Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Real Pizza (And Another Use for Tapenade)

Traditional Pizza Margherita

Where or where did we Americans go so terribly wrong? In pursuit of a fast dinner, we have succumbed to delivery pizza. In fact, according to, a third of all pizzas sold in the U.S. are delivered--that's 1 BILLION pizza deliveries. In a year.

I wonder how many folks have their local pizza delivery on speed dial. (I, myself, refuse to confirm or deny this.)

It wouldn't be so bad, but a delivered pizza typically is a commercial pizza, rather than one made by an artisan's hands. They taste like the cardboard box they come in and usually you have to mop the grease off the top before you eat it. Yum.

Who can blame us? Pizza is fast, cheap and easy. Anyone who ever has had a hungry, hungry family who wants dinner NOW (my family gets downright cranky when we are hungry) knows that one phone call for pizza delivery will calm the mob mentality.

But, we are cheating ourselves of good flavor and good nutrition. We have sacrificed a lot just to get dinner "over with."

There is another way! Now, pizza can be made easily at home. It doesn't need to be difficult or labor/time intensive and your family will love it.

I used to make my own pizza dough, which is delicious and simple. However, because it takes time, I reserved it for the weekend. Then, I discovered Whole Foods pizza dough. It is very good, fresh and has very few ingredients. Sadly, the closest Whole Foods to me is 1/2 hour away--not always convenient. Recently, I have found packaged pizza dough at my local grocery, near the fresh mozzarella and specialty cheeses. It will do in a pinch.

Let the pizza sit at room temperature for a bit. The Whole Foods version will rise if you let it. The other dough--not so much.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In my family, each person gets a lump of dough and a non-stick cake pan (you can use whatever you wish, including a pizza stone), sprayed with non-stick spray and sprinkled with corn meal.

We form our own pizza dough into a crust and then the fun begins.

For me, I love a Pizza Margherita. This particular pizza has just a few ingredients:

  • fresh mozzarella cheese
  • tomatoes
  • basil
  • olive oil

That's it. But, the secret to making this awesome pizza is the ingredients--they must be very fresh and of very high quality.

Stretch and press the dough into a rough, round shape (don't worry if it is misshapen--you are hand-making your pizza, not cranking one out from an assembly line). Brush olive oil onto the crust.

For tomatoes, use the best vine-ripened tomatoes you can find. (If tomatoes are not in season, try a canned, San Marzano variety, drained--they are more expensive, but totally worth it). You can crush the tomatoes as in the picture above (use your hands to crush; I guess you could use your feet, but I think that is for grapes). Or, slice them thinly and overlap them on top of the pizza. Let crushed toms drain in a strainer; sliced ones can be placed on a paper towel, briefly.

Next, slice fresh mozzarella and place the slices on a paper towel to soak up any excess water they were stored in. Place the mozz over the tomatoes. Either add fresh chopped basil before or after cooking, depending on your taste and your aesthetic sensibilities (the cooked basil wilts and turns darker--but I love it anyway).

Bake for 10-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pizza dough. I like to sprinkle freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and more fresh, chopped basil; serve with a glass of red. Heaven!

This simple pizza is a great base for additions: pesto is delicious spread over the crust (rather than the olive oil) as is the tapenade we made last week. You can substitute chopped sun-dried tomatoes in the off-season. Or, sprinkle with olives, jarred artichokes, roasted red peppers, sliced prosciutto, whatever you like.

There is actually a board in Italy which regulates exactly how a true pizza Margherita is made. I'm not sure that board or Queen Margherita --for whom the pizza was named--would approve of the additions, but I say go for it. It's your pizza. They can make their own.

Next time, I'll tell you how my kiddos like to dress their pizza crusts.

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