Today’s mail delivery brought a pleasant surprise―a missive which left me feeling jubilant like a child who receives their first-ever letter. I heard from my lovely friend Dana Commandatore of Los Angeles. An East coast native, her Italian heritage has roots in Naples and Sicily, but this all-American wife, mother and advocate holds her own as a EVP at a major national advertising firm, and in the kitchen. She cofounded Rethinking Autism with her husband, actor Michael Broderick, has written thought-provoking pieces for publications like Breitbart.com, and is one-half of the dynamic duo Tomboys, a popular radio show with Leeann Tweeden.
Dana’s passion for food and entertaining is infectious. She’s graciously shared her recipe for pizza, and I’m elated to share it with you. So without further ado, I present today’s Guest Postcard.
Entertaining by Dana Commandatore
Some folks sweat over it, others make do. Me? I thrive on it. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than to have some friends over and make our homemade pizza in our wood-burning oven. Over the pasts few years, I have dumped a lot of time, energy, and income into perfecting my pizza and I have loved every minute of it. It is something my husband and I do together. He makes the fire and I make the food. You can’t get more primitive than that.
Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to make good pizza in California especially when you get water flown in from New York City. One of my dearest friends is a pilot that fills sports bottles with NYC tap water each trip and brings them back for me to make dough. There is something in the water that makes the outside of the crust more crunchy and inside more fluffy. You will hear many folks talk about the science of dough. I’m not a scientist, nor am I a chef for that matter. I just like—no, scratch that—love to cook.
My dough requires 48-hour advance notice. Sounds like a lot of work, but it really is just planning. Most of the time, it just sits there doing nothing but becoming delicious.
Once I whisk the flour, salt and yeast in a medium bowl, I use a wooden spoon to slowly mix in the water. I then use my hands to pull it all together, careful not to over mix the dough. The less you play with it, the better.
Next, I form it into a rough ball and drop it into a larger bowl lined with olive oil. I pour about a half dollar sized puddle in the bottom of the bowl and use a paper towel to wipe the olive oil around the entire bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature in a draft-free area.
After about 40 hours, it will have more than doubled. At this point, I flour my hands and punch the dough down Using a kitchen scale, I measure out dough balls weighing around 250-275 grams each. I typically get 8 dough balls out of this recipe. I transfer each one to an aluminum tin (lightly lined with olive oil) with a plastic lid and let them sit for the last 8 hours. You can put them in the refrigerator if you like but make sure you take them out at least an hour before you begin making pizza.
Now it is time to make the tomato sauce for your pizza. There is no cooking required. The sauce will cook while the pizza is in the oven. The key: good tomatoes and enough salt. I use San Marzano plum tomatoes from Italy. Look for “product of Italy” on the can. Avoid any tomatoes that say “San Marzano Style”.The “style” is the dead giveaway that they are not as good.
This is where the man stuff comes in. At some point during the day, my husband will chop up the almond wood. Almond is the best for pizza ovens as it burns cleaner than other woods, reducing soot substantially. About 1 1/2 hours before the guests arrive, he sets up an elaborate pyramid of twigs, sticks and logs and lights it on fire.
After about 70-90 minutes, he’s got the temperature up to around 900° F. At this point he will scrape out most of the coals (keeping some in the rear of the oven) and brush down the surface to prepare the bricks for making pizza. At this point, he will let the oven cool for 20 minutes or so. Once you start cooking your pizzas, the most important thing to remember will be to keep a good flame going in the rear of the oven that curls up the back to the ceiling. This ensures the top of the pizza cooks as quickly as the bottom.
While he is prepping the oven, I will begin to fry sausage and break it up into small pieces, chop red onion, slice pepperoni, break up vinegar peppers, and slice the mozzarella. One of my favorite tricks is fresh arugula for topping the pizza after it has been cooked, right before you slice it. It is also how I get away with not serving any salad.
Once the guests arrive and the oven has fallen to about 750-800° F, the pizza making begins. Each pie is made to order and done in about 3-4 minutes. I try to make sure I always have some good wine and it helps when one of your friends sends you an entire case of Edict wines. Can’t think of a better pairing with pizza.
For dessert, I always serve homemade chocolate chip cookies that I put on the pizza peel and reheat in the wood-burning oven. And to top off the meal, I offer my guests an espresso with frothed cream.
Living in Southern California has its advantages. Even though it sometimes gets a bit brisk, we can sit outside in every season and enjoy the warmth of the oven and the pleasure of good company.
Is that not one of the most delectable-looking pizzas ever? And then to follow it up with homemade chocolate chip cookies re-warmed in the wood-burning oven…it makes me swoon.
Dear Dana, it has brought such joy to share your work here. I’m grateful for your generosity and I thank you for this installment of Guest Postcard!