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Alexandra Stafford’s Classic Margherita Pizza

I have had one million Margherita pizzas in my lifetime, and yet every time I find myself at a pizzeria that serves Neapolitan pizza, I can’t not order the Margherita. Why? Partly because the quality of a pizzeria’s Margherita is a good measure of what’s to come, but also because the Margherita is hard to beat: It’s a simple but perfect pie. To this day, it continues to be one of my favorite pizzas, and it is unquestionably the pizza I make most often at home, because it’s my children’s favorite, too. With so few ingredients, to get it right, it’s important to use high-quality ingredients: good tomatoes, good mozzarella, good olive oil, and fresh basil. When I make Margherita pizza in my outdoor oven, I love using buffalo or fresh cow’s milk mozzarella, which retain their freshness and creaminess during the brief cooking time. In my home oven, however, I find using these cheeses to be a waste: They lose their nice texture, become rubbery, and can make the pizza soggy. For these reasons, I almost always use low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella—I love the Calabro brand—on all of my home-oven pizzas.

Photo by Eva Kolenko


Yield: One 12-inch pizza

1 ball Neapolitanish Pizza Dough (recipe here)

All-purpose flour, for dusting

Semolina flour, rice flour, or all-purpose flour, for the peel

3 tablespoons No-Cook Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)

3 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese (see Note), pulled apart into ½-inch pieces (about ¾ cup)

Extra-virgin olive oil

Flaky sea salt

Fresh basil leaves, torn if large


Prepare the dough: Transfer the dough from its storage container to a roomier, lightly floured, covered container and allow it to proof at room temperature for 1½ to 2 hours.

Prepare the oven and pizza peel: About 1 hour before you want to bake the pizza, place a baking steel in the top third of the oven and preheat it to 550ºF convection roast (or as high as it will go). Dust a pizza peel lightly with semolina flour or top with parchment paper.
Stretch the dough: Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Using lightly floured hands, pat the dough gently to flatten it, then stretch it into a 10-to 11-inch round by laying it on the back of your hands and gently rotating it, taking care not to depress the beautiful air pockets in the dough. If the dough begins resisting, set it down on the work surface to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then continue stretching. Transfer the stretched dough to the prepared peel and give it a shake to ensure it’s not sticking.

Top the pizza: Spread the tomato sauce over the dough, leaving a
½-inch border. Scatter the mozzarella evenly over the top. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Season with a pinch of sea salt. Stretch the dough one last time by pulling outward on the edges. Redistribute the toppings as needed, then give the peel one last shake to ensure the dough is not sticking.

Bake the pizza: Shimmy the pizza (still on the parchment if using) onto the steel and bake until the cheese is melted and the edges are beginning to char, 5 to 6 minutes. (This may take 8 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven.)

Using the peel, transfer the pizza to a cutting board (discard the parchment paper). Sprinkle with basil. Cut and serve.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce



Yield: Makes 4 cups

1 (28-ounce) can undrained peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes

1 garlic clove, finely minced or grated on a Microplane

1 to 1½ teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, garlic, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the olive oil. Puree until smooth. Taste. Add another ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt, if you wish, puree again, then transfer to a storage jar and store in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

From Pizza Night by Alexandra Stafford. Excerpted by permission of ‎Clarkson Potter.

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