Clasic Margherita Pizza, with Prosciutto di Parma
As readers of this blog know, I love to venture far and wide with pizza. However, now and then I think it's a good idea to heed the words of Marcella Hazan (in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) who, while acknowledging that improvisation and invention are the heart and soul of pizzamaking, suggests that "...without smothering spontaneity, it may be helpful...to refer from time to time to those few blends of ingredients that represent...the broadest and longest-established consensus on what tastes best in a pizza."
Okay, the venerable Ms. Hazan has a way with too many words (even after I took some out), so let me rephrase: It's good to go back to the basics now and then! And not least because the sensual pleasure delivered by the basic pizza combinations just cannot be beat: creamy mozzerella di bufala, aged Parmeggiano Reggiano, fresh oregano, and red, juicy plum tomatoes glistening with olive oil. In the mouth, the silky texture of the mozzarella, the pungent earthy bite of the parmesan, and the succulence and sweetness of the tomatoes are all all topped by the bright notes of oregano in a delightful union of sensuous flavor and texture.
Hazan tells us that, while not all historians agree, the Margharita Pizza was created "to please Queen Margharita when she visited Naples late in the nineteenth century...." The story, as it is told, suggests that the red, white and green pizza was an homage to the flag of the then still-new Italian state. Whatever the origin, this is one of the classic versions of the world's most popular food. My adaptation of Hazan's Margharita is modified by the addition of some garlic and some Prosciutto di Parma, the use of oregano instead of her preferred basil, and the use of oregano in the tomato base as well as on top, but otherwise hews to the lines she lays down. As usual, the best ingredients (genuine buffalo milk mozzarella, fresh Italian plum tomatoes, the best Prosciutto and fresh herbs) make a good pizza into a perfect pizza.
Margherita Pizza with Prosciutto
(adapted from Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)
1 pizza shell (see Pizza Basics for recipe, procedure, etc.)
5 medium plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
4 oz buffalo milk mozzarella, sliced
1 oz Parmeggiano Reggiano, shredded
3 oz best quality Italian prosciutto, sliced paper thin
4 medium sprigs oregano
olive oil, salt, hot sauce to taste
corn meal for the peel
Peel the tomatoes and cut vertically into crescent-shaped strips. Tear the oregano leaves from the stems and mince half of them, reserving the rest. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, the minced garlic and the minced oregano. Season to taste, bearing in mind that the prosciutto to be added later is somewhat salty.
When the pizza shell has completed the second rising (see Pizza Basics) spread the tomato mixture evenly over the surface and bake on a preheated stone in a 450º oven for about 10 minutes. Scatter the parmesan cheese over the pizza, then the mozzarella slices. Pull the ham apart into irregular pieces about 3 - 4" long and spread them over the pizza. Lower the oven temperature to 400º and bake 8 - 10 minutes more, until the crust is starting to brown and the cheese has melted.
Scatter on the remaining oregano leaves, brush the edges with a little olive oil, slice and serve immediately.