I've always considered myself something of an L.A. pizza connoisseur (I've never met a carb I didn't love), so when I heard multiple friends talking about Pizzana, a buzzy new pizzeria in Brentwood, I knew I had to try it. Turns out, the hype was worth it—as soon as I bit into my pizza, my previous long-time L.A. favorite had been dethroned. The crust was perfect—which is hardly a surprise considering Chef Daniele Uditi's background.
Born in Naples, Italy, Chef Daniele comes from a long line of bakers and began working in a pizzeria himself at 12-years-old. When he moved to Los Angeles in 2010, he began making pizza for private parties, which garnered a dedicated following until catching the attention of actor Chris O'Donnell and Sprinkles owner Candace Nelson, who partnered with him to open Pizzana. His pizzas feature a mix of California produce with old-school Italian recipes. A few weeks ago, I shadowed Chef Daniele as he made one of my favorites—his Amatriciana Pizza. Here are his top three tips for upping your pizza game at home, and recipe:
Have you ever noticed that when you make a pizza at home, it takes up the shape of an amoeba (just me?)? According to Chef Daniele, improperly stretching dough is the number one mistake people make when baking pizza at home, but it's easily avoided with a simple technique. It all has to do with the way you push the air pockets out of the dough and stretch it. In the past, once I'd made my dough (don't worry—we've included a recipe at the end!), I'd stretch it by pulling from the edges, but it would bounce back, as if elastic. Instead, put your pizza dough on a heavily floured surface and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Be liberal with the flour, since the dough won't absorb it—it'll fly right off as soon as you toss it.
Then, use the pads of your fingers to outline the crust and push the air out from the center of your dough. This ensures that your pizza will cook evenly, and creates air pockets that will puff-out the crust once it bakes. Once you've done this, hold the circular dough in the palm of your hand and toss it back and forth to the other hand, like a towel, rotating slightly as you go so it doesn't stretch into an oblong shape. You'll notice that it doesn't bounce back, and if you've made a strong dough (which you will if you follow the recipe below), it won't tear. At this point, you'll have a roughly 9-inch round of dough, which you can stretch slightly by pulling at the edges once you've added your toppings.
A perfect crust has a lot to do with how many toppings you add to your pizza. A good rule of thumb is: The less moisture, the better. For a standard 12-inch pizza, you should use 1/2 cup of sauce, at most. And while piling on the cheese sounds like a good idea, the same idea is true here. Use it sparingly and opt for a drier cheese, so instead of using fresh mozzarella, use a store-bought cubed mozzarella since it's often drier.
When it comes to using vegetables as toppings, consider roasting them before adding them to the pizza so that the moisture doesn't sink into the crust, and when using a vegetable with a high water content like tomatoes, use them sparingly. Rather than adding whole cherry tomatoes to pizzas, Chef Daniele cuts them into thin slices, as you would a large tomato, so that more of the water has a chance to evaporate while baking.
Yes, a pepperoni pizza is unequivocally fantastic, but there are so many other ways to add meat to a pizza to up your at-home game. In the recipe below, Chef Daniele adds prosciutto both to the sauce, so that every bite has a briny kick from the meat, and on top for crispy, salty bites. You can also add sausage, though be sure to cut it into small pieces or pre-cook it, or other cured meats which flavor the pizza without the need for additinal salt.
In Naples, pizza is a tradition that Chef Daniele says, many of his friends and family don't believe in messing with. But pizza is the perfect medium to customize, "If you like chicken on your pizza," he says, "who am I to tell you that isn't good?"
Growing up, some of Daniele's favorite dishes were the pastas his mom made, many of which he's translated to pizza, "Pasta is a carb and pizza is a carb, so why not??" he said. While traditional Amatriciana includes Pecorino cheese, tomato, and onion, Chef Daniele adds cream for a "protective layer of fat" to keep the sauce from sliding off the crust, and prosciutto, which reminds him of weekly Sunday ragouts with neighbors in Naples, where meat was cooked until it became fall-off-the-bone tender.
