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Splendid Table: Make this Crisp-Crust Pizza Margherita

Published February 17. 2010 05:00PM

Dear Lynne: Friday is our order-in-pizza night .... until lately. This so-called "authentic" pizza supper hits like $30 for the two of us. The kicker is, the pizzas are small and aren't piled up with stuff. We like them that way, but when you say, "less is more," where we live less is more money. So how hard is it to make your own pizza? Two Pizza Lovers in Boston

Dear Pizza Lovers: Pizza is not hard, and my tip is make the dough on Thursday evening we are talking a handful of minutes here refrigerate it and pull it out when you walk in the door Friday night. Your sauce could be done the same way, or even be frozen.

Then again, settling in with a glass of wine and a bowl of olives as you pull this together from scratch is pretty relaxing at the end of a long week. (Slamming around pizza dough rates as anger management at our house.)

Crisp-Crust Pizza Margherita

(Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Pizza)

Makes one 14- to 16-inch pizza; serving 2 to 4, depending on appetites.

Primal pizza A good crust spread with the lushness of tomato, basil and mozzarella, glossed with olive oil and blistered into submission by an oven as hot as Hades.

The Crust Debate: Obsessive types argue that true pizza should have a softer, chewy crust as it does in Naples. True for Naples, but once you get out of town, liberties are taken. Thin, crisper crusts like this one tend to show up all over Italy. The choice is yours. Roll the crust less thin if you'd like.

One other thing: Don't overload the pizza. Just as Italians don't over-sauce pasta because the idea is you need to taste the noodle as well as the sauce, with pizza the bread is half the pleasure.

Cook to Cook: This dough goes together quickly and can be used after a single rising. If time is short, blend, knead, rest for 30 minutes and roll out. No baking stone is needed, since you slip the crust out of the pan and crisp it directly on the bottom rack of the oven during the last two minutes of baking.

Crisp Pizza Crust:

Generous teaspoon dry yeast

1/2 cup warm (about 100 degrees) water

1 teaspoon all-purpose unbleached flour

1 to 1- cups all-purpose unbleached flour (organic if possible)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Additional flour as needed

In a medium mixing bowl or food processor, blend yeast, water and teaspoon of flour. Foam should form on the surface in about 8 minutes (if not, yeast is past its prime; find fresher). Then blend in rest of flour and salt, forming a smooth, quite soft, slightly sticky dough. Blend in food processor no more than 30 seconds (then knead 5 minutes by hand); in mixer, blend for about 5 minutes; by hand, stir to blend and knead 5 minutes.

If time allows, place in a large oiled bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand in a cool place until doubled in bulk (about 1-1/2 hours). If not ready to bake, keep dough covered and hold in the refrigerator for a day or so. About 20 minutes before baking, punch down, knead a minute or two and then form into a ball, cover.

To make pizza, lightly oil a 14- to 16-inch pizza pan. Preheat oven to 550 degrees, setting rack as low as possible. Roll out dough very thin to about a 16-inch round (no more than 1/16-inch thick). Spread over pan, rolling in edges to form a rim. Let rest 10 minutes.

Top and bake 10 minutes. Then, using a spatula and thick oven mitt, slip the pizza off the pan directly onto the oven rack by pulling out rack, grasping pizza pan firmly with protected hand, and, using spatula or pancake turner, slip pie off pan and onto rack.

Slide rack back in place and bake 2 minutes. Slip pie back onto pan, remove from oven. Eat hot.

Margherita Topping:

2 tablespoons good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, minced

1 large garlic clove, minced

teaspoon dry oregano

1-1/2 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes

cup packed fresh basil leaves, torn

3 ounces fresh mozzarella (in liquid), thinly sliced

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper and salt

In a 10-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium high. Saute onion to golden, then stir in garlic and oregano for a few seconds. Add tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pan (do not substitute crushed tomatoes). Boil, stirring, five minutes or until thick.

Spread sauce over rolled-out crust, sprinkle with basil, mozzarella and, finally, the oil. Finish with generous black pepper and a little salt. Bake as directed above.

(Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show for people who love to eat, and is the co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions.")

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