Sometimes the simplest ingredients, combined in the simplest of ways, have the power to stop time, erase your woes, and transport you to a place of nirvana-like bliss. Such is the power of the margherita pizza. Fresh tomato sauce, chewy mozzarella cheese, a sprinkling of basil on a crispy crust? I wouldn't be surprised if you started levitating.
I am not a strict purist when it comes to margherita, or margarita, pizza. I like the crust to be crispy, but still with a little chew. When tomatoes are in season and so very ripe, I'll use them over the traditional San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy. I also really like a clove of garlic and a few basil leaves in my sauce. Slices of fresh mozzarella, buffalo or otherwise, are a must.
If you've never made your own pizza sauce before, this recipe will convince you otherwise — if you can even call it a recipe. All you do is blend ripe tomatoes in a food processor or blender until they're good and saucy. To prevent an overly watery sauce (and the subsequently soggy pizza crust), I usually squeeze the tomatoes of excess liquid before blending or strain the sauce afterwards to make it thicker.
No need to cook this sauce ahead of time, either. When spread thinly on the crust, it will cook just enough in the oven to perk up its flavors.
If it's too hot to contemplate turning on the oven where you live, definitely try making this pizza on the grill. I can only imagine that the smokiness and high heat of the grill will make a margherita pizza even more nirvana-inducing.
Read more: How To Grill Pizza
Easy Recipe: Classic Margherita PIzza
Makes 2 (10-inch) pizzas; serves 4 to 6
- For the sauce:
1 (14.5 ounce) can
freshly ground black pepper
- For the pizzas:
pizza dough, at room temperature for 1 hour
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Finely ground cornmeal, for dusting
extra virgin olive oil, divided
loosely packed fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons if large, divided
fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced and divided
grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet upside-down on the rack, and heat the oven to 450°F.
Make the sauce: Place the garlic in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until coarsely chopped, 2 to 3 pulses. Add the tomatoes and their juices, olive oil, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper and process until puréed or to desired consistency, 20 to 30 seconds; set aside.
Divide the pizza dough into two equal pieces. If the dough is sticky, dust with a little bit of all-purpose flour. Dust a 12-inch piece of parchment paper with cornmeal and place the dough on it. Use the heel of your hand to press the dough flat. Work from the middle out to shape it into a 10-inch round with your hands or a rolling pin. The dough will stick to the parchment; if it starts to shrink back, wait a few minutes to let it relax and continue shaping.
Brush the dough with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, then spread 1/4 cup of the sauce into a thin layer onto dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Carefully remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven and use the parchment paper to slide the pizza onto the back of the baking sheet.
Bake for 4 minutes. Top the pizza with half of the mozzarella, leaving some space between the slices. Bake until the crust is golden brown and crisp and the cheese melts, 6 to 7 minutes more.
Remove the pizza from the oven. Immediately drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil. Scatter half of the basil on the pizza and sprinkle with half of the Parmesan. Cool for 2 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining dough and toppings.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Extra sauce: This recipe makes enough sauce for 5 (10-inch) pizzas. Refrigerate extra sauce for up to 1 week, or freeze in 1/4-cup portions in a standard muffin pan for up to 3 months.
Shaping pizza rounds without parchment: Dust your work surface with flour and shape the pizza into rounds using the heels of your hands as described above. Check frequently to make sure the dough is not sticking to the work surface and use more flour as needed. If it shrinks bake, wait a few minutes to let it relax and continue shaping. Once shaped, scatter some cornmeal on top of a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet and transfer the pizza round on top. Cover with toppings and slide the dough onto the preheated baking stone or baking sheet to bake.