In 1889, Regina Margherita, queen of Italy, was offered a pizza containing the colors of the Italian flag. Pizza maker Raffaele Esposito topped the pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves. Faithful to the pie prepared for Queen Margherita, Roberto Caporuscio prepares this namesake pizza at his restaurant in Pittsburgh with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and extra-virgin olive oil, all imported from Italy. The basil and cherry tomatoes are just like from home, grown organically and delivered by a specialty farmer.
Makes one 9-inch pizza; serves 1 or 2
1 portion (9.5 ounces) Neapolitan Pizza Dough (recipe follows), at room temperature
Caputo flour for dusting
1/4 cup Salsa Semplice (recipe follows)
2 ounces fresh bufala mozzarella or fior di latte squeezed gently to release moisture, sliced, and then drained on paper towels
8 to 10 cherry tomatoes halved
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 fresh basil leaves
Simple Pizza Sauce
2 cans (28 ounces each) Italian peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 teaspoon sea salt
Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven and place a baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Have ready a pizza peel.
Remove the dough from the plastic bag, keeping the smooth top side facing up. Place it on a lightly floured work surface and lightly dust the dough with flour. Using your finger tips (but not your nails), press down on the dough to flatten it and push it outward into a larger circle. Flip the dough over and repeat on the other side, and then flip the dough back over. (You always want the smooth side up.)
Thinking of the circle of dough as a clock face, make a fist with one of your hands and place it firmly at the 9 o’clock position, about 1 inch in from the edge (this will keep the edge of the dough slightly thicker). Place your other hand at the 3 o’clock position, putting your thumb on top of the dough and your other fingers underneath. Lift the dough and stretch it a bit. Move the dough a one-eighth turn and repeat. Continue until you have evenly stretched the dough into a 9-inch circle with slightly thicker edges.
Dust the pizza peel generously with flour. Using your hands and working quickly, lift and transfer the dough to the pizza peel. Give the peel a few shakes back and forth to make sure the dough isn’t sticking.
To top the pizza: Spread the pizza sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Distribute the slices of mozzarella cheese evenly over the top. Scatter the cherry tomatoes evenly over top. Drizzle the olive oil over the top.
Give the peel another gentle shake back and forth just to make sure the dough isn’t sticking. Slide the dough from the peel onto the baking stone using a quick jerking motion with your arm. (Work quickly to slide the pizza into the oven and close the door so the oven temperature doesn’t drop too much.) Bake the pizza until the crust is crisp and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using the peel, remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Arrange the basil leaves like petals of a flower in the center of the pizza. Slice the pizza into wedges, or leave whole to be eaten folded in quarters, and serve immediately.
Simple Pizza Sauce
As you can see from the ingredient list, everything about this recipe depends on the quality of the tomatoes. These preferred tomatoes, from the famed San Marzano region of Naples, are deep red, firm and meaty, with very few seeds. They are low in acid and high in fruitiness because they are hand picked when they are fully ripened. Though Roberto uses only imported brands, in particular the Francesconi brand, you’ll find both imported and domestic brands on the market. American tomato growers have cultivated the seeds and are growing and canning San Marzano tomatoes in the United States.
In a colander or strainer, drain the tomatoes thoroughly to remove all the liquid. Crush the tomatoes lightly to remove any liquid inside the tomatoes and drain again. Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and crush to a pulp using your hand, a potato masher, or the back of a spoon. (Alternatively, drain the tomatoes and coarsely crush the tomatoes in a food processor.) Stir in the salt. Use immediately, or store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before using.
Makes about 2 cups