Ask most pizzaioli, and they’ll tell you: When they visit another pizzeria, they first want to try the Margherita. It’s the benchmark by which a pizza shop’s overall menu is judged. If you can’t get it right, expectations plummet right off the bat.

The pizza industry celebrates this signature pie nationwide on June 11, otherwise known as Pizza Margherita Day. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pizzeria that doesn’t offer a Margherita on the menu every day of the year. It embodies the virtue of simplicity—fresh mozz, San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil and basil—imbued with a blend of flavors that’s anything but basic.

It’s probably not much of an exaggeration to say that the Margherita pizza was conceived as a brazen act of royal brown-nosing. The story goes that Raffaele Esposito, an Italian pizzaiolo, and his wife created it in 1889 in honor of the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, with the toppings (red, white and green) representing the colors of Italy’s national flag.

Related: Fran Garcia: Why a huge pizza menu only leads to headaches

Today, every pizza chef has their own take on the Margherita, including Fran Garcia and Sal Basille, co-founders of the legendary Artichoke Basille’s Pizza in New York and stars of Cooking Channel shows like Pizza Cuz and Pizza Masters. In 2021, they shared with PMQ their recipe for a Margherita pizza that anyone can make in their home oven, and we’re reposting it here for Pizza Margherita Day 2024:

Making the Margherita Pizza Dough:

1 c. water
1 tbsp. dry yeast
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for the bowl
3 1/2 c. high-gluten flour

In a large bowl combine 1 c. water, yeast, salt and oil. The salt will give it great taste and color, and the oil provides the great texture. Add the flour, mixing by hand until it forms a ball and looks smooth. Take the dough ball out of the bowl, add a little oil to the bowl, then place the dough ball back into the bowl (the oil will keep it from sticking). Cover the bowl with a dish towel or something that will allow the dough to breathe. Give it an hour; it should double in size.

Making the Margherita Pizza Sauce:

Get a can of Italian peeled plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, but California tomatoes are just as good. For one pizza, use a 20 oz. can. Pour the tomatoes in a bowl and smash them with your hand until they reach the consistency of a chunky sauce. Add 3 pinches of salt and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. That’s it, plain and simple. (Makes about 2 1/2 cups.)

Making the Margherita Pizza:

1 batch pizza dough
1 c. flour
10 oz. whole-milk mozzarella (just buy a pound and use what you use), cut into 1” cubes
1 batch pizza sauce
4 tbsp. grated Pecorino Romano or any other Pecorino
Fresh mozzarella, cut or torn into 1” pieces
½ c. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Olive oil

Garcia and Basille offer the following tips for making this pie in your home oven:

Deck ovens give Artichoke Basille’s New York-style pizza its signature crispy crust. Deck ovens have thick stones that we cook the pies directly on. These stones retain a lot of heat and give our crusts that unbeatable bottom. To convert your home oven, you’re gonna need a pizza stone. Don’t have one? You can use quarry tiles. Go to Home Depot, buy a box of quarry tiles, move your oven rack all the way to the bottom, and lay your stone or quarry tile over the rack. The stone needs to be heated all the way through before putting your pizza on it; otherwise you’ll end up with a cooked top and a soggy bottom. Turn your oven up as high as it goes—we’re talking 550° to 600°F. Let it preheat for at least an hour.

You’re going to need a peel to get your pie into the oven. If you don’t have one, that’s OK; you can use the top of any pizza box or any other piece of cardboard that’s at least 16” by 16”.

First, flour your peel and start stretching your dough. Start by pressing down your dough from the outside and working your way into the middle. Try not to take all of the air out of it. Once it’s flattened, pick it up and gently toss it back and forth. Try not to let the center get thin. It’s important that the dough is even.

Stretch the dough into a 16” circle, then put it on the floured peel. Once the dough is ready to go on your peel, spread the cubed mozzarella evenly over the dough and distribute two 6 oz. ladlefuls of sauce over the cheese. Start from the edge and create a bull’s-eye right up to the middle. Try to distribute it as evenly as possible, then sprinkle your Pecorino over the sauce and your torn mozzarella pieces on top of that. Let it cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, until it looks like all the cheese has melted and started to brown. Finish with a sprinkling of Parmigian0 Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil.

Food & Ingredients, Recipes