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Simple, quality ingredients are the starting-point for a great Neapolitan-style pizza.
Place a pizza stone on the bottom oven shelf. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can bake the pizza on a floured cookie sheet.
Pre-heat the oven to your highest temperature. Mine goes to 550 degrees. The oven should be at temperature for 30 minutes before baking the pizza.
- 4 cups flour (I use unbleached All Purpose (”AP”) flour or “00” flour, more finely milled and used for pizza dough in Italy. Bread flour works too.)
- 1 cup water, at about 100 degrees
- 2½ teaspoons active yeast (one packet)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup water
- 4-6 San Marzano canned tomatoes imported from Campania, without as much of their juice as possible, cut into ½ inch strips, (il filetto di pomadoro). Be sure to remove any skin and stems, and the seeds, if you want.
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into ½ inch slices, and dried on paper towel
- 6 large fresh basil leaves
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a large measuring cup or bowl, put 1 cup of water at about 100 degrees and no more than 110 degrees (too hot and you’ll kill the yeast). I use water a bit warmer than my body temperature. Stir in the yeast and mix well. Add ½ cup of the flour. Mix well. Cover tightly and put in a warm place for 30 minutes. The mixture should double in volume or about 2 cups. This is the first “proof” of the yeast. If the mixture (called a sponge) doesn’t increase in volume the yeast is probably dead and therefore not “active.” If the yeast mixture doesn’t rise properly throw it out and start again. Better to find out now than later. That’s why it’s called the first “proof” that the yeast is active. Yeah, right.
- Put the remaining 3½ cups of flour and the salt in a large bowl. Mix to distribute the salt. Add the risen yeast mixture and the remaining ¼ cup water. (I use this last ¼ cup to wash out the container used for the first proof so that all the remaining yeast is “sloshed” out and into the bowl.) Mix dry and wet ingredients well with a fork or wooden spoon. When little dry flour remains, use your hands to finish mixing the ingredients into an integrated ball of dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and incorporate the scrapings into the dough. The dough should be a bit sticky to the touch. If it’s too dry, add a few drops of water at a time until it’s just a bit sticky. If it’s too wet, give it a light dusting of flour until it’s just a bit sticky.
- Place the dough on a floured flat work surface. Knead the dough with the heel of your hands. It will feel rough, granular or gritty when you start. When it feels totally silky-smooth you’ve kneaded it enough. To get from gritty to silky-smooth could take as much as 10 minutes, but I usually hit that texture in about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a compact ball.
- Put the ball back in the bowl you used to mix the wet and dry ingredients. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and cover with a kitchen towel. Put in a warm place. (This is the second proof.) When the dough doubles in size take it out of the bowl, reforming a ball and place on a floured board.
Making the Pizza
- Cut the dough ball into 4 equal pieces. (Each of these 4 dough balls will make 1 pizza, 10 to 12 inches in diameter (or one calzone). For a larger or thicker pizza, use two dough balls.)
- Use one dough ball for the Pizza Margherita. Put the other 3 dough balls to the side and cover with plastic wrap to keep a crust from forming. If you do not use all of the dough now you can put unused dough balls into tightly closed plastic bags for future use. The dough will last at least 5 days in the refrigerator. You can freeze the dough balls. Be sure to bring the dough to room temperature before forming pizzas from previously frozen dough.
- To form the pizza, push down on the dough ball with the tips of your fingers to begin shaping a round disc. When you reach a diameter of about 6 inches, pick up the dough, and holding it at the rim, begin stretching the dough using its own weight to help increase the diameter of the dough. Keep moving your fingers around the rim of the dough. Then, place the dough on your fist and gently pull it from the edge to stretch it more. When you reach a 10 to 12 inch diameter and the dough is about a uniform ¼ inch thick, you’re done. (For a thinner crust going towards a “cracker” crust keep stretching the dough until it is very thin and almost translucent.)
- Put the dough on a well-floured pizza peel (also called a pizza paddle). If there are any holes in the dough patch them. Make sure the dough moves freely on the pizza peel.
- Spread enough of the EVOO to lightly cover the entire surface of the dough. Scatter the tomato strips evenly over the dough, then the basil leaves, then the mozzarella slices.
- Place the pizza on the pizza stone by holding the pizza peel at a 20-degree angle and slipping the pizza onto the middle of the stone. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the mozzarella takes on a tan hue and the rim of the crust is slightly browned. Take it out of the oven using the peel. When tapped with your finger, the dough should sound hollow. The bottom of the pizza should have some dark brown/black spots for texture and taste.
Sprinkle the salt evenly over the pizza. Let the pizza cool a bit and then slice into six slices.