Ever so humble it may be in terms of its ingredients but the margherita pizza is arguably food fit for a king. Or rather in this instance a queen, having been invented to celebrate her majesty's visit to Naples in the company of her husband Umberto in the summer of 1889.
Raffaele Esposito, the pizzaiolo, or pizza-maker, responsible for captivating the royal tastebuds must have been working on the principle that less is more, because the combination he came up with revolves around three simple ingredients allied to the bread base itself: tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. All that is needed to realise their potential is the attentions of a very hot oven.
The Right ConsistencyBeginning with the base itself, it is important to secure a good flour, so look for the strong white unbleached variety, better still the doppio zero produced in Italy and available from many delicatessens, both on the high street and the world wide web. One disc of dough will require about 200 grams of flour, salt, half a packet of dried active yeast, a little extra virgin olive oil and some milk.
Achieving the right consistency of dough is a case of trial and error: if too much liquid is added, supplement with more flour, and vice versa. Once the ball is smooth and elastic, place in a bowl and get on with the tomato sauce. Simply sauté some finely chopped onion, if desired add some chopped garlic, and then pour in the contents of a can of plum tomatoes, such as San Marzano which grow close to the pizza's spiritual home Naples, in the shadow of Vesuvius. Allow the tomato sauce to bubble away on a low heat for around an hour, correcting the acid of the fruit with a pinch of sugar.
Mozzarella Made from Cow's MilkThe Neapolitans always stress the importance of using buffalo mozzarella for their pizzas, but the relatively high water content plus the cheese's delicate flavour are arguably ill-suited to the baking process, so it is not unreasonable to opt for a more robust, workmanlike mozzarella made from cow's milk.
The final ingredient is simplicity itself: some fresh basil leaves that will fill the kitchen with their sweet aroma prior to making their contribution to the pizza.
After the base has undergone the process of proving and punching down, roll out or spread using the fingers to an approximate oval shape. Place on a preheated and oiled metal baking tray, then work quickly, placing pieces of cheese on the dough, followed by the basil leaves and finally a measure of the finished tomato sauce together with a final drizzle of olive oil.
Intense Heat of the OvenPlacing the sauce on last will mean it will provide a protective blanket for the herb, which would otherwise wilt in the intense heat of the oven. Alternatively, place only the mozzarella and tomato on the dough, and add torn pieces of basil leaf once the pizza has come out of the oven.
Fifteen minutes on the hottest setting should be enough to produce a bubbling, crispy and delicious disc boasting the seductive aromas of tomatoes and basil. A dish fit for a queen, indeed.