Saturday, August 2, 2008

"American Pie - My Search for the Perfect Pizza" - Pizza Margherita

Date I made this recipe: July 27, 2008

American Pie – My Search for the Perfect Pizza by Peter Reinhart
Published by: 10 Speed Press
ISBN: 1-58008-422-2 © 2003
Recipe: Pizza Margherita – p. 171-172; sauce recipe - p. 142; dough recipe – p. 107

Sometimes a recipe gets made because of a need to use up an ingredient, in this case, mozzarella. My mozzarella was left over from the Italian Corn Salad recipe I made the week before. It took me about a second to settle on pizza as the recipe de giorno and a couple more seconds to find this cookbook, American Pie.

Pizza Margherita is a classic pizza recipe and one that my grandmother made countless times when I visited her and it was so delicious my cousins and I often ate it cold for breakfast. The reason we could do that is that my grandmother, unlike any other pizza-maker I’ve ever known, put the mozzarella on top of the dough and then put the sauce on top of the cheese. This allowed the cheese to stay moist rather than turn into that awful hard crust the way most leftover pizzas do. I must confess that old habits die hard and so my version of this pizza is really my grandmother’s, save for the anchovies that she usually put on half of the pizza (although I actually like anchovies, I didn’t think to add them!).

Now I have to admit that I cheated when it came to the pizza dough and went to an Italian deli where I used to work, Broder’s Cucina Italiana, in south Minneapolis to get my pizza dough (they carry both small and large dough, freshly-made and oh-so-yummy. In fact their dough is close to the hot roll mix my grandma always used for her pizza). Cheating is a good thing as it saved me time and effort. Since I didn’t use the recipe our author included, and since it is rather long, I’ll let you track down the book should you feel that you want to do it from scratch.

As to the sauce, it was close to what grandma made and was very robust. I made one large pie instead of two small ones, put most of the sauce on it and it was fine—not too soggy and not too strong on the tomato flavor.

When you’re done with the pizza(s), do like my grandmother did and yell “A mangia!” (Basically “let’s eat!”) in order to get your crew to the table. Eat and enjoy!

Pizza Margherita – Makes two 9-inch pizzas
2 Napoletana Pizza Dough balls, 6 ounces each (page 107) – or – any other pizza dough mix – or – pizza dough from a pizzeria (if available)
Unbleached all-purpose flour, cornmeal, or semolina flour, or a combination, for dusting peel
½ cup Crushed Tomato Sauce (page 142)
16 fresh basil leaves
¼ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into rounds, coarsely shredded, or cut into small chunks
2 T freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino Romano, Asiago, or other dry aged cheese (optional)

To make the sauce: (yield 4 cups)
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil (optional)
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder, or 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice, or a combination
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

In a bowl, stir together all the ingredients, starting with ½ teaspoon salt and adding more to taste. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week. (Note, the beauty of this recipe is that it doesn’t require cooking!!)

Now then, as to baking instructions, I’m going to take a sharp turn away from what’s in the book because there are many variations available depending on whether or not you have a baking stone (I don’t). In general, preheat the oven to 500 degrees for at least an hour. Make sure you have the lowest shelf available for baking. If you are using a baking stone, place it first on the middle shelf of the oven and preheat on the highest setting for at least an hour. If you do not have a pizza stone, use a sheet pan but still warm up the oven at the highest setting for an hour.

If you are using a sheet pan, the author recommends brushing it with oil first. I was way ahead of him on this one as my grandma always did that. Then spread out your dough on whatever surface you are using.

Next and this is my personal preference for pizza, lightly oil the crust of the pizza and then place your mozzarella cheese on top. The author directs you to spread ¼ cup of the tomato sauce over the surface of the dough, leaving a ¼-inch border uncovered. It’s up to you, but I like cheese first, then the sauce. Place 4 basil leaves on top of the cheese (or sauce) one in each quadrant. If you make it my way, you will spread the sauce over the cheese, add the remaining basil and then sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese. If you do it the author’s way, you will arrange half of the mozzarella over the top of the sauce and basil and then sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Carefully slide the pizza from the peel onto the baking stone. It should take 7 to 9 minutes to bake. When it is done, the crust should be puffy and slightly charred on the edge ad thinner in the center, and the cheese should be fully melted and just beginning to brown in spots. The underside of the crust should be brown and crisp, not white and soft. If the underside is not ready when the top is finished, lower the shelf for the next pizza.

Note: if you are using ready-made pizza dough or a pizza dough mix like I did, you will not get the puffy, slightly-charred look the author is going for. You’ll still get a wonderful pizza crust but it will be more like a bread crust than a cracker crust.

Remove the finished pizza from the oven and immediately lay 4 additional basil leaves on top, placing one in each quadrant but not directly on top of the previous basil leaves. Serve the pizza whole (usually 1 pizza per person), or let it cool for about 2 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make the second pizza.

For Minneapolis residents, Broders’ Cucina Italiana is a great source for all items Italian, including pizza dough. Check it out at

If you want to enjoy authentic Neapolitan pizza without having to make it yourself, head to Punch Pizza (several locations). Check it out at

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