Zach Swemle's Margherita Pizza

"Less is more on the Margherita." From the crispy outer crust to quality tomatoes, Chef-owner Zach Swemle of La Morra Pizzeria shares his secret to perfecting a classic Margherita.


  • For the pizza dough:
  • 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water (90 to 100 degrees)
  • 4 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • For the sauce:
  • 1 (15-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • For the toppings:
  • 1 pint mozzarella in water, diced to 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 tray fresh basil, picked
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil, the best you can find


  1. Prepare the dough: With a fork, mix together yeast and water. Set aside and allow to dissolve for about 10 to 15 minutes, until bubbly.
  2. While yeast is activating, set up stand mixer with dough hook attachment.
  3. Add flour and salt to the stand mixer bowl. On slow speed, slowly add water/yeast mixture and set a timer for 10 minutes. The dough should be completely smooth when done.
  4. Allow dough to rest 1 hour in stand mixer covered with plastic wrap. After 1 hour, mix the dough for 1 more minute on low speed
  5. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. With a kitchen knife or bench scraper, cut dough into 4 equal-sized portions.
  6. With each ball, fold dough into itself, then place back onto work surface. With both hands cupped together roll balls until tight and smooth. Allow balls to rest for 1 hour.
  7. Place balls on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 20 hours and up to 3 days.
  8. Prepare the sauce: Combine all ingredients and blitz with an immersion blender. Do not blend too much, just enough to break things up a bit.
  9. Assemble and cook: One hour prior to making pizza, remove dough from refrigerator. Thirty minutes prior to cooking, preheat oven to 500 degrees (as hot as it goes) with an upside down cast-iron pan on the middle oven rack.
  10. Lightly flour a work surface, unwrap plastic from baking sheet and lightly flour tops of dough balls.
  11. With a (new, unused) paint scraper or metal spatula, gently remove one dough ball from the baking sheet, trying to keep it as round as possible, and place it on the floured work surface.
  12. Working from the center of the dough, gently push air out to the crust, forming a 3/4-inch (untouched) ring around the outer edge of the dough.
  13. Pick up dough in your fingertips and allow gravity to do its thing. Resting the 3/4-inch ring in your fingertips, slowly shuffle dough from hand to hand until it reaches about 10 inches, adding flour as needed to avoid sticking.
  14. Lightly flour either a wooden pizza peel or the bottom side of a baking sheet and place pizza dough on it. Always be sure to keep the top of the dough as it was proofed the top of the dough when it’s baked.
  15. Spoon about 1/3 cup tomato sauce onto the middle of the dough. Using the back of the spoon, swirl the sauce until it comes to about 3/4 inch from the edge. Add 8 to 10 pieces of mozzarella. Add the basil, tossing 4 to 5 leaves onto the crust. Add a good pinch of salt and drizzle with olive oil.
  16. Turn oven from bake to broil.
  17. Gradually and gently shake the pizza peel or baking sheet, so the pizza slowly works its way onto the backside of the cast-iron pan.
  18. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, until crust is slightly charred and blistered. Enjoy!