Pizza Margherita

A simple classic that never gets old. (Los Angeles Times/Jay L. Clendenin)

This versatile dish works great as an appetizer or a main meal. The sauce is also good for dipping and can be quickly simmered for use over pasta.

Total time: 35 minutes, plus heating time for the oven Servings: makes 2 (10- to 12-inch) pizzas, about 12 slices

Note: The tomato sauce recipe makes 3 cups sauce, a little more than is needed for two pizzas. The remainder can be covered and refrigerated for up to one week. The dough makes enough for four pizzas. Leftover dough can be stored in the freezer in a tightly sealed bag for up to 1 month.

Basic tomato sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons pitted and chopped kalamata olives, from about 10 whole
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Salt

Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor or a blender and add the basil, oregano, garlic, olives and pepper. Pulse the sauce until thoroughly combined and smooth. Taste the sauce and season as needed (canned tomatoes will vary widely in sodium content, resulting in some sauces that require less salt than others). Remove the sauce to a bowl, lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. This makes about 3 cups tomato sauce.

Basic pizza dough:
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar or honey
4 cups (19 ounces) bread flour, divided, plus more for kneading
1 package active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the water with the sugar and 2 teaspoons flour. Whisk in the yeast. Set aside until the yeast begins to foam or bubble, about 10 minutes. (If the yeast fails to bubble, discard the mixture and start over.) Meanwhile, whisk the salt into the remaining flour until evenly combined.

2. When the yeast is bubbly, stir in the oil using a fork. Begin adding the flour mixture, a cup at a time, stirring until combined. As more flour is added, it may become tough to stir the dough with the fork. Continue incorporating the flour with your hands, gently kneading it into the dough while still in the bowl. When all the flour is added, turn the dough out onto a well-floured board.

3. Knead the dough just until it comes together in a smooth, supple mass, 7 to 10 minutes. Flour the dough and board as needed to enable kneading, but do not over-flour the dough or it will be tough; the dough should be very moist and somewhat sticky throughout (the high moisture content will keep the crust from drying out when baked).

4. Clean and lightly oil the mixing bowl. Place the dough back in the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (this slows the proofing process to allow the flavors to develop).

5. About 2 hours before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator, punch it down and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on a greased baking sheet. Lightly oil the top of each ball and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Set aside until almost doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.

6. Lightly flour each ball of dough to keep it from sticking. Gently stretch each ball into a flat disk, working from the center of the dough outward, then stretching the outer crust to widen the disk. If the dough springs back, set it aside to rest on a floured surface and move to the next ball. Continue to stretch until each disk is 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

7. Place each disk on a well-floured pizza peel or flat baking sheet before assembling to prevent the pizza from sticking before it is moved to the oven. Assemble the pizzas and bake.

Pizza assembly:
2 prepared pizza dough disks
1/2 cup basic tomato sauce, divided
1 cup grated low-moisture mozzarella cheese, divided, plus more if desired
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided, plus more if desired

1. Prepare the oven, setting the temperature as high as it will go (most ovens will reach 500 to 550 degrees). It's best to start heating the oven at least 45 minutes before you plan to start baking.

2. Place one pizza disk on a peel sprinkled with extra flour or cornmeal to prevent sticking. Spread one-fourth cup sauce over the pizza, then sprinkle one-half cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons Parmesan evenly over the sauce.

3. Slide the first pizza into the oven. The pizza will be done when the crust is puffed and rich golden-brown in color, the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling gently, from 6 to 12 minutes, depending on how your oven is set up (the hotter the oven, the shorter the time).

Remove the first pizza and cool for a minute or two to set up for cleaner slicing, or set aside in a warm place until the second pizza is baked.

4. Allow the oven to reheat while you assemble the second pizza. Bake the second pizza and serve immediately.

Nutrition information:
Each slice: 137 calories; 6 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 5 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 9 mg. cholesterol; 310 mg. sodium.