Heirloom Tomatoes elevate a Pizza Margherita

If applying the traditional definition of the noun ‘heirloom’: “a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations” to fruits and vegetables, the emphasis, I feel, should be placed on the word “valuable.” One thing I know for sure, there are tomatoes … and then there are certain heirloom varieties that redefine the very nature of tomatoes.

It was while living in Virginia, the place where I first started vegetable gardening, that I became familiar with heirloom tomatoes. I discovered then, after experimenting and comparing heirlooms with hybrid tomatoes that, though at times some weren’t as consistent in yield and flavor as, say, the big-tasting, big-yielding Big Boy, there were a few varieties that made any comparison redundant. Take Black Sea Man, for instance, an heirloom tomato patterned in army camouflage (not surprising as its origin is Russian) that we sometimes pick off the vine and eat as if it was an apple. I have never before tasted such flavor and sweetness.

Heirloom tomatoes from the garden.

Then there’s the bigger issue of seed-saving about which I wrote here a few weeks ago. While you can’t save hybridized seeds, conscious gardeners have a responsibility to plant heirloom seeds so age-old varieties don’t die out. No one puts it in better perspective than Barbara Kingsolver in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle“You can’t save the whales by eating whales, but paradoxically, you can help save rare, domesticated foods by eating them. They’re kept alive by gardeners who have a taste for them, and farmers who know they’ll be able to sell them. The consumer becomes a link in this conservation chain by seeking out the places where heirloom vegetables are sold, taking them home, whacking them up with knives, and learning to incorporate their exceptional tastes into personal and family expectations.” … After which you save the seeds and plant them out again the following season.

Lots and lots of fresh basil, used in the kitchen and as companion plants.

When Chris lived in the Shawan Valley in Maryland he, too, grew a sizable patch of tomatoes. Earlier today, he reminded me of a song that was a number one hit the summer he first started tending his garden: Homegrown Tomatoes sung by Guy Clark. When walking past the garden up to the house after work he’ll often start singing this song, repeating over and over the only two lines he remembers: “There’s only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomaters … homegrown tomaters, homegrown tomaters …”

In honor of true love and homegrown tomatoes, here’s a complete version of the song:


Full disclosure: the pizza in this recipe is the first I’ve ever made from scratch. I’ve always wanted to make one but for some reason — and I have no idea why — I kept pushing pizza into the same classification as I do lasagna, spag bog, or shepherd’s pie: food to feed the hordes, the hungover, or the nursery. I’ve often ordered pizza in Italian restaurants, mostly after a big night out (unequaled as a hangover cure), but having now made my own I realize I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Rolling out the dough to as thin a crust as possible.

According to Sarah Raven, one of my go-to cookbook authors, “the secret to a good pizza is a crisp, wafter-thin base, and the keys to that are in the dough recipe and in rolling it very thinly.” While I used her dough recipe for this, my first ever, pizza, Chris and I don’t agree that the base should be wafer-thin. We both like to bite into a little bit of crust so we rolled ours normal-thin. I then used the tomato sauce recipe about which I blogged last year (click here for the post) to put on top of the base.

The toppings: tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella.

Pizza Margherita with Heirloom Tomatoes

Yield – 2 medium-sized pizzas

Ingredients:

Pizza base – adapted from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook

  • 300 grams/10.5 ounces strong white flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • About 300mls/1 1/2 cups tepid water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Vegetable oil for greasing the baking sheet


Tomato sauce
(find the recipe here)

Topping

  • About 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • Enough heirloom tomatoes to cover the base of the pizzas, sliced whole across the fruit
  • 200 grams/7 ounces mozzarella cheese, half grated and half cut into 1/4-inch thick wheels
  • Large handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 

The pizza before going in the oven.

Method:

  1. Mix together the flour and salt and sift into a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in a cup with the warm water, olive oil, and sugar, and leave to froth.
  2. Mix the yeast in with the flour. If your mixture is too dry, add a little more water. A moist, sticky dough makes a light pizza base with a crisp crust, so don’t be put off by the mess. When the dough is well-mixed, cover and let it to rest until doubled in size. (In my outdoor kitchen it took about an hour because of our hot climate.)
  3. Heat the oven to its highest temperature.
  4. To make the bases divide the dough in half, mold each piece into a ball and place on top a floured surface. Roll out each one to the thickness you prefer and then transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet (I used a silplat).
  5. Spread a thin coating of tomato sauce on top of each base, and then sprinkle with the grated mozzarella cheese.
  6. Neatly layer the heirloom tomato slices on top, along with the rounds of mozzarella. Sprinkle with fresh basil, and then season with salt and pepper.
  7. Place the pizzas in the oven on the middle rack, and cook until the cheese has melted and the bases are brown and crispy around the edges, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the strength of the oven.

