For the past two weeks, I’ve been diligently working on creating the best pizza at home, from scratch. Of course, I love shortcut pizza; the kind with grocery store crust, jarred pizza sauce and a heaping pile of shredded mozzarella, but I also love pizza pizza — cooked in under a minute in an impossibly hot brick oven and presented to you on a sunny patio in Naples. : )
The best pizza I’ve had in a LONG time was at Brick in New Bedford (has anyone been?) and that was my main inspiration. I wanted an underbelly that crisped up, even under the weight of sauce and cheese, with an elastic-y, chewy crust, the kind with pockets of air not too big to hollow out the insides, but not too small, either. This is a science, and I took it very seriously.
First thing’s first: the crust.
The key to a good crust, I’ve discovered, is a cold rise. This just means letting the dough rise slowly in the fridge over a few days, versus a few hours on your counter top. I know that’s kind of a bummer, since that means waiting two or three days for your pizza, but it’s so worth it. While it hangs out in your fridge, the dough has a chance to develop flavor, and do other very subtle but critical things that a baker could explain to you much better than I ever could. You have to trust me on this one. In crust we trust.
The other key factor is what kind of flour you use. This recipe calls for equal parts all-purpose flour and 00 flour, also known as “double zero” flour. It’s an Italian flour that’s lighter, softer, and finer than all-purpose flour. A few grocery stores in my town carry it, so I think you should be able to find it near you. Look for a red bag (I used it in this pasta post!). It shouldn’t be too expensive, either.
One note: This dough is actually on the sticky side, especially once it has hung out in the fridge for a few days. Don’t panic, just flour your hands, as well as the dough, and be gentle and patient. Treat it like a baby, because it is your baby.
I’ve read several times now that the best margarita pizza is made with simply tomato purée that’s seasoned and slicked up with olive oil. I loved how simple (and cheap) that sounded so I used Pomi tomato purée with salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and some minced garlic, because I couldn’t help myself. You could also add oregano or red pepper flakes, if you were feeling fancy, or you could do the bare minimum and only season it.
The cheese and toppings
The kind of mozzarella you use is so important — too wet, and it will release too much watery liquid onto your pizza, too processed or dry and it won’t melt well. I buy the soft mozzarella that’s sealed in a bag or pouch (versus floating in milky liquid).
I don’t have a pizza peel, so I had to get creative. I’ve tried using a baking sheet before and didn’t love the results, so this time, I flipped my cast iron upside down and used it as a makeshift pizza peel. It works amazingly well. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you could also try using any heavy bottomed oven safe pot or pan, flipped upside down and about 6 inches underneath the burner.
OK! Let’s get started.
The Best Margarita Pizza
1 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour
1 1/2 cups 00 flour
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pizza sauce (see notes above)
Mozarella (see notes above)
Fresh basil, for tearing
1. Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water, set aside. In a large bowl, combine both flours with the salt.
2. Once the yeast is activated (the surface should be foamy), add the water mixture to your flour mixture. Drizzle in the olive oil, then mix the dough by hand until it starts to come together, about 2-3 minutes.
3. As it comes together, it may be sticky. Continue to sprinkle more all-purpose flour as you knead, a little at a time. After the initial knead, let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
4. Knead it once more, this time vigorously, for 3-5 minutes. Add a little flour if it continues to get sticky. You want smooth, pliable dough. Cut it into 3 equal pieces, and quickly form them into balls. Thoroughly oil a dinner plate and then the 3 balls of dough, and place them on the dinner plate, covering really well with plastic wrap (it should be touching the surface of the dough).
5. Refrigerate for at least two and up to four days.
6. Thirty minutes before you’re ready to make your pizza, take the dough out of the fridge. Prepare your sauce, slice your cheese, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Dust a pizza peel or cutting board with flour (if you have semolina, use that, but all-purpose would work just as well).
7. Toss/roll out/pull your dough until it’s the desired thickness and size. I have no tricks up my sleeve for pizza dough shaping, I just kind of wing it every time. Keep in mind that it will puff up quite a bit as it bakes.
8. Slather on your pizza sauce with the back of a spoon, top with the cheese, tear a few basil leaves and scatter on top and then bake, for 5-6 minutes. Start to check at 4 minutes, since these pizzas bake FAST.
I love the classic margarita pizza, but the pizza pictured above was also so delicious — sauce, mozzarella cheese, capers, anchovies, and arugula. Below, calamata olives and basil.