Sunday, August 8, 2021

Pizza Margherita

The parchment paper was the key.

One of our summer projects here in this second year of the Great Pandemic has been to learn how to make pizza Margherita, the classic Neapolitan pizza that you find all over Europe and in much of the United States as well. It’s a project you can do at home with the whole family and if you do it right you get really good food at the end. That’s pretty much the definition of an ideal project as far as I am concerned.

Pizza Margherita is model of simplicity, with only a handful of ingredients and no hidden techniques or exotic equipment required, but as with all simple things you have to get it just right or it doesn’t work. Simple is not the same as easy.

The first thing, of course, is to assemble the ingredients.

Kim found some Neapolitan “Tipo-00” extra fine flour for sale online, and apparently this is the secret to the crust. It makes, it must be said, the platonic ideal of a pizza crust – crusty, chewy, with plenty of air and a nice bite to it. You add water, yeast, and some salt – maybe a bit of sugar to get the yeast started, if you want – and let it rise overnight on top of the oven. Eventually you form it into dough balls and let them sit for about half an hour before gently flattening them into pizza crusts to await toppings.

The pizza sauce is similarly straightforward. We get a can of crushed or pureed tomatoes and add some spices to it and that’s pretty much it. The trick, we learned after the first time, is to simmer it down so it’s not so watery. Otherwise it turns everything into a sad, wet mess and takes forever to cook.

This is the same trick we learned with the mozzarella. We live in Wisconsin, a state that counts cheese as one of its defining characteristics along with beer, fish fries, and Packers football. You can get really good fresh mozzarella here. But you have to get the kind that is designed for pizzas and has a lot of the moisture taken out of it already – or you have to do that yourself – because as noted a wet mess of a pizza is a sad thing.

The only other ingredient is fresh basil and having three basil plants growing at random intervals around the house means that we have a fairly unending supply of basil to be picked mere minutes prior to baking.

You can also drizzle it with nice olive oil if you want – it adds a bit of flavor – but that’s optional. It’s a very simple dish.

The first time we tried this, early in the summer, we fired up the gas grill outside to Max Heat (which for our grill is about 600 to 700F or 315 to 370C) and threw the pizzas directly onto some baking pans, which resulted in pizzas that were both wet (see above) and scorched at the same time.

We fixed the wet problem and bought some heavy-gauge steel grilling pans and that solved those problems, but there was still one issue that continued to plague our Sunday evenings. No matter what we tried – flour, oil, supplications to deities of various kinds, invective addressed to same, whatever – getting the pizzas off of whatever surface we’d grilled them on was always a trial. We lost quite a few pizzas that way.

A moment of silence, please.

After a few go-rounds of that, however, an idea occurred. We have parchment paper. Parchment paper is used for baking. We’re baking. There seems to be a natural conclusion to be drawn here, and it turns out that parchment paper can in fact handle those temperatures. This has made all the difference in the world.

So every Sunday, more or less, we refine our pizza techniques and continue on our quest for the perfect pizza Margherita.

We gather our ingredients.

We make our pizzas.

We toss them on the grill.

And in about eight to ten minutes, out they come.

Perfection! At some point, of course, we will have to have a pizza party. But for now we have a project, and out of that project comes good food to share with family. What else do you need in life?

Mangia bene!

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