 

Pizza Margherita with Heirloom Tomatoes & Basil.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.

22 Comments

  • that is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen…. please ask us over and make it for us….. love Barbara xx… we around after 20th when I come to pick up the puppy….

    Reply
    • You know you are welcome anytime! We can’t wait to see you on your return. We’re off to Zanzibar tomorrow for five days. We’ll have lots to catch up on … xo

      Reply
  • I love pizza and have been making them from scratch for at least 30 years. We have a Big Green Egg these days and as a result eat too much pizza! Plus an over kill of tomatoes this summer so lots of tomato sauces, gazpacho etc.
    Your gorgeous photos of your pizzas has just tripped my brain into thinking it is pizza night again!
    We have all the ingredients so here’s to you Annabel for pizza later on! And if I can get a pineapple then your dessert with Dulce de leche to follow!
    You are not helping the waist line.

    Reply
    • What a lovely thought to know that you are making pizza AND the Coconut Dulce de Leche all the way over in Spain! Thank you so much for your kind comment, and for your support and interest. All the best to you, Annabel

      Reply
  • I just made a Pizza Margherita with our home-grown heirloom tomatoes and basil! But I used a prepared pizza dough. The dough was the only mild disappointment–so, I’m going to try out your dough recipe next time. We grilled ours on a pizza stone over fire–worked great.

    Reply
    • Pizza Margherita is just the best … especially when you have your own homegrown tomatoes. I am sure it was absolutely delicious cooked over a fire. There are so many power cuts here in Zambia right now that I’m pretty sure I’ll be cooking over a fire for the foreseeable future. Nice to know it works!

      Reply
  • Reblogged this on braindamagedblonde and commented:
    Very very lovely idea – we have some hairloom tomatoes but I’m generally too mean to do much more than heat and eat them as is….

    Reply
    • Hello there … thank you for stopping by SavannaBel, and I so appreciate you reblogging my post! Really, it doesn’t matter which way you eat heirloom tomatoes … they are always good! All the best to you, Annabel

      Reply
  • Love, love,love ! The song, and the yummy looking pizza! Have a blast in Zanzibar – be sure to visit Emerson Green in Stone Town, and load your suitcase up with Zanzibar’s spices 🙂 xox

    Reply
    • Thank you, dear Bridgey! I agree, the song is wonderful! Thanks for the tips on Zanzibar … we’re kind of going in cold to see what happens, so a hint here and there is most helpful! 🙂 xoxo

      Reply
  • Oh my oh my oh my….. Mouth-wateringly beautiful! Congratulations on another new culinary success! Xoxo

    Reply
    • Thank you, dear Jen … it’s easy when you have a big ingredient that carries the smaller ones to a higher level! Lots of love to you … xo

      Reply
  • I think actually that food tastes are gravitating backto really well made, comfort foods. So all those much adulterted recipies are being redisovered and made again but with a contemporary twist. This pizza looks wonderful, am i brave enough to make it. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind comment, Margie. Yes, I agree with you. I do believe there is more awareness about ‘real’ food that, although simple, is crafted around flavor and seasonality, as opposed to speed and convenience. And yay for that is all I can say! This pizza is SO easy. Do give it a go … and please let me know how it pans out.

      Reply
  • My experience of all tomatoes here in the UK where I live (Derbyshire) is that they are all totally tasteless and hard.

    Reply
    • When you’ve grown your own, dendymactoodle, you never want to eat another grocery store tomato again, in my view. I couldn’t believe the difference in taste when I started vegetable gardening!

      Reply
  • On the seafront in Naples shortly there is to be a pizza showdown to find the greatest pizzaiolo … there the pizza base is airy thin crust that somehow gives you plenty to chew 🙂 Time for a visit?

    Reply
    • Thanks, Georgie! I was hoping you would throw me some wisdom from the pizza capital. That sounds just about perfect!

      Reply
  • A pizza doesn’t get much prettier than this! Although personally, if I am going to indulge myself I do prefer a thicker crust… but that’s just personal preference! Beautiful tomatoes!

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind comment, chef mimi!

      Reply
  • Beautifully written and photographed! I heard that song for the first time while living in North Carolina. I had a windowsill full of homegrown tomatoes just harvested from my backyard garden and that song started playing. It was as if for a brief moment, all was right with the world. 🙂 Thank you for bringing that memory back for me.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your really lovely comment! It’s a great song, isn’t it? (Even if it does get stuck in your brain for days!) All the best to you, Annabel

      Reply

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