Great pizza is in the eye of the beholder.
Recently we were in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and on a mission to find the best Margherita pizza in the cities. (I love my job!) Merri Ann found a listing of the restaurants serving the best Margherita pizza in the cities, from one to ten. (You can find anything on the internet.) We won’t make it through the list but the top ones, we have covered.
The number one ranked pizza isn’t number one on my list—too much cheese, too rich. I couldn’t make it through a ten-inch pizza.
For me, a Margherita pizza is an excuse to enjoy fresh tomatoes and basil on a crisp crust. Oh, and with a little cheese to give it sparkle. Not everyone will agree with that view.
One of the restaurants on that list served a very soft pizza; I suspect a very authentic pizza. It was good. Still, I missed my crisp crust.
Thin Crust Summer Pizzas
A Margherita pizza, for me, is a type of summer pizza—a thin, light crust, easy on the meats and cheeses, and with fresh veggies. Mostly, these don’t have traditional pizza sauce. Margherita pizzas rely on crushed fresh tomatoes. A coating of olive oil will do. I’ve eaten many summer pizzas with a white sauce—a thin layer of sandwich spread, a veggie or chip dip, Alfredo sauce, or even the ever-present ranch dressing.
In addition to tomatoes and basil, we’ve loaded everything from summer squash to green beans to potatoes on these pizzas. (Green beans and potatoes should be parboiled. I don’t care for starchy potatoes on a pizza but thinly sliced, new red potatoes still just a touch crunchy still are marvelous.)
What follows is a primer for making quick, crispy thin crust pizzas. Back in the test kitchen next week, we’ll tinker with Margherita pizzas. Watch for that story.
What You’ll Need and Today’s Special
To make a thin crust, crispy pizza, the dough must be thin and you must pour a lot of heat to it in a hurry. That takes tools and a hot oven.
(I’ve never been past 500 degrees in my oven but that authentic restaurant uses a wood-fired oven at 900 degrees. They bake their pizzas for only one minute. On my second trip in, I asked them to bake mine a little longer and I liked that pizza better.)
My daughter, Debbie, is a master at thin crust pizzas. She dusts the counter with a flour shaker and rolls the dough to about an eighth inch with a rolling pin on the counter. She has a pizza stone sitting in a hot oven and uses a pizza peel to transfer the pizza from the counter to the oven and out again.
I use a beat-up, dark colored, pizza pan that I have had for decades. (The dark color absorbs heat and helps to bake the crust.) I roll the crust right in the pan. (I’ve tried tossing pizza crusts. Not even close.) That’s easy and I can get it very thin. With a lip on the pan, a pizza roller is the only way that I know to roll the dough in the pan. I get nice round-shaped pizzas.
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The Pizza Crust for a Buck a Pizza
We developed our own pizza crust years ago. It’s lighter and softer than a typical crust, with a bit of rye flour that gives it just a hint of sourdough-like flavor. We think it’s perfect.
“Springback” is the bane of thin-crust pizzas, most pizzas actually. It’s the elasticity from the gluten that makes it very difficult to roll a thin crust. We solved that with a little dough relaxer to make thin crusts much more practical.
Our pizza dough mixes are engineered to make a thick crust, 14 to 15-inch pizzas. Since you’re going to be rolling yours thin, you’ll get two pizzas from each mix. Since the special is a mix for $1.99, you’ll make pizzas for a buck each.
Get pizza dough mixes for $1.99! Offer expires August 18, 2015.
The Pizza Spice
We have a standby Italian spice blend that we sprinkle on nearly every pizza, Zesty Pizza and Pasta Spice. It’s a great spice and we sneak it into food other than Italian on occasion.
Save 20% on Zesty Pizza and Pasta Spice. Offer expires August 18, 2015.
Tomato and Basil Thin Crust Pizza
Most of the time, we load all of our toppings on the crust and bake. With fresh tomatoes, we make an exception, placing the tomatoes on the pizza for only the last few minutes. Instead of a tomato base of marina sauce, we use a French onion dip and like it very much. This is a great pizza.
1 thin pizza crust, about 14 inches
5 tablespoons French onion dip
1 teaspoon Zesty Pizza & Pasta Spice blend or other
5 medium-sized red and yellow tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves snipped into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Bake the crust for about ten minutes, until it starts to brown. Remove it from the oven.
- Spread the onion dip on the baked crust.
- Cut the tomatoes into quarter-inch thick slices. Lay them on paper towels as you cut them to soak up part of the juice.
- Layer the tomatoes on the crust. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle the freshly cut basil over the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Spread the parmesan cheese over the tomato slices. Sprinkle the spice blend evenly over the pizza.
- Return the pizza to the oven. Bake only until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about five minutes. Serve hot.
Summer Squash Thin Crust Pizza
This is another great thin crust pizza that you can make in a hurry. The squash cooks more quickly than the peppers and onions so we partially cook the onions and peppers in the microwave until they are crisp-tender. Then we load all the veggies on the crust at once.
This is a surprising pizza and an excellent way to use the zucchini that grows so abundantly in your garden. Because it’s a mild-tasting pizza, even your kids might even eat it.
1 thin pizza crust
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium crookneck squash, sliced
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup marinara or red pizza sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Zesty Pizza & Pasta Spice or other
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Form a very thin pizza crust, one that will cook quickly in the oven.
- Spread the crust with the marinara sauce on the unbaked crust. Toss the vegetables in olive oil.
- Layer the vegetables over the marinara, distributing them evenly. Sprinkle salt over the vegetables. Spread the cheese over the vegetables Sprinkle with Zesty Pizza Spice or your own choice of spices.
- Place the pizza in the oven and bake for eight to twelve minutes or just until the crust is crispy and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Dennis Weaver has burned food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking available as an E-book or as a Kindle book on Amazon.
Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children and five beautiful granddaughters.