Weeknight Cooking: Pizza Margherita

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Now do I have your attention? And no, we will NOT be purchasing premade dough. For this pizza, we will be making our own.

I received a book on pizza as a gift and right away I was turned off by the recipes for dough. Dough is time consuming and usually involves the kneading process, which really isn’t my thing. It takes time and work, and I imagine myself laboring over a hunk of dough for hours until it’s done.

That isn’t the case at all.

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This book, “Pizza: 50 Traditional and Alternative Recipes for the Oven and Grill” by Dwayne Ridgaway is fantastic and has some really simple dough recipes. If you make your own dough, it will be much easier than you thought – with the added bonus that you will be so proud of the fact that you actually made a dough. Of course, as a timid first-time pizza maker, I started with the simplest dough and pizza listed: Basic Pizza Dough and its counterpart, Pizza Margherita.

I listed this dish as a “Weeknight Cooking” selection, but I have to include this caveat: The dough takes 1 – 1.5 hours to rise, so making the dough itself wouldn’t be considered part of the Weeknight Cooking bit. However, one Basic Dough recipe makes 2 pizza doughs, and they will keep in your freezer for up to 3 months. I tested this out, and two months later I was able to thaw out and use a perfectly fine pizza dough. If you have it in the freezer and can thaw it, this dish counts as a Weeknight Cooking selection, as the pizza takes 10 minutes of prep time, and 10 minutes of cooking time. A 20-minute meal. Eat your heart out, Rachel Ray.

Let’s start with the dough.

Basic Pizza Dough
1 1/2 cups warm water, about 110 degrees F to 115 degrees F
1/4 ounce package of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina flour or fine ground yellow corn meal
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for brushing bowl
1 teaspoon salt

It’s pretty simple. Combine your water, yeast and sugar in a bowl. Mix it up and try to get the dry lumps broken up. Then set it aside for about 5 minutes – the top will get a little foamy/bubbly.

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Add only 1 1/2 cups of flour, semolina or corn meal (I use corn meal) and 1/3 cup olive oil. Mix by hand using a wooden spoon.

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Start to add the rest of your flour in 1/4 cup increments, stirring after each addition, until all of the flour is incorporated. The dough will still be slightly sticky. Admittedly, I was nervous about the sticky dough – my compulsion was to add more flour so that it’s smooth, but you don’t want to do that, because the dough will pick up more flour as you’re kneading it.

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Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface (I used a cutting board) and knead for about 3 – 5 minutes. I confess that the short kneading time is what really sold me on this. For some reason I had an idea that I would be kneading for a half hour. All I ended up doing was folding it in half, pressing the ball of my hand into it, turning it, and repeating the process. I did that for about 4 minutes and gave up on kneading.

Coat a large mixing bowl with oil and put the dough in it. Roll the dough around until the oil has covered the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and and place in a warm, draft-free area to double in size. This will take about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

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After the dough rises, punch it back down to its original size and divide into two equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball. One can be wrapped in air-tight plastic wrap or freezer bags and kept in the freezer for up to three months. The next one will be rolled out and topped with pizza goodness.

No pictures for this, I’m afraid, because it all happens so quickly.

Pizza Margherita
1 round basic pizza dough
28 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, drained and seeded
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon coarse cornmeal
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
8 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup fresh shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese

Roll out your pizza dough to fit the pan you’re cooking it on. Depending on the type of pan you’re using, you may want to place a layer of parchment paper on top of the pan. I use parchment paper when I use my thin-crust pan. If you don’t use parchment, use the extra cornmeal to sprinkle on the bottom of the pan.

Open up your can of tomatoes. I do love the plum tomatoes, but they’re hard to find where I live, so I will sometimes use peeled plum tomatoes. I usually find those packed with fresh basil leaves, which is fine. After opening the can, I just remove the basil.

I have never found the tomatoes seedless. What I end up doing is taking the tomatoes out of the can, one by one, splitting them open with my fingers and rinsing out the insides in the sink. Gordon Ramsay might call me a donkey and throw me out of the kitchen for that – I have no idea. It’s fast, efficient, and keeps all of your mess in the sink. Also, I doubt that cans of whole, peeled plum tomatoes without seeds exist. So just buy the regular cans and gently rinse the seeds out into the sink. Place the tomatoes on your cutting board and dice them up.

Throw them into a bowl with only 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil (I use flavored olive oil – you can find flavored olive oils easily in the supermarket), garlic (for this recipe, use fresh and not jarred), and salt. Combine gently.

Top your pizza dough with the tomato mixture and slices of fresh mozzarella. (And in case fresh mozzarella is a new concept to you, it comes as a big, white ball. You can pick it up in the cheese department of your supermarket.) Drizzle with remaining olive oil.

Bake your pizza at 450 degrees for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and basil. Serve that baby with some vino and enjoy.

Here it is again in case you’ve forgotten!

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