Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fresh Pizza Sauce and Pizza Margherita

In Italy last summer Jesse and I ate tons of Pizza Margherita. On our first day in Italy, after 18 sleepless hours of traveling, we arrived in Napoli. We immediately crammed ourselves onto a shuttle bus to get across town, and then trekked by foot, backpacks and all, to a little hole in the wall pizzeria called L'antica Pizzeria Da Michele. I had read about how amazing it was in the book Eat Pray Love and was determined to see for myself. There was a huge crowd outside and everyone had numbers. I worked my way inside to order. There were three options on the menu: Marinara, Margherita, Margherita Double Cheese. I ordered a Margherita to go and took a number. The place was small and packed. There wasn't even a kitchen, the chefs were right there, the wood burning pizza oven was right there, and they made the pizza right before my eyes!!! They were old Italian men with gray hair and worn faces. They made it look so easy, spin the dough, sauce, cheese, basil, in the oven, out of the oven, in my hand. Since the little place was way too full for us to sit inside, Jesse and I found a curb to sit on down a side alley. We popped the box open and scarfed it down before I even thought to take a picture. But here is the box! And Jesse got a souvenir pizza stain on his shoe. It was amazing! Simple, fresh, soft, delicious. Nothing like pizza here. The dough was almost like naan bread and the sauce was indescribable! And although we tried tons of pizza places in Italy, nothing came close to that very first pizza.
Da Michele, Napoli = THE BEST PIZZA!

Later in Pompeii, another Margherita please!

So after getting to experience the wonders of fresh authentic simple Italian pizza, I wanted to make my own! The idea was sparked by picking up a bag of the fresh garlic and herb pizza dough at Trader Joe's. I decided to try making pizza sauce from scratch, because putting packaged Boboli sauce on fresh dough just didn't seem right. So here my friends is my homemade pizza sauce!

Roasted Garlic and Pepper Pizza Sauce

What you will need:

6 Plum Tomatoes
1/4 Onion
5 cloves Garlic
1/2 Red Bell Pepper
1/2 Jalapeno
Olive Oil
Parsley or other Italian seasonings

Grease a baking dish and heat oven to 375˚. Wash the tomatoes, core and half them. Smash garlic with the side of your knife so they fall out of their skins easily, you don't really need to chop them. Roughly chop the onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno.

Toss it all in your baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and seasonings. Toss with your fingers so it's all covered in oil. Place in the oven for about 30-45 minutes. The top of the vegetables should be browned. If you get impatient towards the end and want them to brown a little faster you can broil them for a few minutes like I did.

Let them cool down for a few minutes and then scoop it all into a blender. Blend until creamy.

Taste the sauce for flavor at this point. Does it need anything? Add balsamic, salt, pepper, seasoning, and olive oil to taste. Blend for a few more seconds to incorporate. Now taste for texture. Your sauce might be done at this point, but if you like really smooth and creamy sauce then lets keep going!
Now we are going to get out a mesh strainer and place it over a medium sized bowl. Using a spatula, press the sauce around in the strainer to separate out all of the skins and seeds. I poured about 1/2 a cup of sauce into the strainer at a time so it was more manageable. You might need to dump out the strainer half way through. Then you will have a tasty smooth and spicy pizza sauce! This will store fine in the fridge until you are ready to make pizza.

Now you guys get to see my failed attempt at "tossing" pizza dough. Although these photos look like bloopers, it was harder than it looks. I did all my homework. I read all about how to stretch a pizza dough without a roller. In the end, I should have used a roller. But this is what I did:

Pizza Margherita

What you will need:
1 bag Trader Joe's Pizza Dough
Fresh Pizza Sauce
Fresh Mozzarella
Fresh Basil
Olive Oil
Flour or Cornmeal

Preheat the oven to 450˚ and place your pizza stone in the oven for about 30 minutes. Flour a clean large surface. Take out your pizza dough, dump the dough out of the bag and onto the floured surface and let it sit for 20 minutes. Get out all of your pizza toppings so you can have them ready to go.

Now to stretch the dough. If you are smart you will use a roller. If you are stubborn like me and want to do it by hand, good luck! This is what you are supposed to do, not exactly how it worked out for me though! Keep the flour on hand!

Working from the middle of the dough, use your fingers to press outwards and spin the dough in a circular motion as you go. Lift the dough onto your fists (just a few inches apart) and let the dough hang. Slowly stretch the dough, turning it as you stretch. It will start thinning in the middle, move your fists
outwards to the edges. 

Keep your fists close to the counter so the dough can still be supported by it (this is one of the main points I failed at). Keep stretching and turning while trying to keep an even thickness (impossible). Set the dough back down and finish stretching with your fingers, pressing and flattening until it's about 12" in diameter.

Pull your pizza stone out of the oven and place it on the stove top. Sprinkle the stone with cornmeal or flour so the pizza wont stick. Carefully place the dough on top of the stone and stretch the dough out to the edges. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes so the crust sets up a bit.

Spread the pizza sauce over the crust, about 1" from the edges. Spread out the mozzarella (Italians use very little cheese). Sprinkle with basil but set some aside for the very end. Place it back in the oven for 5-8 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is browned. Pull it out of the oven, top with the remaining basil, slice, and enjoy!

Despite the chaos of tossing the pizza dough, it tasted really good! And the sauce was really delicious, leaps and bounds better than Boboli! My mom, Jesse, and I gobbled up the whole thing, and I think they had fun laughing at me trying to make it too!

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