Classic Margherita Pizza

[Pizza Photo]Okay, so maybe “classic” isn’t the right word.  I’m still trying to perfect this one, but hey, it’s pizza!  If the many recent tofu and tempeh recipes I’ve tried have had you rolling your eyes, saying “See, that’s why I could never be vegetarian; all they eat is that tasteless fake crap,” then roll those eyes no more.  Nothing about this pizza is fake; in fact it’s much more real than whatever flavor-enhanced pie Papa John’s brings to your door.  When you make the dough and sauce yourself, you know exactly what goes in, and it’s all good stuff.

Now before the healthy eaters object, complaining “Sure it’s vegetarian, but pizza is terrible for you,” let me say that it absolutely doesn’t have to be.  I don’t see what’s unhealthy about whole-wheat flour, olive oil, basil, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese.  Whole grains are great for you, especially when you need to replace the mega-calories burned up by endurance training. And mozzarella has one of the highest protein-to-fat ratios among cheeses.  If you must go healthier, then use shredded low-fat or vegan cheese instead.

[Dough Photo]I will make one admission, and that is that yesterday I didn’t make fresh dough, instead grabbing some frozen that we had made earlier, using white flour.  But I almost always use whole wheat flour, and I can tell you that it tastes just as good as the refined white version.

For those who don’t know, margherita pizza is from Naples, Italy, where there are legal standards for what constitutes pizza.  In order to call pizza Neapolitan, it must be made with 100% white flour, never rolled with a pin, and cooked in a wood-burning oven, in addition to satisfying many other restrictions.  So that’s why “classic” isn’t really the right word to describe mine.  I’m still working on making the crust ultra-thin (as you can see from the pictures, it’s certainly not that, even with the aid of a rolling pin).  And since, shockingly, my townhome was sold to me without a 2000-degree wood burning oven, I’ve gotten my best results from using a pizza stone on a grill that gets to about 600 degrees.

If any pizza aficionados are reading this, I’d love to hear your advice on how to make this pizza more authentic, given that I want it to have a whole-wheat crust.  I believe that making the effort to acquire fresh yeast instead of using dried might help.

One thing that doesn’t need any adjustment here is the sauce.  It’s called salsa semplice, Italian for “simple sauce,” and it’s just that.  Tomatoes and sea salt, nothing more.  And it’s perfect that way.  If you decide that making your own dough just isn’t in the cards, at least try the sauce (which takes five minutes to make).  I’ve specified San Marzano tomatoes; if you can’t get those then use the best organic Italian tomatoes you can find.

[Olive Oil Photo]Finally, if you want to make your own dough but just don’t have 10 hours to wait for it to rise, then use rapid-rise yeast and let it rise, covered with a damp cloth, in a barely-warm oven.  It will rise in an hour or two.  But look up more specific instructions if you want to go this route.

Margherita Pizza Recipe

Classic Margherita Pizza
Serves: 1 Pizza
  • Dough
  • 1 package active dry yeast (Make sure you get active dry, not rapid rise)
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup ice-cold water
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 5 and ½ cups whole wheat flour (or blend half whole wheat, half white)
  • Sauce
  • 2 28-oz cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • Toppings
  • 2 8-oz balls fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 10-15 fresh basil leaves, torn
  1. To make the dough: Mix the yeast with the lukewarm water and set aside. In a bowl, combine ice-cold water, sugar, salt, and olive oil. Place 5 and ¼ cups flour in mixing bowl of stand mixer with dough hook. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can adapt these instructions and do it by hand. Add yeast mixture and cold-water mixture; mix on low for about 5 minutes until dough forms a ball. Let rest for 2 minutes, then mix until dough is smooth. This should take another 5 minutes or so. Kneed by hand on a dusted wooden surface for a few more minutes to make dough even smoother. Cut the dough in half and place each half into large zip-lock bags, because the dough will expand a lot. If you want to get fancy here, you can look up the best way to shape the dough balls before placing them in the bags. Refrigerate at least 10 hours, remove 1 hour before cooking.
  2. To make the sauce: Strain the tomatoes in a colander to eliminate liquid. Break them gently with your hands to remove more liquid. Transfer tomatoes to a large bowl; mash with hands or a potato masher to desired smoothness. Add salt to taste.
  3. To make the pizza: Preheat a grill or oven as hot as possible, with pizza stone if using. Toss the pizza then thinly roll out on a floured wooden surface. You'll find many more details about this step if you're interested. Top with sauce and sliced mozzarella. Drizzle mozzarella with oil and place pizza in oven. It only takes about 2 minutes on my grill, so watch carefully to avoid burning the crust. If the toppings are not hot enough, transfer to a broiler for a few minutes, again watching carefully. Remove pizza and top with basil.


