The Dancer That Pizza Built: Margherita on the Bahbie

By • August 18, 2011 42 Comments

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Author Notes: The daughter had been in Florence for a month before I joined her there. She had developed a strict adherence to the 10,000 calorie a day dancer's diet, a major component of which was pizza. And in Italy, pizza isn't the calorie-laden thing it can be here. Rather, the crust is wafer-thin, yet magically tender. Toppings are judicious and few. Cheese is gently fluttered over at the end. The objective is a total taste experience in which the crust participates, yet nothing overpowers. It truly is nearly magical. Bottom line: she ate a s***load of it with utter abandon.

Lydia, the trip never would have happened without you and your laser-focused dedication to what you do and love. This is for you, with extreme gratitude for being your mother.

Makes 2 10" pizzas

For the Amazing Crust

  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
  • 10 ounces warm (100 degree) water
  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey

For the Ethereal Topping

  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes of your favorite shape and color
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • A handful of basil leaves, chiffonade
  • Parmesan cheese
  1. Make the dough for the crust. Measure all the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Swish a measuring spoon through them to disperse the yeast before adding the liquids. Add the water, olive oil, and honey. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together and leaves the sides of the bowl. Add a tablespoon or so of flour if need be. Stop the mixer when the dough has come together. You don't want to give this dough much at all in the way of kneading, otherwise it will tend to be more bread-like, and that just isn't what you want at all. Stop the mixer, remove the hook, cover the bowl with a piece of plastic (NOT a towel!) and let proof at room temperature until it has doubled in size. A NOTE HERE: sdebrango has a wonderful method for proofing pizza dough day-long in the fridge, which I think is brilliant. So make your dough in the morning before leaving for work. Set in in the mixer bowl covered with plastic into the fridge. Go to work . Think about pizza. Come home, take it out. Let it come to room temp while you build/light your fire and make your topping.
  2. While the dough is proofing, start your fire. I use charcoal grills, so if you do too, build a good honking big fire. Be sure the bottom draft is open. Once it has burned down to coals, scatter them over the bottom of the grill, set the grate in place, and set a pizza stone on it. I have a stone that I've designated as grill only. Close the top. Set the bottom and top drafts to half open. If you use a gas grill, heat it to high, set your stone in, and reduce heat to medium-high.
  3. While the grill is heating and the dough proofing, start your topping. Slice the tiny tomatoes in half lengthwise. Smash, peel, and mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a generous amount of olive oil. When it's hot (it will shimmer, or ribbon), add the tomatoes and a pinch of sea or kosher salt. When the tomatoes are very tender, and if they spatter too much, turn the heat down some, add the garlic. Stir it all together and reduce the heat to low. Cover the skillet and let everything get nice and soft and concentrated.
  4. Chiffonade your basil. Chiffonade is French for ribbon. You're going to cut the leaves in the direction of their cells' growth so as not to encourage browning. Pull of some lovely, large leaves, probably 3 or 4 per pizza. Lay them one atop the other, stems and tips matching. Roll them from stem to tip like a cigar. Set the roll on your board and slice them as thin as possible. Into ribbons.
  5. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a gently floured board. Divide it in half. Tenderly round up each half. Work with one at a time. Pat it out, working from the center outwards, When it is about 10 inches in diameter and no more than 1/4' thick, stop. Dust a wooden peel or the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal, polenta, or semolina. Lift the pizza dough onto the peel. Spoon some of the luscious, concentrated sauce (not too much) onto it and use the back of the spoon to spread the sauce around the surface of the dough. Proceed directly to the grill. Slide the pizza (the cornmeal-polenta-semolina will act line tiny ball bearings) onto the screamingly hot stone. Close the lid. If using a gas grill, turn off the heat. Charcoal/wood, damp down the top and bottom vents. Your heavenly creation should be blistered, browned, and ready to eat within no more than 5 minutes.
  6. Open the grill. Scatter the basil chiffonade over the pizza and grate some Parmesan cheese over it. Close the top for a couple of minutes, then open it, lift the pizza out with the peel. Cut it, serve it, and eat it immediately. Imagine that you are in a country where a musical language is spoken and the light has a golden-sepia hue. Raise a glass of wine and announce, salute!

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