Classic Margherita Pizza (with Olives)

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On a grey winter day, it’s usually easy to justify an afternoon kneading dough, isn’t it? Particularly if you know there’s a ball of fresh mozzarella in the fridge begging to become a blanket of bubbly goo on a chewy, homemade pizza. On days like this, I find endless comfort in classics – a movie I’ve seen a thousand times, my favorite cozy sweater, or a perfect chewy, cheesy, tomato-y margherita pizza.

Today is not just a any grey winter day. It is a grey winter day 48 hours before two gargantuan midterms for which I have mountains of information to stuff into my brain, wherever I can find an empty crevasse. So, however justifiable it would be to spend another afternoon kneading dough, today’s time constraints demand that the breadmaker should have all the fun. (Although, in retrospect, beating the bajeebers out of a lump of dough might have been significantly more therapeutic than hearing the loud, mechanical throbbing of a machine echoing the throbbing in my temples).

The sauce is gorgeous and simple, bursting with fresh tomato flavour, and mercifully – takes no time at all. A swirl of olive oil in a saucepan, toss in some garlic to brown, then empty a can of tomatoes. Let it bubble for about 15 minutes, then blend with a few whirls of an immersion blender. I like to keep mine quite chunky.

A baking stone is terrific for getting a good likeness to a pizza baked in a wood-fired oven. It should be placed on the lower-middle rack while the oven is preheating, and should be very hot before the pizza ever hits it. I preheat my oven then give it an additional 20 minutes, while I’m prepping the toppings. If you don’t have a baking stone, use an upside-down baking sheet. I really recommend using the cornmeal instead of flour for dusting. It makes a big difference in getting a chewy pizza that is simultaneously crisp.

The dough is equally fantastic when kneaded by hand, in a food processor with a dough blade, a standing mixer with a dough hook, or just tossed into the bread machine on the “dough” setting. It’s really very forgiving. And delicious. Good combination on a day like today, huh?

An easy, flavourful tomato sauce, a few leaves of fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and you’ve got a timeless pizza; a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.I adulterated it only slightly, by tossing a few black olives on top, not because I think the original is lacking anything but only because I think olives make everything more delicious.

Margherita Pizza

  • Pizza sauce (recipe follows)

  • Pizza dough (recipe follows), rolled out to desired size and thickness (*I made four thin-crust pizzas, about 12 inches each).

  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves

  • about 3 cups shredded mozzarella (*if using fresh mozza, it helps to spray your grater with nonstick cooking spray first).

  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano

  • drizzle olive oil

  • sea salt, to taste

  • sliced, pitted black olives, optional

1. Place baking stone in oven on lower-middle rack and preheat oven to 500 degrees. Allow stone to heat for about 30 minutes.

2. Spread sauce evenly over each dough. Divide shredded cheeses between pizzas and top with basil leaves. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.

3. Transfer to baking stone and bake for about 10 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

* To easily get the pizza into the oven, put a good dusting of cornmeal down on a large cutting board or upside-down baking sheet and put your dough on this to add the toppings. Then slide it onto the baking stone with a quick jerk. You could alternatively put a cornmeal (or flour) dusted sheet of parchment paper on top of the cutting board, and transfer the parchment and pizza together into the oven. America’s Test Kitchen recommends this, however, I don’t use parchment in the oven at temperatures greater than 400 degrees.

Pizza Dough

from America’s Test Kitchen

  • 4 cups bread flour (*all-purpose works too, but crust will be less crisp and chewy)

  • 1 envelops (2 1/4 tsp) instant or rapid-rise yeast

  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 3/4 cup warm water

  • cornmeal for dusting, optional

1. Whisk the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Add the oil and water and stir with a rubber spatula until dough comes together and looks shaggy.

2. Turn dough out on lightly floured counter and knead for about 10-15 minutes, to form a smooth, round ball. Use additional flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to counter.

3. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place till doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

4. Turn dough out onto cornmeal (or flour) dusted counter and cut into 3 even pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth, round ball and let rest for about 20 minutes. (*this makes it easier to roll out).

5. Using a rolling pin or stretching with your hands, roll out each ball into a circle of desired thickness.

Pizza Sauce

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic, and cook until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and continue to cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes.

3. Blend to desired consistency with a hand blender, or using a food processor or regular blender. *careful not to burn yourself.

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