The Margherita is the undisputed heavyweight champion of pizza. It’s the pizza that any pizza chef would order to get the measure of a new pizzeria because there is nothing to hide behind; no snazzy flavors to mask the quality of your ingredients, dough and skill with the oven. Here is Thom Elliot and James Elliot’s recipe from their new book, “Pizza.”
FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE
Makes enough for 4 pizzas
— 1 x 14 ounce (400 grams) can of San Marzano (or any good-quality Italian) tomatoes
— a good pinch of sea salt
In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes by hand. (This is the old-school way they used to do it in Naples, and for good reason. If you put the tomatoes in a food processor you end up with a depressingly smooth sauce that lacks texture.) Once you’ve crushed the hell out of your tomatoes, add a pinch of salt to taste and that’s it! Pure, unadulterated tomato goodness.
FOR THE PIZZA
Makes 1 pizza
— 1 ball of Neapolitan pizza dough (see below)
— 3 ounces (80 grams) tomato sauce
— 4–5 fresh basil leaves
— Parmesan, for grating
— 1 tablespoon olive oil
— 3 ounces (80 grams) fior di latte mozzarella, torn or sliced
1. Preheat the grill (broiler) to its absolute highest setting, and place a large, ovenproof frying pan (skillet) over a high heat and let it get screaming hot.
2. Meanwhile, flatten and stretch the dough ball to make a 10-inch pizza base.
3. Lay the pizza base flat in the hot, dry frying pan, then, using a small ladle (or a large spoon), spoon the tomato sauce onto the middle of the pizza. Using the back of the ladle, make concentric circles to spread the sauce, beginning in the middle and finishing 1ˆin from the edge.
4. Next, sprinkle over the basil (it will burn if put on last). Grate over a little Parmesan and drizzle with the olive oil.
5. Once the base of the pizza has browned, about 1–2 minutes, add your mozzarella, then place the frying pan under the grill on the highest shelf.
6. Once the crust has taken on some color, about 1–2 minutes, the pizza is ready!
Making Neapolitan Pizza Dough:
With the knowledge of each ingredient and the important roles they play, we can now make Neapolitan pizza dough.
Tip: Weigh out all your ingredients before you start.
— 35 ounces (1000 grams) ’00’ flour (Caputo ‘blue’ is recommend)
— 2/3 tablespoon (2 grams) fresh yeast
— 21 fluid ounces (620 milliliters) tepid water
— 1 ounce (30 grams) fine sea salt
1. Make a mountain of flour in the middle of the table. Using your fist, make a deep well in the middle of the flour, exposing the surface of the table (turning your mountain into a moon crater).
2. Crumble the yeast into the tepid water. Use your good hand to mash up the yeast in the water until it has dissolved. (Keep the other hand dry for taking Instagram photos to show off to your friends.) Fill your crater of flour with a third of the yeast/water mix. Using your fingertips, start making very small circular motions to combine the flour and water.
3. Start dragging in some more flour to the mix, by ‘undercutting’ the walls of the crater with your fingertips. As you do this the mixture in the middle will become thicker. Once it reaches the consistency of porridge you need to add a bit more water. Don’t let it get too thick; if it starts to form a dough too soon it becomes difficult to incorporate the rest of the water. Keep dragging in a little flour to thicken the mix, then pouring a little bit more water in to loosen it, until you have all the water used up.
4. Sprinkle the sea salt over the mixture while it’s still very wet to ensure it dissolves and disperses evenly throughout the dough. Now use both hands to push the remaining flour from the outside into the middle. Fold and press the mix until all the flour is absorbed and a dough comes together. If you have a dough scraper it really helps get everything off the table, but you can improvise with a paint scraper, spatula or knife.
5. Work the gluten by kneading the dough. Use the heel of your hand to stretch out the dough and roll it back up, while the other hand acts like an anchor. You’ll be able to see the strands of gluten stretching, breaking, being put back together and becoming stronger. Continue this for about 8 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and glossy. It should also feel tighter and elastic.
6. Let the dough have a 10-minute rest to relax the gluten. Cover the dough with a damp cloth or some clingfilm (plastic wrap) to keep the air from drying it out. Then divide your bulk of dough into individual portions. We recommend 230g (8oz) dough balls for 10-inch pizzas. Ensure your dough balls are neatly shaped – pinched at the bottom and tight on the top – then place them in a tray or container 3cm (1in) apart. Cover with a tight lid or clingfilm (plastic wrap).
7. Now you can relax. The yeast will take over from here. Leave the dough at room temperature for approximately 6 hours until it expands to almost double its size, then store in the fridge overnight. The next day remove the dough from the fridge for 1–2 hours and bring it back to room temperature before making your pizzas.
Recipe excerpted with permission from “Pizza” by Thom Elliot and James Elliot, published by Quadrille in November 2020.