If it weren’t for my husband’s heritage, my love of Italian food and my upcoming trip to Italy, I might not know as much about pizza as I do. But, in watching travel shows, reading articles and skimming magazines, I have a new appreciation for pizza – especially of Italian origin.
Growing up I wasn’t a big “plain pizza” fan. I loved pepperoni and even until lately would normally get the pizza with all the fixings. It is once I learned about pizza margherita – and tried it the right way, with the right ingredients – that I fell in love with it.
Back in 1844, the King of Italy, and his wife, Queen Margherita di Savoia, were on holiday in Naples. They called the most popular pizza chef (pizzaioli) to make various kinds of pizza for them. But Queen Margherita fell in love with the pizza sporting the colors of the Italian flag, with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. He affectionately called it Pizza Margherita after the Queen. Although our trip to Italy won’t include Naples, I have always heard you haven’t had pizza margherita until you have had it in Naples.
But, this recipe from Bon Appetit has to come in a close second. Cooking the tomatoes on the stove then mixing with basil, garlic, fennel and red pepper flakes give it amazing flavor. I changed the recipe a bit since our grocery store didn’t have the multitude of mozzarella cheeses the recipe requires. My adaptation is below.
CHERRY TOMATO PIZZA MARGHERITA
1 13.8-ounce tube refrigerated pizza dough
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 12-ounce bag cherry tomatoes, stemmed
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed in plastic bag
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (I used a little more since I love spice)
1 8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, diced
1/2 cup finely shredded mozzarella
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves plus small leaves for garnish
Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Unroll dough on heavy large baking sheet; pull to about 12×8-inch rectangle, pinching any tears to seal. Fold over edge of dough to make border.
Heat large skillet over high heat 2 minutes. Add oil, then tomatoes; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tomatoes are charred and beginning to break down, about 5 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Mix in garlic, fennel, and crushed red pepper. Using back of fork, crush tomatoes in bowl, leaving large chunks intact. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Toss cheeses and chopped basil in medium bowl.
Sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over dough, right up to border. Spoon on tomato mixture in dollops, leaving some cheese uncovered. Bake pizza until crust is crisp and brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Loosen pizza with metal spatula and slide onto board. Garnish with basil leaves.
NOTE: If you like your crust a little crispier, here are a few tips:
1. Bake a little longer than 20 minutes.
2. Coat the bottom of the pan with cornmeal
3. Bake the crust ALONE (sans toppings) for about 5-10 minutes to give it a head start, then finish the baking with the toppings.