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September 2009 Issue
Margherita Pizza
by Philip R. Gantt
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Welcome to Seasoned Cooking and to Phil's International Flair!

We had an adventurous trip to Alaska in July of this year. My friend David caught one of the largest salmon I have ever seen, about 70 pounds. It was truly a monster fish. In the end, we brought back 71 pounds of king salmon fillets, and that was after eating several pounds while we were up there.

One of the things that I like to do on vacation is try the local cuisine. One place, in particular, that was outstanding was Finn's Pizza on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. It's a very small place with a wood-fired oven that makes some of the best pizza I've ever eaten. Three of us occupied most of the counter space to drink a local brew and have some pizza. We ordered the Margherita pizza, ate it all and then ordered more!

The proprietors were very conversant and willing to share their secrets. The head pizza guy was trained in Italy and makes his pizzas according to an age old tradition. In this case, simple is best.

Now, on to the recipe! Be well, and good eating!

 

Margherita Pizza

The Margherita pizza is about the simplest of all pies. It consists of a wonderful thin artisan bread type crust, sliced fresh roma tomatoes (no sauce), fresh mozzarella cheese and some chopped fresh basil. After eating the pizza at Finn's, I had to try making my own and it didn't come out too bad. Actually, it was quite good, but not quite as good as theirs. I'm sure my process will improve with practice.

With an abundance of fresh tomatoes ripening in my garden, the time was perfect to try this recipe. First I researched the subject of pizza dough. Basically, what I learned was that the type of flour used is significant. High gluten flour is best for a crispy thin crust. Another fact I learned is that the dough should be very moist in order to achieve a crispy crust with bubbles inside, like an artisan bread. It is the steam from the moist dough that creates the bubbles, not the yeast. The third factor is high temperature for cooking. The rest is simple.

For the Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cup high gluten flour (regular flour may be substituted)
  • 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cup warm water
To prepare the dough, mix the warm water, yeast and sugar in a large measuring cup, bowl or mixer bowl. Stir and allow to sit for 20 minutes. This activates the yeast. Add the flour and salt. Mix well for about 5 to 7 minutes, cover, and allow to sit for about an hour or two. The dough should about double in size. Mix the dough again to get rid of the bubbles that have formed.

At this point, the dough should be rather thin and a bit sticky. This is what you want. Do not add more flour. You can knead the dough by hand or continue mixing for a few more minutes. Allow the dough to rest while you prepare the other ingredients.

For the Pizza:

  • 2 thinly sliced roma tomatoes
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into half inch cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 8 leaves chopped fresh basil
In a small cup with the olive oil, add the garlic and allow to sit for at least an hour or two to infuse the flavor. Slice the roma tomatoes thinly.

Preheat the oven to maximum temperature. If your heating elements are on the bottom, place the rack as low as possible. If you have a pizza stone, so much the better.

Lightly flour a pizza pan or cookie sheet (or pizza stone) and pour the dough on top. Spread the dough across the pan using your fingers dipped in the garlic oil to prevent sticking. The dough should spread easily. I spread the dough on a cookie sheet to make a rectangular shaped pizza.

When the dough has been spread, drizzle a little more of the garlic oil over the dough and spread evenly. Top with the sliced tomatoes. You don't need to cover all of the dough with tomatoes. Next, salt and pepper to taste and top with the pieces of cheese. Drizzle the remaining garlic oil over the top.

When the oven has reached maximum temperature, place the pizza on the lowest rack and bake for about 5 minutes before checking. The pizza will cook very fast at maximum temperature and could go from cooking to burnt in a matter of 2 minutes. The pizza should take no longer than 10 minutes to cook.

Once cooked, carefully remove the pizza from the oven and set on a stovetop to cool for 5 minutes. Top with chopped basil, slice and serve promptly.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours
 

Of course, you can always add additional toppings like oregano, olives, sliced peppers, mushrooms or pepperoni. However, I recommend that you first try this basic recipe. You won't be disappointed.

In addition, you can also flavor the crust with a small amount of your favorite herbs, like dried rosemary, crushed fennel seed or dried basil. Use your imagination, but try this basic recipe first. Enjoy!



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