Pizza Margherita is to many the true Italian flag. According to popular tradition, in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy, during a visit to Naples of Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I, chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi and his wife created a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). They named it after the Queen - Pizza Margherita. Descriptions of such a pizza recipe, however, can be traced back to at least 1866 in Francesco DeBouchard book “Customs and Traditions of Naples” .There he describes the most popular pizza toppings of the time which included one with cheese and basil, often topped with slices of mozzarella. Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe are, all we know for sure is that Raffaele Esposito's version for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular. Since then it has grown into one of the most recognisable symbol of Italian food culture in the world.
For the dough
- 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups warm water 100˚ to 110˚
- 4 cups unbleached “00” flour (see note) or unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for bowl
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes, passed with juices through a food mill
- 12 ounces Mozzarella di Bufala cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 4 large or 8 small basil leaves
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Medium coarse sea salt
Make the dough
- Sprinkle yeast over water; let stand until yeast is creamy, 5 to 10 minutes. (If yeast does not become creamy, discard and start over with new yeast.)
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt; form a well in center.
- Add yeast mixture and oil; stir until dough just comes together.
- Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead vigorously, for 10 minutes. Cover with a damp dishtowel and let rest for 10 minutes, then knead vigorously for 10 minutes more.
- Lightly oil a large bowl. Form dough into a ball, transfer to bowl and turn to lightly coat with oil.
- Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Punch down dough with your fist (dough will be stiff), then fold sides over one another, turn dough, tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
- Divide dough into 4 pieces; shape pieces into balls and place on a lightly floured work surface, leaving a few inches between balls.
- Loosely cover with a damp dishtowel (not terry cloth) and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled, about 2 hours; time may vary depending on room temperature and freshness of yeast. If skin forms on dough while rising, lightly spray surface with water.
- Heat Stone While Dough Rises: Position rack in lower third of oven. Place pizza stone on rack. At least 45 minutes before baking pizza, heat oven to maximum temperature (500˚ to 550˚).
- Assemble Pizza: On a lightly floured work surface, press 1 dough ball with your fingers to begin to shape into a round. Use your fist and hands to gently stretch dough to a 10-inch round. (A floured rolling pin can be used to help roll out dough.)
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured peel; gently shake peel to make sure dough does not stick.
- Working fairly quickly, spread a 1/3 cup sauce over dough, leaving about a 1/2 -inch border.
- Tear 3 ounces cheese into pieces and arrange on top of sauce. Tear 1 or 2 basil leaves into small pieces and arrange on top.
- Drizzle very lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt. Slide pizza onto stone. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling in spots and edge of dough is crisp and golden, about 7 minutes.
- Using the peel and a large spatula or pair of tongs, transfer pizza to a plate and serve.