K.

    This technique is similar to how Batali makes his crusts at Otto. He suggests pre-cooking the crust on a griddle (both sides) and sticking it under the broiler with toppings. He describes this technique in his book, Molto Gusto. I definitely want to try this! Thanks for a great post!

  • http://twitter.com/JunBelen Jun Belen

    Making pizza has always intimidated me. One of these days I’m going to make one of my own! Great post!

  • http://willowbirdbaking.wordpress.com Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    You are seriously too sweet. Just look at that diplomatic response to the hatas ;) I loved this entry and it has my vote (incidentally, I was surprised to read in the challenge details the “bypassing French and Italian” bit for exactly the reason you outline here)! My own entry was the Indian dessert Gulab Jamun — click on over and see!

  • http://foodnouveau.com Marie (Food Nouveau)

    Great idea to tackle an Italian classic given your Japanese heritage! It’s so true that Pizza Margherita is wrongfully done most of the time, even in Italy in all those awful touristy spots. I’m visiting Italy right now and I’ve had some great pizza – which I must say, looked pretty much like yours! I could eat pizza everyday but this classic with fresh mozzarella is the one I always come back to.

    I love the picture of you swirling the dough in the air. As always, this is a beautiful post, well written and gorgeous picture. You’ll go far in this competition, it’s obvious!

  • Foodwoolf

    It’s hard not to love pizza, no matter what your heritage. Beautiful photos and great techniques (love the step by step photos). Cheers and here’s to another vote!

  • http://savour-fare.com Kate @ Savour Fare

    Oh yum. Pizza making isn’t easy, and this one looks delicious.

  • http://www.macheesmo.com Nick (Macheesmo)

    Very awesome technique and pizza. I haven’t gotten around trying the Jim Lahey pizza yet but this looks realllly promising.

  • http://WWW.PINK-APRON.COM Kelly

    You get my vote for a) the great history lesson and b) the beautiful pictures. To me this challenge was less about what people made, but how they brought it to life for the reader and proved that they really executed it as authentically as possible. You succeeded on both accounts. Did you by any chance read the book American Pie? I have to say that is one of my go to books when it comes to mastering pizza. Also love how you really thought about technique to get yourself to an authentic place even if you had to use more improvised means. Great job. You have my vote.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Kelly, nope, haven’t read American Pie but you have my interest piqued,
      I’ll have to check it out when I’m back in the US.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Kelly, nope, haven’t read American Pie but you have my interest piqued,
      I’ll have to check it out when I’m back in the US.

  • http://www.thedailyspud.com Daily Spud

    Nice job as always Marc. I’m not sure which I love more – the action shot of you throwing the pizza dough or the fact that I now know to make pizza in my cast iron pan!

  • http://www.theculinarypassport.com/ The Culinary Passport

    Great post! I’ve been wanting to try the cast iron skillet method of making pizza ever since I first read an article about it on ChowHound. I was even thinking about it earlier today! Loved the history lesson and the pictures. You definitely have my vote :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1145205181 Danelle Ladynamedd Smith

    Wow you’ve kinda inspired me to try exploring cooking more than i usually do.

  • Anonymous

    Looks beautiful! You’ve got my vote :)

  • Norma

    Wonderful…I will take a slice…you have my vote.

    Norma
    Platanos, Mangoes and Me!

  • Amelia Z Tasty Life

    how fun to flip the dough!!!
    Voted. (See my entry here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/869)

  • http://twitter.com/riceandwheat angi c

    I never thought of using a cast-iron skillet for pizza – brilliant! But thanks to you, now I’m craving for a Pizza Margherita. :) Really enjoyed this post – good luck!

  • Butter

    Great post and fun too. I really loved your pictures – the color is incredible and such a clean style. Beautiful. Delicious! And you did an amazing job without a brick oven! You definitely have my vote –
    -Butter
    (from runningonbutter)

  • http://www.katrina-runs.com Katrinaruns

    That looks amazing! You’ve got my vote.

  • http://twitter.com/LeslieChomp Leslie Holmes

    your main photo made me drool. i want pizza now… haha
    you’ve got my vote!

  • http://spicygreenmango.blogspot.com Spicy Green Mango

    Your photos are always so vibrant and amazing! You have my vote!

  • S Charme It

    Sono italiana e quindi posso dire senza tema di essere smentita che questa è una “regina della pizza”
    ciao a presto e complimenti per il tuo bellissimo blog

  • http://twitter.com/annapetsantos Annapet Santos

    I love your blog. I’m sure I told you that before.

  • http://www.theardentepicure.com/ Magic of Spice

    Gorgeous pizza and post…the photos are great :) Best of luck and look forward to seeing your challenge for #3

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  • Asma_786

    love da pizza. love ya mwah

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kay-Crawford/1152767700 Kay Crawford

    Yummm!  Just got back from Naples, Italy and until you explained it, thought they were asking me if I wanted a “Marguerita Pizza” as in tequila drink marguerita.  ha! And there were pics of Queen Regina Margherita all over the place.  I felt like a dumb American.

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  • Donniedarko

    OH WHY OH WHY are the ingredients in these recipes still measured  in cups, tsps, tbps, buckets. yards etc etc etc????  What is a standard ‘cup’??
    It would be supremely useful to have everything in either ounces(NOT fluid) or grams. 

    Because of this limitation in the recipe I will have to look soemwhere else for my pizza margherita

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Great point, and if the only people reading this were you and me I’d be writing everything in grams (not ounces). Unfortunately the vast majority of my readers are in the US (where they still use ounces and pounds) and aren’t using scales.

    • Will

      You can’t measure this recipe in ounces or grams because of varying water content in the flour and other ingredients. It has to be measured by volume, not by weight. By the way, a “standard cup” is 8 fluid ounces … idiot.

      • donnie darko

        have you banged your head? Or are you inherently dim? For a Brit brought up on both the imperial and metric system, the metric is superior in terms of standardisation. A ‘cup’ of water means absolutely nothing to me. The weight of water is interchangeable with volume. The only other ingredient to have varying water content is the flour but this will be minimal. What will be important will be the amount and quality of gluten in the flour which will dictate the final amount of water used. I would suggest that you forget baking and in future get your pizzas from walmart.

        • Bubba

          I still use mostly cups, tbsps, etc. If I wanted to go by weight, I could find a million websites to convert the recipe to weight. Someday I might convert my pizza dough recipe to weight in order to nail down an exact result every time.

  • Chris

    I gotta hand it to you man, this technique works flawlessly.  I used san marzano tomatoes to make my sauce (added with a slight amount of olive oil, oregano,  and a hint of honey and garlic).  This was by far my best pizza ever, and I’ve made a lot of pizzas in my life.  Thank you for this site!

  • Ms. Jimmie Ellis

    Great recipe and the explanations work wonderfully for Americans, most of whom have never seen a pizza oven.  You are super creative!  Thank you for doing this.
    Jimmie Ellis

  • Rowaidafl

    Congrats Marc! great recipes love it

  • parth

    thankssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss its delicious!!!!!!!!!

  • Guest

    It looks good.

  • pixx

    nixe pixx with nice pixels

    • JSHIZZLE

      WOHHHHH GC

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