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Robin Garr

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RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Robin Garr » Wed Sep 19, 2007 11:46 pm

Pizza Margherita

That brief breath of autumn that tantalized us last week has slipped back to the Arctic from whence it came, and our local forecast for the weekend - in rude defiance of the autumn equinox on Saturday afternoon - is headed back for the middle 90s again.

That pretty much knocks out my hopeful plan to make the first pizza of the season over the weekend. No way I'm cranking the oven up to 550F when the air conditioning is already struggling to keep ahead of the outdoor air.

Nevertheless, pizza is going to be on the menu one day soon, and I'm hoping I'll be able to do it while we've still got fresh tomatoes and basil in the garden: I've got my taste buds set for a classic Pizza Margherita.

Created in the 1880s and patriotically named after Margherita of Savoy, the first Queen of unified Italy, pizza Margherita's simple ingredients - ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese - were chosen to represent the red, green and white colors of the then-new Italian flag. It's no coincidence that these ingredients, baked on a well-constructed pizza round, also bring together the ultimate in classic Italian flavors.

While I'm waiting for the weather to cool, I thought this would be a good time to review the "perfect pizza" recipe that I last discussed about three years ago. Worked out here and on our FoodLovers Discussion Group forum, it's based on a modern French baguette technique rather than a classic pizza method. The fundamentals aren't much different - the perfect baguette and the perfect pizza dough both rely on utter simplicity, made with good flour, water, yeast and salt and nothing more.

Here's the procedure as I last went through it, a small batch that makes a pizza just big enough for two. Or, okay, for one, if you're really hungry. I invite your suggestions, comments and questions, of course.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

FOR THE PIZZA:
6 ounces (180g) white bread flour or all-purpose flour or a combination
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
4 ounces cool water (room temperature)

FOR THE MARGHERITA TOPPING:
4 to 6 ounces fresh, whole-milk mozzarella
1 or 2 large, fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons good olive oil
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves

PROCEDURE:

1. Put the flour, the salt and the dry yeast into a bowl and stir in the water, a little at a time, mixing until the resulting dough forms a rough ball. Put it on a lightly floured bread board or counter top and knead it vigorously for 5 minutes or more until it's smooth. You want this to be a fairly "wet" dough, so if you prefer you can use a mixer, but for a pizza this small it's easy enough to work by hand.

2. Lightly oil a bowl and put the dough in it to rise. Cover with a dish towel or piece of plastic wrap. Let it rise in a cool place until it's a full 2 1/2 times its original size, perhaps 3 hours.

3. If you have a pizza stone - and I recommend one for both pizza and bread - put it in your oven on a lower shelf and crank up the heat as high as it will go. On our gas oven that's a notch above 550F (close to 300C). Give it plenty of time, at least a half-hour, to preheat thoroughly.

4. Form the pizza. Contrary to old-fashioned bread-making advice, do not punch down the risen dough. Simply turn the bowl over and let the dough fall out onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle it with a little flour, pick it up, and let it stretch out naturally as you handle it. Drape it over the backs of your hands and gently pull and stretch it into a large circle. Don't press or handle the dough any more than necessary. It's not necessary to obsess about this, but the more you can avoid "de-gassing" it, the better bread it will be.

5. Put a sheet of parchment paper on a bread board or pizza "peel." Gently place the pizza round on the paper, nudging it into a rough circle. Geometrical perfection is not important, and don't worry about crimping up the edges. Remember, the less handling, the better.

6. Put on your toppings. Slice the mozzarella into rounds and put them down first, then slices of fresh, juicy tomato, and drizzle on a little olive oil. Don't overload this delicate pizza with toppings.

7. Slide the parchment paper with the pizza on to the stone (or use a pizza pan or cookie sheet if you don't have a stone). After about three minutes, gently lift an edge of the partially cooked pizza (take care, it's hot in there) and pull out the paper, leaving the pie directly on the stone to finish. Check again after a couple of minutes and turn the pie if it seems to be browning faster on one side. Bake until the edges are puffy and dark golden-brown - timing will vary depending on oven temperature, edge thickness and toppings, but at this high heat it shouldn't need more than 6 to 8 minutes. Carefully remove it from the oven, garnish with the basil leaves, serve while it's sizzling.

