Pizza Margherita

Jessica Shelton
8 Min Read

Who doesn’t love pizza?  We Americans sure do; we eat about 100 acres of pizza a year!  At its simplest, it’s often its best, and Pizza Margherita exemplifies this.  One of the most recognizable foods from Italian culture, it dates back as far as 1866 but became most popular in 1889 when chef Raffaele Esposito created the dish to honor Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I, when she was visiting Naples, 28 years after the unification of Italy.  The chef recreated the Italian flag using red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil.  This simple pie is the best of everything Italian all in one cheesy, savory bite.

My first-ever attempt to make pizza dough didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.  I tried a mix of white and whole wheat flour, and while it was tasty, it was too thick and bready for me.  I like a thinner, chewier crust so my first attempt wasn’t my favorite, but after doing a little research, I found that semolina flour adds a stretch to the dough and a chewiness to the crust.  I tried that and was much happier with the result.  So I’ve decided to give you both recipes, which I made in my bread machine, so you can choose your favorite.

I also experimented with both stretching and rolling the doughs.  I had the most success with rolling, but do what works best for you.  Sprinkling cornmeal under the dough will help keep it from sticking, and greatly improve your chances of getting it to the pan in one piece.

The recipe will make at least one large pizza, or, as I did, several 6-8-inch pizzas.  Cooking temps and times will vary, but my 6-8 inch pizzas cooked about 15 minutes at 425 for the thicker crust, and about the same for the semolina crust.  Depending on your desired doneness, and size of your pizza, it could be 10-20 minutes, so just check it every 5 minutes or so after the first 10.

Here’s what you’ll need for the thicker, breadier, crust:

  • 1 1/2 c. lukewarm water
  • 2 t. olive oil
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. whole-wheat flour
  • 1 T. Italian seasoning (optional)
  • 1 t. garlic powder (optional)
  • 4 t. fast-rise yeast
  • cornmeal for dusting

Add all ingredients except cornmeal into bread pan in order listed; Select dough setting and start the machine.

After the machine stops, move the dough to lightly floured surface and cover with plastic wrap.  Let it continue to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle cornmeal on your pizza pan, or working surface and press dough into pizza shape; Cover with a towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Here’s what you’ll need for the chewier crust:

  • 1 1/4 c. luke-warm water
  • 2 t. olive oil
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. semolina flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. garlic powder (optional)
  • 1/2 t. white sugar
  • 2 t. fast-rise yeast
  • cornmeal for dusting

Add all ingredients except cornmeal into bread pan in order listed; Select dough setting and start the machine.

After the machine stops, move the dough to a lightly floured surface and cover with a light cloth.  Let it continue to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Here’s what you’ll need for the toppings

  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, and a little extra for drizzling
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 T. fresh thyme
  • 1 T. fresh oregano
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed (we recommend San Marzano tomatoes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves
  • 1 (8 oz.) ball of fresh mozzarella, water drained if necessary

The sauce is extremely simple.  Simply saute the garlic for a couple minutes over medium heat, until they’re slightly golden.  Add the oregano and thyme and saute another couple minutes until fragrant.  Be careful not to burn the garlic—burned garlic has a bitter taste.  Next add your crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and turn the heat to low.  Simmer for 8-10 minutes.  That’s it.  The sauce is done.

The next part is moldable to your situation and equipment, so I’ll explain what I did, and you can adapt to best suit you and your kitchen.  But first off, preheat your oven (and pizza stone, if you have one) to 425.

I used a flexible, plastic cutting board as my pizza-making station so that I could easily slide it onto my hot stone in the oven.  If you aren’t using a stone, you could just build the pizza on your pan.

I dusted the plastic board with cornmeal for the bready crust and semolina flour for the chewy crust.  I pulled off a ball of dough about the size of my fist and formed it into a smooth ball and placed it on the dusted surface.  I stretched and/or rolled out my dough the thinnest I could (because I like a thinner crust) and docked the bottom pretty heavily with a fork.  If you aren’t using a stone, you can now transfer the crust to your pan.

Once you have your dough the way you like it, spread on a nice layer of the freshly-made sauce.  It ends up nice and chunky, so spread it out as evenly as you can.  Place your basil leaves, whole, or torn into 1-2 inch pieces, evenly over the sauce.  Lastly, another variable.  You can either slice your mozzarella into 1/4-inch slices, or simply tear off gumball-sized chunks from the whole ball and put them evenly over the basil and sauce.  I did the tearing method because, with smaller pies, the slices would’ve been too big.

Drizzle the whole thing with a little bit of olive oil, stand back and admire this thing of beauty you just created, and slide it onto your baking pan/stone (if it isn’t there already).  The cornmeal/semolina will really help in this process if you’ve used enough.  Give it a gentle jiggle to see that it’s loose and then slide it on to the pan.  Easy peasy.

Now, all that’s left is to wait.  Check it after about 10 minutes and go an additional 3-5 minutes until it’s to your liking.  Let it sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Buon appetito!

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