Special equipment: One 12-inch round pizza pan
Place the flour and salt in a 2-quart mixing bowl and stir well to mix; make a well in the center.
Measure the water and pour it into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the water and leave it to soften 3 or 4 minutes. Whisk the yeast and water together then whisk in 1 tablespoon of the oil.
Pour the liquid mixture to the well into the flour and stir with a rubber spatula to form a soft, sticky dough. Turn the dough out on a floured work surface. Knead the dough gently, folding it over on itself, and scraping it off the surface with a spatula or plastic scraper if it is very sticky. Avoid adding more flour to the dough -- that will produce a tough pizza. Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and no longer so sticky.
Rinse and dry the bowl. Spread 1 tablespoon oil all around the inside of the bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Turn the ball upside down, so that the top surface of the dough is oiled, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise at room temperature about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. For advance preparation, cover and refrigerate the dough several hours or even overnight.
To form the pizza crust, generously flour the work surface. Flour your hand and scrape the dough from the bowl in one piece, without stretching or folding it. Place the dough on the floured work surface so that what was on top in the bowl is now underneath.
Scatter a tablespoon or so of flour over the dough and press down on it with the palm of the hand. Be careful to keep the dough an even disk shape. If the dough is freshly made, it may resist slightly. Should that happen, cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for about 5 minutes, then resume the process. If the dough has been rested for a long time either in the refrigerator or at room temperature, it will respond easily.
Form your right hand into a fist and begin to press the dough in a circle, about 1/2-inch in from the edge of the dough, with the middle joints of your fingers (as though knocking on a door). Pull gently with your other hand on the edge of the dough, opposite where the dough is being pressed. Continue around the crust two or three times in this manner to flatten and widen it. For a rectangular crust, press and pull the dough into a rectangular shape -- use a rolling pin of the dough resists. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil onto a round or rectangular pizza pan and spread it with the palm of one hand. Fold the crust in half and transfer it to the oiled pan. Unfold the dough and press it into place in the pan with the palms of both hands, gently stretching from the center outward. If the dough resists, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for about 5 minutes, then resume the process.
When the dough is properly stretched, it should be about 1/8-inch thick and have a 1/2-inch wide border which is slightly thicker.
Set racks at the lowest and highest levels of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
Top the pizza with any of the suggestions that follow the recipe. Bake the pizza on the bottom rack of the oven for about 30 minutes. After about 10 minutes, lift an end of the pizza with a metal spatula to check that the bottom is not burning. If the bottom is coloring too quickly, slide another pan under the first one. If the bottom is light golden, check again after another 10 minutes. When the pizza is done, the top should be sizzling gently, and the bottom a dark brown. If the top has not colored sufficiently when the bottom is done, place pizza on top rack of the oven for an additional 5 minutes
Pizza Margherita: This pizza was invented in 1889 by Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito and named for Queen Margherita of Italy. The pizza echoes the colors of the flag of the newly united Italy: red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella), and green (basil). It is perfect in summer when fresh perfectly ripe tomatoes and basil are in season. If you use fresh tomatoes, you will need about 1 pound, perfectly ripe, either round or plum. Plunge them into boiling water for half a minute, remove and peel them. Halve the tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds, then chop and drain the pulp. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil on the dough before adding the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle the pizza with 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella. Variations: Pizza Nuda: This is really a focaccia, but it is made with the crust for Pizza Napoletana. Bake the pizza crust with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt. The result will be thin and delicate, somewhat like a flour tortilla in flavor and texture. More Pizza Toppings: Though I am partial to a typically Italian tomato and mozzarella pizza topping, there are many alternatives. The following should inspire you on to create your own favorite pizzas, either the thick- or thin-crusted variety. Remember though: too much of any topping makes for a wet and soggy pizza, no matter how long it is baked. For numbers 4 and 5, spread the toppings on the completely baked or grilled crust. 1: 2 cups coarsely grated assorted cheeses, such as Gruyere, Fontina, Gorgonzola or Roquefort (crumbled), and Parmesan, plus a drizzle of 2 tablespoons olive oil. 2: 2 cups roasted peppers cut into thin strips, plus a drizzle of 2 tablespoons olive oil, a peeled and thinly sliced clove of garlic, and a sprinkling of 1 or 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan. 3: Substitute 1 cup of crumbled mild goat cheese for the Parmesan with the roasted peppers, above. 4: Spread the crust with 1 cup ricotta seasoned with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of crumbled dried oregano. Top with 4 ounces shredded prosciutto. 5: Top the completely baked crust with thinly sliced smoked salmon. Cover with dabs of creme fraiche, ground pepper, chopped onion, and capers. Tips: 1. Make and partially bake several crusts. Wrap well and freeze; then grill as needed. The crusts don't even need to be defrosted before grilling. 2. Make pizza dough the day before and store tightly covered in the refrigerator. The chilled dough will stretch or roll out even more easily. 3. For a pizza party, make a number of crusts in advance, then prepare bowls of toppings so guests can create their own topping combinations.
Storage: Serve immediately. If the pizza has to wait, the crust may become soggy and reheating may make it hard rather than crisp. Hints for Success: Be sure that the oven has preheated sufficiently before putting in the pizza. A pizza with an underdone crust is very unappetizing
VARIATION: GRILLED PIZZA: Grilled pizza is one of the most popular items at Al Forno, Johanne Killeen and George Germon's charming restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. In their book Cucina Simpatica, (HarperCollins, 1991) they give detailed instructions for preparing pizza their way. My method is simplified using a partially baked pizza crust on a covered charcoal or gas grill. To grill any of the thick- or thin-crusted pizzas in this chapter, allow the dough to rise in the pan and bake it on the middle rack of a preheated 450 degree oven, without the toppings, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is set and no longer sticky. Brush oil on the surface of the dough and immediately turn it out of the pan onto a preheated grill. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until well colored. Turn dough back over on grill and quickly place toppings on already-grilled side. Cover with a tent of foil or the lid of the grill and cook 5 minutes longer. Serve immediately
If you double this recipe to make two pizzas, do not double the quantity of yeast.