How An Authentic Homemade Pizza Margherita Saved The Day

It was such the perfect plan. A few friends over for a relaxing Saturday afternoon. Great company; great food; good times. So beautifully simple. I was all set to prepare and present a carefully orchestrated spread of my latest culinary experiments. Sous-vide things paired with oven-baked things accompanied by lightly sautéed things. You’ve been there. Wild culinary ideas that, by some unknown magical force, come together and seem to have always been meant for one another. Yes. It was supposed to be that kind of Saturday afternoon.

Saturday morning: All is well. It’s 6:30 am and I’m up and about. My immersion circulator is gently heating a bin of water to 54° celsius for a bit of sous-vide cooking. An assortment of light proteins are resting comfortably in their vacuum-sealed worlds. Stainless steel sauté, and hefty cast iron pans are at the ready. Ah — The relaxing calm of Mise en place. Brilliant. Over to my oven I go.  Gotta get the environment stable for the cooking soon to come. I reach out to dial up the temp to a toasty 375° fahrenheit and then it happens — beep .. f 06. BEEP .. f 06. BEEEEP F 06! WHAAAAAT?!!! No! After learning this would take more than a quick oven power cycle, the morning’s fun began.

Time check — It’s 7:15 am. What to do? What to do? Proteins are safe and sealed. My sous-vide circulator has done its water heating job. The first of my friends will arrive around 1:30 so I have some time to improvise. I increase my circulator’s temperature to 62.8°C, wait for it to heat before lowering in a couple of farm-fresh eggs that came with the CSA basket I picked up the night before. In 45 minutes I’ll have perfectly cooked sous-vide eggs with a little smoked salmon & wheat toast. Things are looking up! In the meantime I must think. Then, just like that it hits me — Pizza!

Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me. Maybe it was the random glance towards my bookshelf where my copy of Flour Water Salt Yeast caught my eye, reminding me that I’d soon have Ken Forkish’s new book, The Elements of Pizza, in my hands. Either way, Pizza was the answer. And though I of course love to make and eat New York-style pizza, I wanted something a bit more memorable to serve my guests. My choice was simple. Wood-fired, homemade pizza Margherita for everyone!

Knowing that great Neapolitan pizza is all about the dough. I figured I had about 7 hours before my friends would begin expressing their hunger for the afternoon’s main course, so I had to get going on that dough. I bake lots of bread, so I was confident my kitchen was stocked with the necessary ingredients to make this happen. I grabbed my workhorse stand mixer, “00” flour, bottled water, sea salt, and yes, I even had a block of cake yeast in my fridge. I was set. I trusted that my yeast was alive and well, so I skipped the proof and got right to making dough.

Mixing dough feels natural to me. There’s something about it. Very relaxing. I do take care and weigh each ingredient, combining them when the time is right. But working with the dough as it forms, adjusting hydration as needed, depending on my day’s kitchen environment; that’s where intuition kicks in. Kind of a zen moment for me. As the dough ball begins to form in my mixer, and the wonderfully fruity scent of activating yeast fills my kitchen, I knew that on this particular Saturday afternoon, friends would be pleased with their yeast-leavened meals. Dough’s mixed, fermented, divided and rested. Homemade pizza dough is ready to go. Mission accomplished!

As friends began to arrive, smiles appeared on their faces as they approached my front door and the unmistakable scent of the oak pellets heating my modified Uuni 2 wood-fired oven welcomed them. Adults and children alike were fascinated by the stainless steel pizza oven perched on my patio table. Everyone wanted to know what the thing was, and exactly how it worked. What better way to show them the brilliance of that little oven than with a freshly baked pizza pie! Some watched as I pressed, stretched & topped the first of several soon to be wood-fired pies. Others gathered around the Uuni, discussing what they’d cook in the device. All made way as I headed out to the patio with my loaded pizza peel. Time for the show.

I popped open the front of the oven, and saw the flame rolling perfectly along the oven’s internal ceiling heat guard. I gently placed the front edge of the pizza peel about a half inch from the back of the oven, then with one quick motion, slid the peel from beneath the prepared dough disc as it fell to the scorching hot stone. Even before I could close off the oven’s font, the high heat triggered the extreme yeast activity that gives classic Neapolitan pizza it’s prized airy, delicate texture.

After about 35 seconds of listening, smelling, and smiling (hey whatever works!), I popped open the oven for the necessary pizza spin. Everyone tried to sneak a peek. It looked fantastic. With the pizza rotated and the oven door back in place, we had only about another 40 seconds or so before the final check & finishing heat should present us with something delicious. 40 seconds later and the oohs and ahhs began. It was done. A perfectly cooked Neapolitan Pizza Margherita. Bravo!

We made several more pies that afternoon. The kids really enjoyed trying their hands at preparing the the dough discs & toppings. And through it all I had forgotten all about that pesky F 06 oven error that led to an absolutely wonderful day of homemade pizza with friends. Good times.

By the way, pizza margherita is perfect for date night too! Here’s my Homemade Pizza Margherita For Two recipe. It’s the same I used for my Saturday gathering, just scaled down for a more intimate occasion.

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