Constructing a Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita is supposedly the original prototype of all pizzas that followed. Tradition holds that its three simple toppings symbolize the red (tomato sauce), green (basil), and white (mozzerella) of the Italian Flag. It is a pizza constructed with restraint, that features the simple flavours of a minimal number of toppings. There are a multitude of variations when it comes to crust, sauce, and toppings, but we like this recipe for its simplicity. It’s a great way to use up cherry tomatoes, which can be very abundant during high summer. Our Margherita Pizza with Cherry Tomato Sauce recipe makes two medium sized, round pizzas, approximately 30cm (12″) across. The crust is thin and crisp, and the sauce is slightly salty and slightly sweet.

This recipe calls for a pizza stone, pre-heated to very hot in an oven. If no pizza stone is available, use a simple baking sheet, but keep the crust as thin as possible in order to cook through evenly.

Preheat oven with pizza stone inside to 250°C (500°F).

Dough Ingredients:
500g (1 lb, 2 oz) strong flour (look for flour marked “00” or substitute all purpose flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
325mL (11 fl. oz) lukewarm water

Sauce Ingredients:
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion (half a large onion), finely chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
12 to 15 ripe cherry tomatoes (or substitute 1.5 cups of chopped regular tomatoes)
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano)
1 tsp anchovy paste (optional – omit for vegetarian version)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese
1 bunch fresh, whole basil leaves
Mozzerella slices (look for the best quality cheese available)

Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water before adding it, a bit at a time, into the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon at first, and then use your hands to form a ball of dough. Add a small amount of extra flour if the dough seems sticky. Knead only until the dough is smooth, and then cover the dough ball with a slightly damp cloth for 5 minutes.

Divide the dough in half, and knead each piece for several minutes. It should be smooth and elastic. Cover the two pieces with a slightly damp cloth and let them rest for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high. Add the chopped onion and stir until the pieces are just beginning to show flecks of colour. Add the garlic and stir until it is aromatic. Now add the tomatoes, wine, and oregano. Add the optional anchovy paste and pepper flakes, if using, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cover the saucepan and reduce heat to low, simmering for at least 15 minutes.

Uncover the sauce and break up the cherry tomatoes with a spoon. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. If it seems too watery, continue to simmer uncovered to reduce the liquid somewhat. The sauce does not have to be thick, though, as it goes on the pizzas in a thin layer.

Sprinkle a work surface with a small dusting of flour. Shape the first dough ball into a round disc. Using your fingers, press the dough from the center outwards, being careful not to tear it. The dough needs to be about as thin as a pancake with a slight rim around the outer edge.

Dust a pizza peel (if you don’t have one, the under side of a cookie sheet will work) with bread crumbs or corn meal. Place the first pizza base on top and spread a thin layer of sauce across the whole surface. Sprinkle lightly with parmesan cheese. Place individual basil leaves evenly spaced across the surface. Avoid applying the sauce or basil too thick, as the crust will turn out mushy. Now place individual slices of mozzerella here and there on the top. Slide it onto the hot pizza stone.

Bake for 7 minutes. Allow a couple more minutes for a crisper crust, but keep a close eye on it to avoid burning the crust.

Remove from the oven and drizzle with olive oil. Serve hot.

Simple Pizza with Roasted Garlic
We also enjoyed the same crust and sauce with some basil leaves, mozzarella, and some dollops of Simple Roasted Garlic. Delicious!