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Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Pizza

This is pizza is certainly one of the most popular and versatile pizza recipes.  After the tomato sauce and cheese have been aded to the dough, you can top it with virtually anything you wish, e.g, sauteed mushrooms, sausage, pepperoni, meat balls, bacon, baked eggplant, artichokes or just bake it with the tomato sauce and when you are finished shave some fresh Parmigiano Reggiano on top.  The list is virtually endless.  One popular variation is the pizza quattro stagioni, or four seasons pizza. You merely pick four of your favorite toppings and use each to cover 1/4 of the pizza.  A typical selection might be mushrooms for fall, ham for winter, artichokes for spring, and tomatoes for summer.

The recipe from the Pizza Party is:
4 to 6 fresh vine-ripened tomatoes (approximately 8 ounces), or an equal amount of good canned tomatoes, such as San Marzano

6 or more fresh basil leaves

a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

2 large tablespoons of tomato puree, or an additional 2 tomatoes.

2 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and minced, for the sauce

1 round of pizza dough, see recipe for basic pizza dough

1/4 pound of good mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced, for the pizza

2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Oregano, a pinch of fresh chopped oregano, or dry oregano

several torn basil leaves

additional extra virgin olive oil for the crust.

Cut off the stems of the tomatoes, but do not peel.  Puree the tomatoes and basil in a food processor, or pass them through a food mill. Pour the mixture into a bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, tomato puree, and 1 or 2 cloves of minced garlic, mix and let it stand for a while to develop the flavor. This makes 1/2 to 2/3 cup of uncooked tomato sauce.

Place a pizza stone in the bottom third of the oven and preheat at the highest setting (500 degrees F) for 45 to 60 minutes.  Shape the dough into a flat round disk as outlined in the basic dough recipe.  The dough should be thin in the middle with a slightly higher edge.

Dust a  pizza peel with flour and place the flattened pizza dough on the peel.

Brush the olive oil on the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border, scatter 1 or 2 cloves of the minced garlic on top of the oil.  Sprinkle the mozzarella on top of the oil and then lightly spoon a small amount of the tomato sauce over the top. 

I think adding the cheese first and then adding a smaller amount of tomato sauce gives you a crispier crust. If you want to use more sauce, you can put it on first and spread it with the back of a spoon, leaving the same  1/2 inch border, and then add the shredded mozzarella.  Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top.  I also like to sprinkle some chopped fresh oregano, or a pinch of dry oregano, and a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil.  You can also add some torn fresh basil leaves at this time, or add them after the pizza comes out of the oven. 

Slide the pizza from the peel onto the stone (it is a good idea to gently shake the peel first to make sure the pizza is not sticking) and bake until the crust (top and bottom) is golden brown, crisp and slightly charred on the edge and the cheese is bubbling and starting to caramelized.

The cooking time is approximately 7 to 10 minutes.  But it depends on the actual temperature of your oven.  I generally check the pizza after 3 or 4 minutes, and rotate it on the stone.  You will quickly become comfortable with the appropriate timing for your pizza in your oven.

Remove the pizza from the oven,and let it rest for a minute or two, slice, and serve.