[Grill photo]Like I said, this recipe is a work in progress. I’m still experimenting with different yeasts, rising times, and cooking methods (oven vs. grill, pizza stone vs. direct contact). For that reason, I’m not going to give this recipe a rating. On the days when it turns out well, it’s nothing short of 5 cows out of 5. Today it was probably a “3.” The crust was just too thick to crisp up nicely. But as I said earlier, it’s still pizza, and it’s hard to screw it up too much. Try this yourself and let me and the other readers know how it works out for you. And buon appetito!



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  1. Brian Egan says:

    That’s some hat!

  2. This sounds wonderful! LOVE the photo of you in front of your wood-buring pizza oven… I mean your pizza stone on a grill that gets to about 600 degrees!

  3. christine says:

    Mmm looks really good. I love homemade pizza, and I know yours on the grill is amazing!

    I wanted to give you my recipe for pizza crust. It has a shorter rise time so you can have your pizza the same day you make the crust, and you don’t have to use the mixer. You could try to alter the ratio of the whole wheat flour, but I think some bread flour gives it a nice chewiness between the crispiness, instead of it getting hard like a cracker.

    This is for two 12-in pizzas.

    4.5 tsp yeast (I buy yeast in bulk, but I am pretty sure that is equal to 2 packets)
    1 cup warm water

    1.5 cups whole wheat flour
    1.5 cups bread flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp sugar
    1+ tbs olive oil

    Mix together dry ingredients, set aside.
    Dissolve the yeast into the warm water.
    Stir about half the dry mix into the yeast mixture. Add the oil, then the remaining dry ingredients. Add more oil splash by splash until all the dry bits are incorporated into the dough. Dump the ball of dough onto a clean floured surface and knead for 10 mins. It’s ok to flour the table and your hands, but try not to excessively work more into the dough. Just set a little egg timer and dig in, honestly 10 mins goes by quickly once you’ve got a rhythm and are in the knead-zone.

    Oil a bowl, place the dough in it, flip the dough around so it is covered in oil. Cover nice and tight with plastic wrap, put in a warm place for 20 mins.
    After 20 mins, punch down the dough, re-wrap, and put in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but no longer than 48 hours.

    Cut the dough in half. Press each into a fat disk on a floured surface. Roll out one half of the dough with a rolling pin (unauthentically) until it starts to stretch back. Cover with a towel and do the same with the other dough. Roll the dough out to about 12 inches round. The trick to getting it really thin, even past 12 inches, is to cover and let the rolled dough rest for 10 mins whenever it starts to resist and snap back, and then go at it again.

    Do your toppings and bake at 425 degrees for about 20 mins. That’s for the oven, probably less time for your hot hot grill.

    • Thanks Chris! I’ve tried quicker-rising recipes before and the crust hasn’t been very good, but hopefully this will be better. It would be nice to not have to wait 10 hours. I’ll let you know how it goes when I try it.

  4. My variant on the crust: Mix rice flour, whole wheat flour, a cup of all-purpose flour, and some cream of wheat. Along with water/oil, add some oregano, crushed red pepper and freshly ground black pepper. Not exactly classic, but the pizza base has a bite!!

  5. Have you found a good cheese alternative for a pizza. I swear, it’s the only thing holding this vegetarian family away from being vegan. Oh, and Greek yogurt…

    Great website, keep on it!

  6. Hey, Matt! I stumbled onto your recipe while Googling for a good pizza crust recipe. In trying to get a crisper crust, I pre-baked the crust prior to adding the sauce and toppings (a lot like pre-baking pie crusts before adding the filling.) This seemed to help a lot for me, especially since I don’t have a pizza stone or a grill.

    Keep up the great work!

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