"The Elements of Pizza"
This is the pizza that, like no other, defines “pizza” in hearts and minds. It was famously named for Queen Margherita after she visited Naples on June 9, 1889, and was served this pizza by the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito and his wife, Rosa Brandi.
Pizza Margherita is registered with the EU as a TSG (Traditional Specialties Guaranteed) product; this recipe uses the ingredients and the allowed measures as defined by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN). Still, there are differences: the texture of this pizza—baked in a home oven for about 7 minutes—is crisper than that of a true pizza margherita, which bakes in 60 to 90 seconds in a wood-fired oven at 905°F. That pizza is softer in the rim, and especially in the middle. Do not take this point of differentiation as an apology, though; this is a terrific pizza, and it’s the one I make at home more often than any other. I love it in this version and in its true Neapolitan form.
The mozzarella cheese goes on the pizza after it has been in the oven for about 4 minutes; this is to keep the texture of the cheese consistent with what you would find at a pizzeria in Naples. If you bake with the mozzarella on the pizza for the entire baking time, the cheese will completely liquefy and it will be more like a New York cheese pizza with basil than a real Neapolitan margherita pizza.
Basil on the pizza after it is baked or before? It’s traditional to put the basil leaves on the pizza before baking, and it bakes with the rest of the pizza. But Franco Pepe at Pepe in Grani puts fresh basil on his margherita after it is baked, and so do others I admire. I like it both ways.
If you can eat this pizza whole, or just cut in half, I think you get the best experience. Slicing it like an American pizza usually means some of the ooze in the middle goes on the cutting board. I want the ooze on my fork! A pair of kitchen scissors is a useful service addition to a knife and fork at the table if you want to cut pieces instead of slicing.
- 1 pizza dough ball
- 1/4 to 1/3 cups tomato sauce
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Scant 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 3 1/2 to 4 ounces fresh whole-milk mozzarella cheese (fior di latte) or brine-packed mozzarella di bufala, sliced into short strips about 1/2-inch thick
- 3 to 5 whole basil leaves
If you use a dough recipe that calls for refrigeration, remove your dough ball from the refrigerator about 60 to 90 minutes before baking pizza. Put your pizza steel or stone on an upper rack in your oven no more than 8 inches below the broiler. Preheat the oven to 550°F for 45 minutes.
Set up your pizza assembly station. Give yourself about 2 feet of width on the countertop. Moderately flour the work surface. Position your wooden peel next to the floured area and dust it lightly with flour. Have the sauce, oil, cheeses, and basil at hand, with a ladle or large spoon for the sauce. Switch the oven to broil 10 minutes before loading the pizza.
To shape the pizza, put the dough ball on the floured work surface and flip to coat both sides moderately with white flour. Transfer the disk of pizza dough to the peel and run your hands around the perimeter to relax it and work out the kinks.
Spread the tomato sauce over the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge, smoothing it with the back of the spoon or ladle. Turn off the broiler, then gently slide the pizza onto the pizza stone or steel. Close the oven door and change the setting to bake at 550°F. Let the pizza bake for about 4 minutes, until the rim is just starting to turn golden. Use a pair of tongs to remove the pizza onto a plate. Drizzle a spoonful or so of olive oil on top of the pizza, then sprinkle the grated pecorino evenly over the sauce. Layer the mozzarella and basil leaves evenly over the pizza. Using your hands, place the pizza back onto the pizza steel or stone and continue baking for 1 to 2 minutes.
Change the oven setting from bake to broil and let the pizza bake until the cheese is softly melted and the crust is golden with spots of brown and a few small spots of char, about 2 minutes (check it after 1 minute to be safe). Use tongs or a fork to slide the pizza from the pizza steel or stone onto the plate. Drizzle a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil over the pizza and serve whole or sliced in half.
Variation: add sliced cherry tomatoes as soon as this pizza comes out of the oven for a margherita “extra.”
Reprinted with permission from The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography credit: Alan Weiner © 2016
One 12-inch pizza