Classic Margherita Pizza

Servings: 6 9-inch pizzas
Dough:

  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

     

    Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in their juice
  • 4 to 5 basil leaves, whole
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

     

    Topping:

  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced very thin (1/4 inch)
  • 6 to 8 whole basil leaves

     


    For the Dough
    In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1 1/4 cups warm water (105 to 115° F). Stir until the yeast dissolves. Let stand for one minute, until the yeast is creamy.

    Kneading by Hand
    In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of flour and the salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir until soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour as needed (a tablespoon at a time), until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

    Kneading with Mixer
    In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, combine 3 cups of flour and the salt. Add the yeast mixture. Beat on medium speed until soft dough forms, about one minute. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and beat on high speed. Add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a smooth, tight ball and is very elastic, about 5 minutes. Try to use all of the remaining flour.

    Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Turn the dough over to coat the top with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

    Flatten the dough with your fist and cut into 6 pieces. Shape into balls and sprinkle the tops with some additional flour. Place on a floured surface, cover each with plastic wrap and allow to rise again for 1 hour.


    For the Sauce
    Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, brown the garlic cloves in the olive oil. Be careful not to let them burn, turning often until deep golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat for 5 minutes to cool the oil. Add the remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the basil leaves and garlic cloves. Adjust seasoning with salt if needed. If you need to tone down the acidity, add small pinches of sugar. Store in a plastic container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


    Assembly
    Place a pizza stone or an overturned baking sheet on the lowest rack in the oven. Preheat the oven to 500° F (550 if it goes that high). Meanwhile, shape the dough. On a floured surface, flatten a ball with the palms of your hands. Lift and gently stretch while turning the dough. Place on the surface and roll out in a circular shape until it's about 10 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick. If the dough sticks to your hands, rub them with flour. Continue with the remaining dough. Transfer the pizzas onto a lightly floured pizza peel or the back of a lightly floured baking sheet. Quickly top each pizza with sauce, leaving about an inch border around the edges. Place several slices of the cheese on top and carefully slide the pizzas onto the hot stone or hot baking sheet in the oven, two at a time. Cook the pizzas for 6 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbly. Remove from oven and top with basil, tearing it as you place it on the pizza.

    I often make several different toppings and let my guests customize their pizzas:

  • Sautéed onions and garlic with Gorgonzola cheese
  • Sautéed mushrooms with Fontina cheese
  • Prosciutto and arugula placed on hot-from-the-oven pizza

     

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