Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pizza Margherita

Last Friday, I set out to make homemade pizza.  It's one of my go-to dishes, so it shouldn't have been a big deal.  But I decided to mix things up a bit:  I wanted to try a different crust than my normal recipe, and I wanted to make a pizza Margherita (with very fresh-tasting, simple toppings).  Again, shouldn't have been a big deal, but I messed things up a bit.

See, I got home at about 4 PM and started to make the crust recipe I'd found on the Cooks Illustrated website.  I had combined all the ingredients when I came to a line in the instructions advising me to place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.

In the immortal words of my governor, "oops."

That put a wrinkle in our dinner plans.  But since the Margherita part of my pizza equation came from a recipe on Epicurious that actually called for store-bought refrigerated pizza dough, I decided to follow that path.

The result was that we had the pizza Margherita from the Epicurious website on Friday night ... complete with the dough from a cardboard tube.  It was actually surprisingly good.  The only things I didn't love:  first, the tomato sauce called for a little crushed red pepper, and I thought it was a bit too spicy; and second, the crust was OK, but nothing to write home about.

Thin, store-bought dough

Thick, homemade dough
Still, I had that ball of homemade dough sitting in the refrigerator.  So I pulled it out on Sunday evening, and we did Pizza Margherita Redux.  And it was DELICIOUS.

Thus, I present you with this recipe for pizza Margherita, a mash-up of two recipes with a few of my own modifications to boot.  The store-bought crust option will yield a smaller, thinner pizza; the homemade crust is thick, but remarkably flavorful.




Toppings, ready to go
3 c. (scant) all purpose flour
3 Tbs. vital wheat gluten
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/3 c. ice water
1 Tbs. olive oil + extra for bowl
1 1/2 tsp salt


1 13.8 oz. tube refrigerated pizza dough

Rustic sauce
Tomato Sauce:

1 Tbs. olive oil
12 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes (stems and leaves removed)
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds (coarsely crushed)
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
dash black pepper

1/3 c. chopped fresh basil
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, drained and chopped
4 - 6 oz. shredded mozzarella
1/3 c. shredded parmesan

To make the homemade crust:  Mix flour, gluten, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Mix until combined.  With mixer running on low, slowly add ice water and continue mixing until the flour is all absorbed into a ragged dough ball.  Allow dough ball to rest for 10 minutes.  Then add olive oil and salt; turn mixer back on and let run on low until oil and salt are combined and dough comes together in a smooth ball.  With floured hands, remove dough and shape into a nice, compact ball.  Transfer to a large bowl, cover tightly (with a lid to the bowl or plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 24 - 72 hours.

To make tomato sauce:  Heat a large skillet over high heat for at least two minutes.  Add oil to hot skillet and then, immediately, tomatoes.  Saute over high heat until tomatoes start to char and break down.  Transfer tomatoes to a large bowl and crush with a fork or the back of a spoon (until all tomatoes are mushed but the sauce is still chunky).  Add garlic, fennel, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Stir.

To make pizza:  If you made your own dough, remove it from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to bake the pizza.  Shape dough into a tight ball (eliminating some of the air), place it in a greased bowl, cover lightly with plastic sprayed with cooking spray, and allow to sit for an hour.

Move oven rack to top third.  Preheat oven to 425.  If you made your own dough, go ahead and put a large cookie sheet in the oven to preheat.

Combine cheeses and basil.

If you are using store-bought dough, roll it out onto a cookie sheet and press it out to a 12 x 8 rectangle.  If you are using homemade dough, coat hands in flour.  Place dough on a large sheet of parchment paper and flatten/stretch until it's a 10 x 15 rectangle.  Top dough with cheese/basil mix and then dot with the tomato sauce.

Sauce dotted on top of pizza.

If using homemade dough, slide the parchment paper onto the preheated cookie sheet.  Place/return cookie sheet to oven and bake (20 minutes for either type of crust, oddly enough - until the crust is golden brown).

Allow pizza to sit for about 5 minutes before cutting it.


Wendy is the author of the Mysteries a la Mode. Visit her on the web or on Facebook. She also writes the Pet Boutique Mysteries under the name Annie Knox; you can follow Annie on Facebook, too!


  1. This style pizza is by far my most favorite. I think that it is the tomato sauce that really does it for me. That close up of the sauce cooking does tempt me to try your version. Delicious post!

  2. WOW, another keeper from the Mystery Lovers Kitchen! I love pizza and Margherita is one of my favs.

    Thank you for posting Sundays dinner for me ;)

  3. Oh Wendy, don't you just hate that when you get near the bottom of the recipe and you've neglected to do something crucial??

    I love homemade pizza. I use the crust recipe in the Joy of Cooking--it makes enough for two pizzas and the second ball can be frozen. so the second pizza meal is a snap!

    Your tomato sauce does sound wonderful!

  4. My husband makes the pizzas in this family, and he does make his own dough (no, it doesn't rest for 24 hours!). His toppings are very traditional, not experimental (sigh). But he's a scientist and likes to follow instructions.

    I was introduced to white pizza (no tomato sauce) by a woman from a very Italian family, and she had no issue with starting with a store-bought crust. You can buy them in a bag at our local market.

  5. I've been into white pizza with pesto lately, but this looks sooooo tempting. I'm itching to try this crust, too. The only bad part is planning ahead. Don't the people at Cook's know that we don't plan pizza a day ahead of time? ; )

    ~ Krista

  6. What's not to like about pizza! Fun recipe. But that is funny about the wait time to rise. Aren't we always in a hurry? How about trying to thaw a turkey on Thanksgiving day. Anyone ever tried that? Doesn't happen! LOL


  7. I know I'm starting to look like the clueless cook, here. But it turns out that the wait to rise is really a good thing. First, Cooks is also super-scientific, and they talk about why a long slow rise creates a more flavorful crust. AND, if you do plan ahead, it only takes 10 minutes to prep the crust, and then you have it in the fridge, ready to roll when it's pizza night. :)