What's For Dinner: Margherita Pizza with a Homemade Crust

Truth bomb: we probably eat pizza about once a week at our house. Growing up, pizza was a common Saturday night dinner -- our favorite was delivery from LaRosa's, a Cincinnati institution. These days we typically pick up a pizza in town from Zadnick's, where our favorite is their margherita pizza. I'm all for simple toppings when it comes to pizza -- a little red sauce, mozzarella cheese, and some fresh basil is all I need.

I know we should make pizza more often at home, if for the cost-savings alone, but I've always been a little petrified of making my own pizza dough. And then Deb of Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for "lazy pizza dough" -- music to my ears! Her post includes options for a 6-hour, 12-hour, and 22-hour rise; thus far I've tried the 6-hour rise recipe a few times, and it has changed my life! Okay, that may be overstating it a bit, but seriously, I never realized making pizza dough could be so simple. Any recipe that calls for one bowl and a little bit of stirring (yes! a no-knead pizza dough!) is right up my alley.

This pizza dough bakes up nice and crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside. (I love a bubbly pizza crust!) In the past when making a margherita pizza from scratch I've used fresh mozzarella, but this time around I followed Deb's advice and used "aged" mozzarella (the kind that comes packaged in plastic in the shape of a brick, rather than in water or wrapped in plastic as a soft ball), and I did notice that my pizza wasn't soggy as it has been in the past. A little freshly-grated Parmesan adds a little extra dimension, and you can't go wrong with the addition of fresh basil. I prefer to add the basil after the pizza comes out of the oven; otherwise it can get a bit burnt.

Long story short, if you've been itching to make your own pizza from scratch but have been too intimidated by all the rising and kneading, give this recipe a whirl. It has definitely been a game-changer for me.

Margherita Pizza with a Homemade Crust (printer-friendly version)
makes enough for two (9x13-ish) pizzas

For the crust: 
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 1/4 cup water, plus an additional tablespoon or two if necessary

1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and water. The dough will be pretty shaggy and sticky; if it seems too dry, add in a bit more water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place and let the dough rise for six hours, or until doubled in size.
2. Once the dough is ready to use, lightly oil a baking sheet and set aside. Generously flour your countertop or other work surface and set the dough on it. Sprinkle flour over top the dough ball and divide into two portions. Use your hands to gently stretch out the dough into a rectangular shape to fit your baking sheet. Once stretched out, set the dough onto the prepped baking sheet.
3. You can repeat this process with the second ball of dough, or you can wrap the extra dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. (The last time I made this pizza, I refrigerated the dough for several days before making the second pizza, and it turned out just fine.)

For the sauce and toppings:
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (see note about using crushed tomatoes below)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
generous pinch of ground oregano
dash of red pepper flakes
pinch of sugar
8 ounces (1/2 cup per pizza) aged mozzarella, shredded (sold in bricks, not balls)
olive oil, for drizzling
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan 
fresh basil leaves, gently torn or chiffonaded 

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
2. Place the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl and let them drain for 20-30 minutes. (You could shorten this step slightly by using crushed tomatoes and only draining them slightly; if you do this, you could also skip the immersion blender step.)
3. Once the tomatoes have drained, place the tomatoes into a bowl. Stir in the minced garlic, salt, oregano, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Use an immersion blender to blend the sauce to your preferred consistency. (I prefer a chunkier sauce.)
4. Spread about 1/3 cup of the sauce over the prepared pizza dough.
5. Top with about 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with olive oil.
6. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese over top the pizza. Follow with fresh basil. Let cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

(lightly adapted from this amazing Smitten Kitchen recipe)