Pizza Margherita…kinda sorta

Pizza margherita – I have no idea what makes a pizza a pizza margherita. Wikipedia says, in 1889 Queen Margherita of Savoy was served a pizza resembling an Italian flag, red white and green. Red from the sauce, white from the mozzarella, and green from basil leaves. I think traditionally the mozzarella was buffalo’s mozzarella, which 7 mile was fresh out of. But another thing which makes margherita pizza unique, is it’s super thin and crunchy crust, and I personally love thin crusty pizza.

To make this, you’d need one of those brick ovens, that can get really really hot, so you can blast the bejesus out of the pizza. And again I was disappointed when Pickwick told me that they wouldn’t allow a brick oven in my living room, I honestly don’t know what the big deal is, but whatever. So what can we do to get a nice crusty pizza at home?

I saw this amazing trick on Serious Eats, on how to come pretty close to replicating pizza margherita at home, and it was pretty darn good.

I used to make pizza on a pizza stone, and that was all well and good, until the darn thing cracked in three pieces. It looks like someone tried to break the afikoman out of it. Technically I can still use it, all I have to do is leave it in the oven, and bake the pizza on it, but I wanted to try this other method, which is a lot easier, and less messy.

Here’s the deal – in order to get that dough really crusty, you need high heat, and you need that heat to hit the dough constantly (ie not just an initial blast of heat, but for a good few minutes), which means we need something to hold heat well. That’s where a pizza stone comes in. In general the heavier something is the more dense it is, the better it “holds” heat. Another way of saying that is – a pizza stone is a pretty poor conductor of heat. Yeah – a poor conductor of heat. Meaning – heat doesn’t flow through it at a good pace, so when you put heat to it, it takes a while for it to get through it. As opposed to lets say aluminum, the heat travels very well through it, and that’s why when you take an aluminum pan out of the oven in a few minutes you will be able to touch it, but a pizza stone will take a lot longer to cool down.

So with the pizza stone, you have to heat up your oven as high as it goes, and let the stone heat up too for about an hour (the longer the better), so that the heat is retained in the stone, and then you have get the pizza on to the stone (via a pizza peal, which I have, and when people ask me what’s wrong with me, this should explain right?), and let it bake for about 8 minutes. This method gets my kitchen super hot, and I always make a mess.

– Nossi – can you shut up already about the pizza stone, and tell us how you actually did make this stupid pizza so I can get to the comments section and say something about gaining weight/weight watcher ice cream/poor Ayelet/etc…?

Fine, geez, I thought you guys wanted to hear about the science behind it…buncha ingrates.

Ok – the secret to at home pizza margherita is a cast iron skillet, which I just so happened to buy. These babies are amazing. I already have a cast iron grill pan, and they cook really well.

Cast iron has the advantage of being really heavy (ie dense) so it holds it’s heat really well (a little less then the stone tho), but it also has the ability to transfer heat better than a stone. This means, that the retained heat is being spread to the food at a better rate, ergo (ergo? seriously?) the food cooks faster.

The issue now is – how do you “cook” it. You can put it in the oven, but then we’re back to problem one – heating up the apartment, which we’re trying to avoid. The other option is to cook it on the stove. The downside to that is, there’s no hot air circulating the top of the pizza, so that won’t get cooked. The answer to that, is to put the pizza in the broiler, and let the top cook separately.

We’ll call it the “Broiler-Stove top Method.”

For reasons we won’t get into (finally! you leave something out!), it’s better to start the cooking in the broiler, and cook the top, and then transfer to a high heat on the stove top to finish the bottom.

Start by heating up a cast iron skillet for a few minutes, and working fast, put the rolled out dough in the pan, put some sauce on, top with cubed fresh mozzarella (I couldn’t find fresh kosher mozzarella, so I cubed up a block of regular mozzarella), top with basil, some salt, and pour some olive oil on top (why olive oil? well first – I need something for everyone to complain about being unnecessarily too fattening, and second a traditional pizza margherita is topped with olive oil, so go fight it out with Queen Margherita herself).

Place in the broiler until it starts to puff, and you have some nice charred spots (anywhere from 1.5 – 4 minutes).

Then transfer to the stove top and let the bottom cook until charred, about 1-2 minutes.

Let it rest for a few minutes, and that’s it…well for now.

There’s a lot more that goes into making this amazing pizza at home. First – the dough, which I didn’t talk about at all, but is very important. In order to get a crust that has good bubbles, you want a higher protein content so the gluten can form well, and hold on to those air bubbles as the expand when cooking. Traditionally 00 Italian flour is used, but I used bread flour, and it was fine.

Also the way the dough was made was a little different. I “cold fermented” it, which basically means I let it rise in the fridge for a long time (almost 2 days).

The other thing I didn’t mention was the sauce. I can’t stand Don Pepino sauce, it’s too sweet, and instead of using jarred stuff, I’ve decided to make my own. I think a traditional margherita pizza is made with a non-cooked tomato sauce, and I took a can of whole peeled tomatoes (kosher ones this time), drained it, and blended it to form a sauce.

I guess I’ll talk about these other things in another post…I think you’ve had enough for one day.

9 thoughts on “Pizza Margherita…kinda sorta

  1. Not to sound pretentious, but ive seen the real pizza margherita, when we were in italy..and this looks exactly like it, i must say, good job nos:)
    and btw, our stone cracked in half also! (really looks like afikoman) and i emailed Onieda, and they sent me a brand new one!! FOR FREE!!


  2. Whats more important- a milchig or fleishig cast iron? We are currently a cast iron free home (BPA and all – just kidding! jeezoo!) and if we were to get only one, which would you pick???


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