Take the dough out of the refrigerator, set it on a lightly oiled work surface, and divide into 4 equal pieces of about 7 oz. each. Roll each piece into a tight ball. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lightly oil it with olive oil or cooking spray. Set each ball at least an inch apart on the parchment. Lightly spray or brush the balls with olive oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough warm up and relax at room temperature for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
If you have a baking stone, put it on the middle rack of the oven. If not, set a rimmed baking sheet upside down on the middle rack to serve as a baking platform. Heat the oven (regular or convection) to its highest setting. Fill a small bowl with bread flour or semolina, and dust a 12-inch-square area of a clean work surface with a generous amount. Prepare a peel for transferring the pizzas to the oven by dusting the peel with bread flour or semolina. (If you don’t have a peel, use a rimless cookie sheet or the back of a rimmed baking sheet, also dusted with flour.)
Shape the dough:
With floured hands, transfer one of the dough balls to the floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and gently press it with your fingertips into a round disk—you’re trying to merely spread the dough, not squeeze all the gas from it. With floured hands, carefully lift the disk of dough and rest it on the back of your hands and knuckles. Using the tips of your thumbs, stretch the outer edge as you slowly rotate the dough until it is 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The edge should be the only place where you exert any pressure. If necessary, let the dough hang off one of your hands so that gravity provides some of the stretch. Despite the pressure on the edge, it will remain thicker than the inner section of the dough, which should be nearly paper thin. Don’t pull the dough forcefully into a circular shape or it will stretch from the center and possibly rip. If the dough begins to resist and keeps shrinking back into a smaller circle, lay it on the floured work surface and let it rest for about 2 minutes. While it is resting you can begin to stretch and shape another dough ball. Return later to the first dough and finish shaping it.
Top the pizza:
Lay the shaped pizza dough on the floured peel and top it with 1/4 cup of sauce, leaving 1/2 inch of the outer rim sauce free. Distribute one fourth of the cheese evenly over the sauce.
Bake the pizza:
Carefully slide the pizza onto the baking stone using a jerking motion to get it to slide. If it sticks to the peel, carefully lift the stuck section and toss a little flour under it. Bake until the edge is puffy and brown with a slight char and the underside is brown and fairly crisp, 5 to 7 minutes (the hotter the oven, the faster and better it will cook). Rotate it after 3 minutes for even browning. Remove the pizza from the oven with either the peel or a long metal spatula and put it on a cutting board. Scatter one fourth of the basil leaves over the pizza and let it rest for 1 to 2 minutes before serving. While the first pizza is cooking, shape and top the remaining pizzas.
Smoked Cheese Pizza (Pizza Pugliese): Make as you would a Margherita pizza but substitute smoked mozzarella or smoked Gouda for half of the fresh or low-moisture mozzarella. (Don’t use the smoked cheese exclusively, as it will overpower the other toppings.)
Better than Pepperoni Pizza: You can certainly use pepperoni, which is really just an Americanized version of a spicy Italian Calabrese-style salume. But there are a number of excellent Italian cured salami products, including the always popular Genoa salami and various types of garlic and cayenne versions. For these quick-cooking pizzas, use about the same amount of tomato sauce and cheese as in the Margherita but add about 1/4 cup meat. I like to crisp the meat in a dry sauté pan or in the oven first, and then put it under the cheese to keep it from burning.
If you decide not to make all the pizzas, bake any remaining shaped dough as untopped pizza, brushed with olive or garlic oil prior to baking, and serve or save as flatbread.
nutrition information (per serving):
Photo: Scott Phillips