Pizza is not a junk food unless you create a junk food pizza. We Americans sometimes like to pile our pizza high with meaty toppings and load it up with fatty cheeses and then practically deep-fry the crust until we have a heart-attack on a disk. I'm not entirely against that. One of my favorite pizzas for years now is in my own backyard at a place called the Pie Pizzeria. But the couple of times I've been to Italy something I have adored about real Italian pizza is the attitude that less is more. Give me crisp on the outside, soft in the middle European bread with some light toppings, olive oil and herbs sprinkled on to enhance the flavor and texture.
Pizza isn't strictly Italian. Many cultures have a similar dish of flatbread with toppings. The ancient Greeks baked bread in a round disk and covered it with oil, herbs and dates.
My husband next to brick ovens and hearths in Pompeii, Italy:
Pizza Margherita is a Neapolitan Pizza (from Naples, Italy) named after Queen Margherita. The story goes that the Queen was inspecting her subjects and the peasants were eating pizza. She ordered her guard to bring her some of the food. She loved it so much that in spite of the court circles being shocked by her desire to dine on peasant food, she ordered her chef, Rafaelle Esposito, to create a pizza for her. Rafaelle topped his pizza with Tomatoes, Mozarella Cheese, and fresh Basil to represent the colors of the Italian flag: Red white and green.
The following is my recipe for authentic Italian pizza dough, which comes from research and talking to a lot of people. Of course there are hundreds of variations of pizza dough in Italy and all over the world, so this is just one of many.
4 cups of bread flour (I recommend using King Arthur Bread Flour)
One teaspoon of instant yeast
2 teaspoons of salt
1/3 cup of olive oil
2 cups of water
Semolina flour (to scatter beneath dough)
The key to good pizza dough is a cooking stone. There is no way to get the texture of Italian pizza without one. I purchased my cooking stone from Williams-Sonoma but there are many good cooking stones and some people make their own from unglazed terra cotta bought in a hardware store. I also bought my pizza peel from Williams-Sonoma. It's a necessity! Plus it's fun to tease your kids by telling them you'll paddle them with it.
Another main key to making brilliant pizza dough is allowing the yeast to ferment for 48 hours, so you need to make this pizza dough a day or two ahead. Work with all cold ingredients. Mix together the flour, insant yeast and salt and work the oil and water into them until you have a sticky dough. You'll need to knead the dough for at least seven minutes to get the right texture. Keep in mind that the flour and water proportions will be different in each kitchen at each altitude and even on each day. So many things affect the texture of dough. If the dough is not sticky (it should be just barely dry enough to roll into a ball), add more water. If it is too sticky, add more flour. Divide the dough into four or five chunks and coat each chunk in olive oil. Place in a plastic bag and refridgerate overnight at least but for 48 hours is better.
Remove one of the chunks of dough from the refridgerator and press into a thick, flat disk on a floured surface. Rub lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to sit at room temperature for two hours. Preheat oven to 450º at least 25 minutes before cooking the pizza. It takes a while to heat up the stone. Stretch (or throw) dough until it is desired thickness. Sprinkle pizza peel with semolina flour (or corn meal) and place stretch dough onto peel.
Rub the dough with olive oil. Seed and dice two tomatoes and sprinkle them with salt. Spread over dough.
Cut fresh Mozerella into chunks (or tear it into chunks if you prefer). Scatter over tomatoes.
Sprinkle fresh basil over all and slide from the pizza peel to the stone. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from stone with peel and slice and eat.
The dough will make five small pizzas. My kids wanted me to make a five-cheese pizza with another chunk of dough. This pizza has mozerella, colby, parmesan, jack, and goat cheese. I rubbed the dough with olive oile, sprinkled it with various freshly ground dried Italian herbs and topped it with fresh basil.
My husband next to a food market vendor in Italy. Me in Naples, home of the famed Pizza Margherita:
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