But this year, Houstonians got a little taste of frigid that lasted and returned. It wasn’t a New England winter, but still a lot to bear for warm-blooded Texans. Ice played havoc with our gardens and sent us scurrying for extra heaters. February’s arctic blasts found me cozy by the fire, salivating over seed catalogs, dreaming of spring. Inspired by sumptuous illustrations of hard to find heirloom vegetables with intriguing names like “Mortgage Lifter,” I placed a dozen orders. I am prepared to get outside and dig in on the first warm March day, with plenty to keep me busy through April.

This year, I’ve planned themed beds, seeded with ingredients for our favorite dishes, including pizza. It’s a tactic that Recipe for Success uses in our school gardens to forge a visceral connection for the kids between seed and plate and has proven a wonderful tool to encourage children to eat more vegetables and try new ones. I think that my grandson is ready, and we all know that everything tastes great on a pizza. Pizza has roots that go back over 3,000 years. Even the Ancient Greeks topped their flatbread—plakous—with herbs, onions and garlic. Though in our contemporary minds, tomatoes and pizza are inextricably connected, the North American fruit didn’t appear on the scene in the Mediterranean until the 18th century, thanks to Columbus. By 1830, the Neapolitans were selling yeasty flatbread with savory toppings from open-air street stalls. Locals and tourists alike loved the dish they called pizza. It was during a visit to Naples in 1899, that Queen Margherita was served pizza topped with crushed tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese laid out to resemble an Italian flag. The Margherita Pizza was born. Italian immigrants brought pizza to the states with them around 1910, but it wasn’t until after WWII, when America soldiers who had been stationed in Italy returned with a taste for the dish, that pizza parlors began to flourish. Sixty-five years later, pizza has grown to a $30 billion industry here.

Our family makes pizza from scratch every Monday night, and little Joey started rolling out the dough from the time he could stand on a stool. Even though Margherita remains our favorite, we don’t always limit toppings to the Italian flag. From season to season, we are inspired by what’s coming out of the garden or what we find in the farmers market. Everything from figs to roasted cauliflower tastes great when drizzled with a little olive oil and baked on flatbread. Our early spring pizza garden will be planted with tomatoes, basil, oregano and arugula. When the weather warms up, we will add eggplant, squash and peppers--all of them intriguingly named heirloom varieties that I found in my seed catalogs.

Making Margherita Pizza from Scratch with Your Family

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat four
  • 2 ½ cups bread flour or 00 flour
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1½ tablespoons honey
  • 1½ – 2 cups warm water (about 90 - 105º F)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Topping:

  • ¼ cup Semolina Flour
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • 3-4 fresh Roma tomatoes sliced thin with seed removed
  • 3-4” Ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
  • 8-12 leaves of fresh basil
  • chiffonade
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh Ground pepper and sea salt to taste

Step One: Mix

  1. Combine the flour, sea salt, and yeast in a large plastic bowl
  2. Stir together with a fork
  3. Stir honey and olive oil into 1½ cups of warm water
  4. Slowly pour the water into the flour in a circular motion, making a spiral
  5. Using a plastic dough scraper, begin mixing the dry ingredients and liquids together in this way:
  • Hold the bowl with your left hand and the scraper in your right
  • Slide the scraper along the edge of bowl, in a motion that lifts and turns it to the middle to mix well
  • Rotate the bowl clockwise and repeat continuously until there are no completely dry ingredients left

Step Two: Knead

You may want to wear plastic gloves, but you don’t have to. It is less messy to do this in the same big mixing bowl.

  1. Make a mound of the dough in the middle of the bowl
  2. Flatten the mound, then fold it in half and push it down with your palms
  3. Turn the bowl 90 and fold in half again and push down with your palms. Repeat this for 10 minutes, turning and flattening.
  4. End with a nice smooth ball of dough.

Step Three: Rise

  1. Turn oven to 200 degrees and when it reaches that temperature, turn it off.
  2. Dump the dough out; wash bowl and lightly coat it with oil.
  3. Return the smooth round ball of dough into the lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap
  4. Place bowl of dough in the warmed oven for an hour
  5. Remove, punch down and divide into two balls—this is enough for two 12-14 inch pizzas. You can freeze one for later if you want.

Step Four: Roll, Top and Bake

  1. Heat oven to 550 or to its highest temperature, and if you have one, place pizza stone inside.
  2. Sprinkle a light dusting of Semolina flour on a wooden pizza peel or in a pizza pan.
  3. Lightly dust your hands with flour
  4. Take on ball of dough and flatten it between your hands to make large disk.
  5. Place the disc of dough onto peel or pan and using a rolling pin, flatten it to the size and thickness you prefer. Pizza doesn’t have to be round—it can be any shape!
  6. Drizzle the surface of the flattened dough with olive oil and spread with a pastry brush to completely coat
  7. Arrange tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (keep cheese about 1 inch away from edges)
  8. Scatter basil over the top, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper
  9. Slide pie from peel directly onto hot stone or simply put the pizza pan in the hot oven.
  10. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned.
  11. Remove from oven, let rest for 1-2 minutes, slice and serve.

Buon appetito!

By: Gracie Cavnar