Francesco Mazzei’s Beginners’ Recipe for Making Pizza Margherita
He’s a fantastic chef whom I have admired since I first tasted his cooking (at St. Alban restaurant) in 2006. One time, we traveled together to try the pizzas of his native Calabria on a journey right across the south of Italy.
So it was to Francesco I turned for a simple recipe for pizza that a beginner might make at home.
Honestly, it wasn’t quite as simple as I expected.
It wasn’t the fault of the recipe, which contains a few ingredients that you assemble in easy steps. It was cooking where I stumbled. Pizza requires a very hot oven and mine fell short of the suggested 250°C (482°F) minimum, with a top temperature of 220°C.
All seemed to go well on my first attempt, when the top looked great but the base wasn’t cooked. After that, at Francesco’s suggestion, I bought a pizza stone and heated it in the oven at full blast for more than half an hour before baking. I made five attempts in total and ended up with a pizza that I enjoyed, without ever reaching restaurant standard.
Many, many years ago (40, since you ask) I would sometimes make pizza with fresh yeast that I put in a warm cupboard overnight. It’s easier with the dried yeast for this recipe but you must still be patient. You should make the dough several hours ahead. This is not fast food. If my results were imperfect, it was fun trying. And I wish you greater success.
For the dough:
450 grams (16 ounces) of flour for pizza
250 milliliters (8.5 fluid ounces) of water
12g fine salt
6g dry yeast
For the tomato sauce:
10g basil leaves
1g dry oregano
2 cloves of garlic
2 pinches of salt
For the topping:
250g mozzarella fior di latte
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pour the passata into a bowl and and season with crushed garlic and the remainder of the ingredients. Leave on the side to marinate. (Use at room temperature, not straight from the fridge.)
Mix the yeast and lukewarm water and leave to activate for a couple of minutes. Add the flour and start to mix with a spoon or by hand. (I used 00 flour, but any strong flour is fine.) When the dough is coming together, add the salt and knead by hand until it’s quite smooth. This can take 20 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to proof until it has doubled in volume. This can take about three hours. Split the dough into two separate balls and leave for up to three more hours.
Preheat the oven at 250°C (482°F).
Dice the mozzarella or crumble by hand. Flatten the balls out into two pizza bases. (Francesco says it’s fine to use a rolling pin if you are a home cook, though not in a restaurant.) Place each into a pizza pan brushed with oil, coat with the sauce and sprinkle on the cheese. Place the pizza on the bottom of the oven for a few minutes, and then finish at the top. Garnish with a couple of fresh basil leaves. The total cooking time is 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. If you are using a stone, make sure the stone is already hot in the oven and then add base and toppings and bake in the middle of the oven.
Finish with some extra virgin olive oil.
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