<B>MATCHING WINE:</B> It's hard to go wrong with a cold beer with pizza, but the stereotypical wine match, Chianti, makes a fine companion too, as will just about any fruity, high-acid red.

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Last edited by Robin Garr on Thu Sep 20, 2007 11:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Bob Ross

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Re: RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Bob Ross » Thu Sep 20, 2007 12:16 am

Robin, I've followed your pizza dough recipe for almost the full three years with great success -- our 800 to 900 F Viking probably gets a great deal of the credit, but the dough has a wonderful taste we haven't been able to find in any restaurant pizza.

In any event, based on a discussion between you and Stuart, I've used Pizza Tipo Fino 00 -- http://www.isolaimports.com/ -- during that period.

What's your current thinking on Tipo Fino 00?

Regards and thanks, Bob
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Stuart Yaniger

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Re: RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Stuart Yaniger » Thu Sep 20, 2007 12:39 am

I'll be rude and give you mine- I now use about 1/2c of semolina to 3c Tipo Fino 00 for a batch of dough. That seems to be just enough to give a subtle chewiness without losing the basic tender nature of the Tip Fino.
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Rahsaan

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Re: RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Rahsaan » Thu Sep 20, 2007 4:22 am

Bob Ross wrote:Robin, I've followed your pizza dough recipe for almost the full three years with great success -- our 800 to 900 F Viking probably gets a great deal of the credit


That is good.

I'm very happy with the weekly pizzas I make in our oven, adding semolina like Stuart, but also rosemary from the garden to the dough. But our oven only goes up to 550F. So it takes a few minutes longer to cook than ideal.
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Robin Garr

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Re: RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Robin Garr » Thu Sep 20, 2007 8:39 am

Bob Ross wrote:What's your current thinking on Tipo Fino 00?


Bob, I love it, and also have had some from Isola Imports (an excellent company), plus can buy it in bulk from our great local specialty shop, Lotsa Pasta.

That being said, when I'm out, I have no qualms about using a bread flour/all-purpose mix, and if I'm being honest, I have to admit that the difference in the finished product is hard for my crude taste buds to detect.

I like Tipo Fino 00 just for the experience, though, and now I'm really eager to try Stuart's technique.
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Christina Georgina

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Re: RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Christina Georgina » Thu Sep 20, 2007 11:56 am

What about a starter ? The flavor of ordinary yeast gives a flat, bland taste. If I do not have a starter such as those sold at King Arthur - pan levain or their sourdough starter - I use a very tiny amount of yeast and do a very slow, long cold rise [ ovenight or days in the fridge ]to develop flavor. Something for flavor, commercial yeast for pouf.
Mamma Mia !
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Gary Barlettano

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Re: RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Gary Barlettano » Thu Sep 20, 2007 2:11 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:I'll be rude and give you mine- I now use about 1/2c of semolina (emphasis added) to 3c Tipo Fino 00 for a batch of dough. That seems to be just enough to give a subtle chewiness without losing the basic tender nature of the Tip Fino.


Bingo!
And now what?
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Bob Ross

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Re: RCP /Foodletter: Pizza Margherita

by Bob Ross » Fri Sep 21, 2007 1:17 pm

Robin, I want to report a triumph!

I made pizza dough following your approach yesterday, and a second batch again this morning -- a series of maintenance disasters -- truck, two furnaces, drain, refrigerator, dishwasher -- preoccupied me and I put yesterday's batch in the freezer.

As I was cleaning out my mixing bowl this morning, I was cussing out the flour paste glued on the sides of the bowl -- I let the dough rise in the mixing bowl after kneading it. The glue brought back memories of eating flour paste in country school, so there was a bit of happiness as well.

In any event, it occurred to me as I was kneading the second batch that I should clean out the mixing bowl after kneading the dough and before putting the dough ball into the bowl to rise. It rinsed out beautifully in less than 10 seconds, compared with three minutes cleaning out yesterday's batch.

This cooking business is interesting -- tiny tiny steps of learning, but always fun. I didn't even feel very stupid for not thinking of this cleaning step earlier. :)

Regards, and thanks, Bob

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