A New Take on an Old Favorite

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I can’t stop talking about the bountiful, beautiful tomatoes we are getting from our garden right now and I know farmers markets are overflowing with them as well. So, at this time of year, I’m always looking for any way to use the tomatoes before they go bad. I’ve already shared with you our Easy Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe, which is one way to use up a lot of your tomatoes. Another way, that may not use a ton of tomatoes but is definitely a way to show off that prized fruit, is a Margherita pizza. One of the most popular pizzas in the world, the quintessential basil, tomatoes and mozzarella toppings are simple, yet delicious.

According to popular belief, Pizza Margherita was created during a visit by King Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita of Savoy to Naples in 1889. Chef Raffaele Esposito created a pizza which resembled the Italian flag of green, white & red (basil, mozzarella & tomatoes) and named it after the Queen. Since 2009, Pizza Margherita is one of three Napoli pizzas with a STG label (Traditional Guaranteed Specialty). This labeling is similar to the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) labels on some Italian food or the DOCG (Controlled Origin/Production and Guaranteed Quality Denomination) labels on Chianti and other Italian wines. To make a true, STG Pizza Margherita, there are certain specifications that must be met:

  1. A 3mm thick disk of dough with a 1-2cm high crust
  2. No other working tools other than the hands of the pizza maker are allowed, no rolling pin or mechanical press machine
  3. It needs to be cooked in a wood-fired brick oven at 485C for about 90 seconds.

That’s a nice thin crust, 3mm is only around 1/10th of an inch thick and the crust would be around 1/3 to a little over 2/3 of an inch. Also, can we talk about that heat! WOW!! 485C is around 905F. We don’t fire our wfo to that temp. As a general rule, the dome is usually around 500F and the floor is anywhere from 500-750F.

Of course, we are not as precise as those rules; however, the traditional toppings of basil, mozzarella and tomatoes are standard when making or ordering a Margherita pizza. That is until my wife decided to shake things up a bit and we found a new favorite way to make Pizza Margherita. The secret? Ricotta cheese!

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Add herbs, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to the ricotta, schmear it all over the crust, top with fresh sliced tomatoes, basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Then pop it into your wfo for a minute or two. The seasoned ricotta soaks up the watery tomato and the flavors all blend well together to make a truly tasty pizza!!

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We prefer to use fresh tomatoes whenever possible, but you could also use our tomato sauce or make a super simple sauce from a can of San Marzano tomatoes and a little salt. Now, I do realize this isn’t really Pizza Margherita since we didn’t use mozzarella, but I won’t tell if you won’t 🙂

Try it the next time you have fresh tomatoes…you won’t regret it.



Easy Ciabatta Recipe

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ciabatta in oven

Something I love as much as, or more maybe, than pizza, is bread. A crunchy boule just out of your wood fired oven is heaven on a plate. A few weekends ago, instead of pizza Friday, we had bruschetta for dinner. Fresh tomatoes and herbs from our garden, flavorful mozzarella and a drizzle of Italian olive oil with this ciabatta bread fresh out of the oven was a wonderful ending to a long work week! Add a bottle of crisp white wine to cool the summer temps and all is bliss…the perfect summer meal.

Ciabatta means “slipper” in Italian and the bread originated in Verona in response to the French baguette. The baker who created the first recipe, named it ciabatta because the shape of the dough reminded him of his wife’s slipper. Ciabatta is known for it’s crisp crust and open crumb and a ciabatta loaf is typically elongated, broad and flat. I chose to make rolls instead of a loaf, which were irregular in shape and size. I didn’t use my pizza peel to transfer them from the baking sheet to the oven, choosing instead to pick them up gently with my hands and place them directly on the oven floor.

ciabatta whole                                                         ciabatta crumb

I made a double batch, so I had a lot of rolls in the oven at the same time. It was a little difficult to move them front to back so they cooked evenly and I ended up using my hands for that too because my peel wouldn’t work in the tight quarters. They become fairly firm very quickly, so it is easy enough to move them around without affecting the quality of the finished product.

As I said, we had bruschetta, but these rolls are fabulous with just a drizzle of flavorful olive oil as well. I encourage you to try this easy recipe.



Easy Ciabatta

Yield: 12 rolls or 2 loaves


1/2 tsp yeast

1/2 cup warm water (to the touch)

1 cup all purpose flour

Add yeast and flour to the water and combine with a whisk to form a paste. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight (either on the counter or in the fridge)

After sitting, the biga should have a ton of bubbles on top. This, and the rising of the dough, are what will help the final bread have a beautiful crumb with a soft interior and crunchy exterior.


2 cups water

1 tsp yeast

The Biga that you had resting

4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp salt


Add yeast to the water in your mixer bowl and stir to wet all the yeast. Add all of the Biga to the water and break it up with a spatula until stringy.

Add salt to the flour and stir, then add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl. Stir to form a thick dough. Let mixture stand for 20 minutes so the flour can absorb all of the water and the yeast can proof a little.

Use the dough hook on your mixer and let the mixer run for a good 15-20 minutes on medium speed. This will really bring the dough together and help build the gluten. At first, the dough will really stick to the bottom of the bowl, but eventually it will come away from the sides and start slapping the sides. If you don’t get to this point by the halfway mark of the mixing time you may need to increase the speed on the mixer. When you stop the mixer, the dough will all fall back into the bowl and be very loose. As long as it is smooth and shiny, you are good to go.

Keep the dough in the mixer bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let this rise at room temp for 2 or 3 hours until it has tripled in bulk.

In order to most easily handle this wet dough, make sure you use A LOT of flour on your work surface. Scrape the dough out onto the flour and handle gingerly because you don’t want to break all of those beautiful bubbles that are just below the surface of the dough. Sprinkle more flour on top of the dough and then cut the dough into either 2 loaves or 12 rolls. I used a pizza cutter and it worked great, you could also use your bench scraper.

Flour your hands and gently place the dough onto a floured baking sheet. Leave the dough sit for another 30 minutes or so (can go a lot longer if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend letting it sit more than an hour and a half). The bubbles will really start to come out on the surface after this resting period.

Bake in your wfo at around 350-400F for 15-20 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom. You can also bake in your kitchen oven at 475F on a baking stone for 20-30 minutes.