Lets just assume that pizza could be our national dish since the US is the largest pizza market in the world, racking up $46.24 billion out of $145 billion in total worldwide sales in 2020!
What makes it so appealing? Comfort food, affordable, anytime eating are some of the things that come to mind.
I grew up with pizza makers, my mom and grandmothers were kneading pizza dough when I was knee high to the wooden table that they made it on. Flour, yeast, water, a pinch of salt and poof! Left to its own devices that dough ballooned into a light airy mass. Fashioned into fluffy balls that seemed to grow before my eyes, the dough was covered with a blanket and left to sleep as they said, until it was time. Time meant allowing the dough to rise slowly until little pockets of air bubbles started to appear on the surface. That was the signal to punch it down and knead it before forming it into rounds to fit the well-used and well-seasoned pizza pans.
The toppings for the pizza ran the gamut of what was in the refrigerator or garden at the time like mushrooms, tomatoes, bits of cheese, artichokes and sausage and there was always peperoni pizza, which as I grew older realized did not exist in Italy. Nope! Order a peperoni pizza in Italy, especially in Naples, the home of pizza, and what will arrive is a pizza topped with peppers because that is what peperoni means in Italian.
The classic Neapolitan pizza is the margherita, topped with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves but we live here so taking license with the toppings is ok.
In my grandmothers’ day, pizza was meant to be made a certain way but we have all tinkered with how to elevate and create something new out of a plain disk of dough. I am sure they would shake their heads at dessert pizza, topped with sweetened ricotta cheese, nuts, chocolate and fresh apricots. Mamma mia! They also might wag their fingers at a Nutella pizza for kids topped with sliced bananas! However pizza is made worldwide it will always be a beloved food and as the song says, that’s amore.
With this basic pizza dough recipe to make the classic pizza Margherita, named for Queen Margherita of Italy but also use it to create all kind of your own personal toppings.
Basic Pizza Dough
1- 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water (110F-115F)
3 -1/2 to 3 -3/4 cups unbleached all- purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, well drained of excess juice
One 8 ounce ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼ inch thick strips
12 fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2-cup warm (110F) water. Allow the yeast to proof until it is foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add the remaining 1cup warm water, combining it well with the yeast. Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt. Mix the dough with your hands or use a mixer with a dough hook, adding the remaining flour as needed to make dough that holds together.
Place the dough on a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is soft and not sticky. Grease a bowl with the olive oil. Put the dough in the bowl and turn a few times to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours in a warm place.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Punch down the dough and knead it for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface.
Divide the dough in half and roll each out on a floured surface into a 12-inch diameter and place the rounds on lightly oiled 13-inch pizza pans. Turn in the edges of the dough about 1/2 inch to form a rim. You can stretch the dough to fit an even larger pan if you wish. Place the dough on 2 wooden peels, dusted with cornmeal, if you plan to use baking stones to bake the pizza.
Brush each round with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Divide the tomatoes between the rounds. Divide the cheese and sprinkle it on top of the tomatoes. Divide and sprinkle on the salt and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
Bake the pizza for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top and bottom crusts are nicely browned. Scatter the basil leaves on the pizza as it comes out of the oven. Cut into wedges.