In a large pot, warm the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and prosciutto and let cook over medium heat until the onions soften.
Add the San Marzano tomatoes, lower the heat, and let simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
Reduce the heat and add the heavy cream. Let it cook over low heat for another ten minutes.
Let cool, then blend, using an immersion blender or traditional blender, until smooth and spreadable on a pizza. Set aside the amount you'll need (1/4 cup per pizza), and freeze the rest for up to three months.
Note: Instead of heavy cream, Chef Daniele uses Panna at his restaurant, an Italian cream that's slightly thicker and has more acidity than American heavy cream. Because of its wider availability in the States, Daniele suggests using heavy cream here, but you can purchase Panna on Amazon if you're curious to try it! You can also replace San Marzano tomatoes with any canned tomatoes, but Daniele prefers to use the variety for their unique flavor. They're sweeter than most tomatoes because they're planted in a field where persimmons are grown in other seasons, and have a mineral taste from the volcanic soil where they're from, at the base of Mt. Vesuvius. They're available at most grocery stores, but you can purchase them online here.
In a bowl, mix half of the flour and all the water with a whisk. Add the yeast and keep whisking. When there are no lumps, add salt and the rest of the flour and keep kneading with your hands, folding the dough over itself, until smooth and elastic, for about 15 minutes (you can use a Kitchenaid with a dough hook attachment, but I prefer to do this by hand since the friction from the metal bowl creates warmth and can "cook" the dough).
Let the dough rest in a warm area (around 70° F) for six to ten minutes and mix again to obtain a smooth surface. If you were to cut the dough open (see GIF below), you'd be able to see layers created by the folding, which are what make it strong enough to stretch into a pizza without risk of tearing and create air bubbles for it to puff out while baking (think: like pockets of butter in a pie crust).
Let it rest for one hour and divide the dough into nine-ounce portions (you should have ten to 12 rounds).
Place into a tray and let it proof at room temperature for four to six hours, in a tightly-sealed airtight container (like Tupperware). Either bake or freeze at this point.
Note: The ingredients for the pizza dough above yields roughly ten to 12 pizzas, but we've kept it at such a high yield because the more dough you make at once, the more likely it is to turn out well. But the good news is that you can freeze it! After proofing it, add each portioned round of dough to the freezer, and simply thaw at room temperature before baking. You can also use the dough to bake a ciabatta-like bread. If you do end up halving it, halve all the ingredients, but keep the yeast the same.
Set pizza oven to 700° F. If using a conventional oven, place a pizza stone or metal baking tray on middle rack and turn oven to its highest temperature for a full hour.
While it pre-heats, shape the dough. Flatten a round of dough with your hand, then use your fingers to flatten the center of it, pushing the air bubble out, keeping a perimeter of crust (see GIF, below). It’s important to flatten the dough as much as possible, so it can cook evenly—the crust thickness is completely up to taste.
Flip and repeat, then hold the dough in one hand and toss it back-and-forth between your hands, rotating it slightly with each flip so that it stretches into a circle (if you don't rotate, it will take on a more amoeba-like shape). Once it's thin enough and a roughly 8-inch circle, place it on a flat surface.
Top with sauce, mozzarella, red onion, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Place the pizza on a pizza peel (you can also use a rimless baking sheet) and pull from the crust to stretch-out the edges a few more inches.
If using a pizza oven: Bake in pizza oven for two minutes, using a pizza peel to rotate it to ensure even cooking.
If using a conventional oven: Carefully slide the pizza onto your pre-heated pizza stone or baking sheet, and bake for about four to eight minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble and the crust browns.
Remove from oven, top with proscuitto and basil, and slice before serving.
Looking for more recipe inspiration? Take a look at our past restaurant recipe posts, with Cosa Buona's Pasta Salad, Kismet's Turkish(ish) Breakfast, Jon & Vinny's Little Gem Caesar Salad, and The Ponte's Spaghetti al Pomodoro.