With this recipe, the perfect Margherita pizza is only a few steps away, whether you make the dough yourself or buy it from the store.
What makes this Margherita pizza recipe so good is not the ingredients—but the technique.
The technique can be broken down into three steps that yield a superior result compared to most recipes: fermenting the dough for one or two days, preheating the oven for an hour and a half, and topping the pizza with the cheese halfway through cooking.
Rest the Dough Overnight
When the dough rests overnight in the refrigerator, the yeast cells have the opportunity to do their work. They begin to feed on the sugars and starches in the flour, releasing carbon dioxide gas bubbles and alcohol as a byproduct.
The gas builds up inside the dough and makes it rise. The alcohol adds depth of aroma and richness of flavor. The result is an airy, fluffy crust and a deeply flavorsome pie as light as a feather.
This slow fermentation is forgiving; it’s capable of turning the blandest doughs from the store into the tastiest pies that rival those at your favorite Italian pizzeria.
Try it, you can thank me and the team later. Thousands of Home Cook World readers swear by this method once they try it.
Preheat the Oven and Bakeware for Enough Time
Baking works best when the dough comes into sudden contact with a scorching-hot baking surface. The high heat draws out the moisture from it, making it crisp and puffing it up.
When they tested various pizza stones and steels, our colleagues at The New York Times’ Wirecutter got best results when they preheated them at 500°F (260°C) oven for 1½ hours.
After much trial and error, we’ve come to agree with their guidelines. Many recipes recommend a preheating time of 30 minutes to an hour, which is simply not enough.
This step is crucial; leave your stone, steel, or skillet in the oven and do not come back to it until it has accumulated enough heat.
Add the Cheese Halfway Through
I picked up this technique from a Neapolitan pizzaiolo at Italia Squisita, one of the best cooking channels on YouTube. The brick oven in your friendly neighbourhood pizzeria gets really, and I mean really, hot. Most of these ovens run at 800°F (425°C), which means they cook a pie for 60-90 seconds.
One of the problems with making pizza in a home oven is that it takes a while for the dough to cook. If you add the cheese from the beginning, it dries out, turns brown, and is difficult to digest. To make the cheese creamy and melty, but still fresh, add it in the middle of the baking process.
This small technique makes a world of difference. Try it out and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Margherita Pizza Recipe
- 1 pizza stone, pizza steel, or cast iron skillet
- 1 Pizza Peel
- 1 wood cutting board or silicone pastry mat
For the pie
- 6.9 oz pizza dough homemade or store-bought
- 2 sprinkles cornmeal
For the sauce
- 1 can whole peeled tomatoes San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 pinches salt fine sea salt or kosher salt
For the toppings
- 4 oz fresh mozzarella cow's or buffalo's milk mozzarella
- 1 handful fresh basil leaves
- 1 pinch black pepper
Ferment the dough
- Make a basic pizza dough yourself or buy ready-made pizza dough from the store.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl and seal the bowl with plastic wrap to keep the moisture in and prevent the dough from drying out.
Heat your stone, steel, or skillet
- Place a pizza stone, baking steel, or cast iron skillet in a cold oven. Crank up the heat to 500°F (260°C) and preheat for 1½ hours.
Prepare the tomato sauce
- Open a can of whole peeled tomatoes. Pour them into a bowl and crush by hand for a chunky, rustic sauce—or run them through the blender for 10-15 seconds for a silky, soupy sauce.
- Add salt to taste. For a can of tomatoes, I like to add no more than a couple of pinches. If you like your pizza sauce somewhat saltier, consider adding more.
Prepare the fresh mozzarella
- Take the fresh mozzarella out of the fridge. Drain from the liquid whey, transfer to a plate or bowl, and tear up by hand into bite-sized chunks.
Shape the pie
- Remove the dough from the fridge. Rub your hands with a little cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Dust your work surface (wood cutting board or silicone dough mat) lightly with cornmeal for the same reasons.
- Take a piece of dough the size of a mozzarella and roll it between your hands into a ball. Place the ball on your lightly dusted work surface and begin pressing down on it with your index, middle, and ring fingers to push the air toward the crust. Repeat until the dough is flat in the center and puffy at the crust.
- Carefully take the dough in one hand and hold it upright so that it expands downward toward the work surface. Turn and repeat a few times until the pizza pie is noticeably flatter and almost twice as wide as than when you started.
- Slide one hand under the dough so that your palm and fingertips are against the work surface. While the dough rests on the back of one hand, stretch and twist it with the other. The first hand remains still while the other hand moves the dough.
Top and bake
- Lay the pizza pie on the work surface. Using a ladle, spread the tomato sauce evenly over the pie, almost to the edge, leaving some of the crust uncovered. Pick up with pizza peel and slide onto hot baking surface.
- Halfway through baking, open the oven and spread the mozzarella pieces on top. Close the door and let bake again until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden.
- Take out of the oven. Season with freshly-cracked black pepper and top with a handful of fresh basil leaves.