This article appears in the April issue of 400 Life.
After more than seven years working in pizza restaurants around the state, I have made thousands of pizzas.
Literally thousands of pizzas in every different size, shape, style and topping combination.You name it, I’ve made it and in all likelihood, probably eaten it too. But until the completion of this recipe, I could honestly say that I had never made a pie 100 percent from scratch, from beginning to end.
I had wanted to do this for quite some time, just to see how easily it could be done for a stay-at-home pizza night and I was very surprised how well these recipes did in my kitchen at home.
For this recipe, I wanted to recreate two classic and incredibly simple pizzas, the margherita and the Pizza Bianca, which will let you get the full enjoyment of your wonderfully hand-kneaded dough and your classic basil marinara sauce. But if other toppings are more to your taste, have at them.
Both recipes have been co-opted and altered from other recipes online, but both the dough and sauce are nearly identical to others that I grew accustomed to during my time working in restaurant kitchens.
My one major piece of advice for you is that dough is tricky to get right, but ultimately cheap to make, so feel free to make a few attempts if your dough doesn’t feel right. Give the dough plenty of time to rise, keep your oven as hot as possible and everything else in this recipe will be pretty easy to deal with.
Check it out, have some fun and tell us what you think.
The two pizzas I chose to make are as follows:
Margherita — Marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, torn into small pieces. After the pizza is done baking, sprinkle on a good amount of fresh basil leaf.
Pizza Bianca — extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces. After the pizza is done, dollop on small amounts of ricotta cheese, fresh basil pesto and top the pie with dried oregano.
• Warm water - 1 1/4 cups
• Sugar - 1/2 teaspoon
• Active dry yeast - 1 teaspoons
• All-purpose flour, plus more for dusting - 3 1/2 cups
• Extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing - 3 tablespoons
• Kosher salt - 3/4 teaspoons
• Semolina flour
• San Marzano tomatoes - 1 28-ounce can whole
• Extra-virgin olive oil - ¼ cup
• Garlic, peeled and slivered - 7 cloves
• Crushed red pepper flakes
• Kosher salt - 1 teaspoon
• Fresh basil - 1 large sprig
• Fresh mozzarella cheese – 2 small balls
• Ricotta cheese
• Fresh basil pesto – 1 small jar
• Dried oregano
1. Start your dough by “blooming” the yeast; sprinkle sugar and yeast into warm water; this water should not be hot, but actually lukewarm. Let this mixture sit for 10 minutes as bubbles form on the surface.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle with your fingers and add the olive oil and the now bloomed yeast mixture. Use a spoon, mix until a rough dough begins to form.
3. Turn the rough dough out onto a clean work surface, well dusted with flour, and knead the dough for about 15 minutes. After this time, the dough formed should be soft, smooth and bouncy. Use your hands to fold the dough in on itself until it forms into a taut round on one side.
4. Grease a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside, coat the dough with a small amount of oil from the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for between two and 24 hours. The more you let the dough rise, the better and more complex flavor it will have. Don’t be surprised if it rises completely out of the bowl. Keep the plastic wrap over it and let it rise.
5. After the dough has risen completely. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly-floured work surface. Knead for a few minutes, then cut into two equal portions and shape into rounds like before.
6. Lightly flour the dough, then cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for between 30 minutes to an hour, while you prepare the sauce and other ingredients.
Homemade basil marinara sauce
1. Put the entire can of whole tomatoes into a large bowl and crush them with your hands. Pour 1 cup water into a can and slosh it around to collect the tomato juices. Reserve this water.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add in garlic to the oil and fry until it is fragrant and sizzling, but not brown.
3. Add in the newly-crushed tomatoes and the reserved tomato water. Sprinkle in red pepper flakes and salt. Continue to stir this mix.
4. Place a few whole basil sprigs on the surface and submerge it in sauce.
5. You will want the sauce to simmer until it has thickened into a medium consistency. The finished product will be less viscous than a pasta sauce and consistent; no oil or water should be present.
6. Continue to taste the sauce and add more salt, red pepper or oregano if needed. Discard the basil sprigs once complete. Let the sauce cool fully.
Pizza, topping and baking
1. Preheat your oven as high as it will allow, between 450-500 degrees.
2. Once the dough has rested, take one of the portions and start by poking the surface with your fingertips until bubbles form, and do not deflate.
3. Stretch and pat the dough into a thin round. Continue to stretch the dough out, or roll it with a rolling pin, until it’s about 1/4 inch thick and 10 inches in diameter. If you think you can get the hang of stretching and tossing your dough from videos online, feel free to toss to your heart’s content. Keep in mind “slapping and tossing” dough is incredibly hard to master and normally takes a while to get right, so for beginners a rolling pin will work fine.
4. Sprinkle semolina onto an upside down baking sheet and place the stretched crust onto it. Add the sauce and your ingredients.
5. Slide the pizza and baking sheet into the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. The finished pizza should have its crust and cheese golden brown. Before you cut into the pizza, check the bottom crust by lifting up an edge and make sure it is evenly golden brown and not burned.
6. Cut, share and enjoy.