pizza

Russell Norman: How To Cook The Perfect Pizza Margherita

The Italian classic needn't just be for takeaways

I recently conducted a survey among friends, family and colleagues in order to determine the greatest food aberration of all time. In third place was that powdery "Parmesan" cheese that comes in plastic tubs, has a sell-by date of several months, and smells strongly of vomit. In second place, tinned spaghetti. I was a little conflicted on this one, since I will condone spaghetti hoops if you're still wearing nappies, and I'm partial to the occasional tin of ravioli myself, but it deserves its ranking simply by virtue of having absolutely nothing in common with its namesake.

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In pole position, by a long margin, was Hawaiian pizza. That heinous practice of placing lumps of syrupy tinned pineapple onto a savoury disc of baked dough, ham and melted cheese has no place in the cuisine of any culture, and I'm sure the good people of Hawaii are as unhappy about it as I am. (It was actually invented by a Greek chef called Sam Panopoulos in Canada in 1962. Mr Panopolous died in June this year.)

But pizza purists will go even further, many maintaining there are only two acceptable types of pizza: marinara and Margherita. The former is named after the sailors among whom it was popular in Naples in the mid-18th century. It consists of tomato, garlic, oregano and olive oil. No cheese and certainly no seafood.

The latter, arguably the greatest food invention of the last 150 years, is an essential dish in the repertoire of any serious cook, accidental or otherwise. Resembling the Italian flag colours and named after the country's Queen Margherita in the late 1800s, it could, if you insisted, be made with cheap, rubbery mozzarella (and often is) but I prefer this luscious version with the creamy buffalo variety.

Once you've mastered it, add olives, anchovies, capers, meatballs and other delicious aberrations to your heart's content. Just no pineapple.

Pizza Margherita

Makes four large pies

• 400g very strong white bread flour

• 7g (1 sachet) easy bake yeast

• 2 tspns fine salt

• Extra virgin olive oil

• 250ml passata

• 600ml warm water

• 2 x 125g buffalo mozzarella balls

• Large handful basil leaves

• Flaky sea salt

1. On a large, clean work surface, put the flour into a small mound and evenly mix in the fine salt and yeast.

2. Add a tbspn of olive oil and 200ml water. Mix into a firm dough. Add more water, a little at a time, while continuing to knead and mix. (You shouldn't require all the remaining water.) When you have a thick, firm dough continue to knead for a further 10–12mins.

3. Roll it into a ball, put it in a large bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave in a warm place for about 2–3 hours.

4. Remove the dough, knock it back down to size on a floured work surface, divide into four equal parts and roll into balls.

5. Preheat your oven as high as it will go. Roll out the balls into large, flat discs. Spread four tbspns of passata on each stopping 2cm from the edge. Sprinkle flaky sea salt. Break up the mozzarella into small pieces and evenly distribute. Scatter the basil leaves, add a few more pinches of flaky salt and bake in the oven for around 6mins until the cheese has melted and the edges are starting to blister and turn brown. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve.

Russell Norman is the founder of Polpo and Spuntino