Wood-Fired Pizza with Dana Commandatore

Guest Postcard from Dana Commandatore & FamilyL to R: Michelangelo, Michael and Dana

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. I would really like to try making a pizza using one of the pizza ovens you might find on Nella Toronto as it would be interesting to see how much more evenly cooked it comes out – plus I just think they’d be a cool thing to own. 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.

Pizza Baking in a Wood Fired Oven

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.


Pizza Dough ready for Proofing

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.


Portioning the proofed Pizza Dough

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.


Expertly stacked Almond Wood for the Pizza Oven by Michael Broderick

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.


Wood-Fired Pizza


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.


Stacks of homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies by Dana Commandatore

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.



Wood-Fired Pizza by Dana Commandatore

Wood-Fired Pizza Recipe by Dana Commandatore

Prep Time: 48 hours

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Yield: Approximately 8 pizzas

Wood-Fired Pizza Recipe by Dana Commandatore

When an authentic New York style pizza recipe meets California al fresco dining, the occasion makes for a memorable gathering shared by family and friends. At your next dinner party, bring on the flavor, and fire up the oven!

For additional tips on Dana's technique, be sure to read the above story.


    Pizza Dough:
  • 7 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour (plus more for shaping)
  • 4 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 3 cups water, room temperature
  • Olive oil
  • Pizza Sauce:
  • 1 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes (San Marzano—see link reference above)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • Your choice of toppings:
  • Consider crumbled, cooked Italian sausage, sliced pepperoni, sliced mozzarella, onion and vinegar peppers on the pizza. Finish with arugula on top after baking.


    For the dough:
  • Whisk the flour, salt and yeast in a medium bowl; use a wooden spoon to slowly mix in the water. With hands, pull the dough together being careful not to over mix—the less you play with it, the better. Form dough into a rough ball; place into a larger bowl coated with olive oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature in a draft-free area.
  • After about 40 hours, the dough will have more than doubled in bulk. Flour hands and punch the dough down. Using a kitchen scale, measure out dough balls weighing around 250-275 grams each. One batch yields about 8 dough balls. Transfer each one to an airtight container (lightly lined with olive oil), cover with its lid and let them sit for the last 8 hours. Dough balls may be refrigerated if you like, but make sure you take them out at least an hour before you begin making pizza.
  • For the sauce: Make 4-5 hours in advance
  • Pulse all ingredients in a blender until just mixed. Store in a container and refrigerate. Take out about an hour before making pizza and bring to room temperature.
  • Assembly and baking:
  • Shape and sauce pizzas in the usual manner; top with your choice of ingredients. With a pizza peel, transfer pizzas to a prepared wood-fired oven (per your oven’s manufacturer directions). Bake at 750-800° F for 3 to 5 minutes. Slice and serve.

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!


  1. Wood fired pizza is the best! I love the char flavor. I love this post, great pictures!

  2. Darn it … now I want to make pizza. Sounds (and looks) amazing, wonder if we could wait 48 hours!

    • Brooks Walker says

      Denise, if you can keep Lenny busy, I think you can wait the 48 hours. Dana put it best regarding the dough, “…it just sits there doing nothing but becoming delicious.” It’s always good to have you here!

  3. Kevin Aldrich says

    Very nicely done, Dana!

  4. Oh, what a wonderful postcard, Brooks. Thanks so much for sharing your friend, and her recipe with us. I am beyond envious of the wood burning stove. Now I’m going to have to find someone from New York who’s willing to carry down bottles of water for me. The pizza looks perfect; just like the kind I enjoy eating. I’m definitely giving this recipe a try. My thanks to Dana.

    • Brooks Walker says

      Thank you, Christiane. I’m going to run the recipe through my kitchen too—the ante on my pizza game has just been upped!

  5. What a wonderful post! I love (you know I’d love this) when she says to make sure to use enough salt! I will have to try making a fresh pizza sauce–I usually cook mine, first. Thanks for sharing your friend Dana (and her pizza) with us, Brooks!

  6. Thanks for letting me do this, Brooks! I have had so much fun recreating your recipes. It is an awesome culinary journey. XoDana

    • Brooks Walker says

      You’re most welcome, Dana. Food truly is the universal language, and you do it so well. Journey on, my friend!

  7. I may not be able to get any NYC water here by Friday to make my dough, but I’m still hoping to add this fantastic pizza to my weekend menu! Thanks, Brooks and Dana, for making my stomach do back flips in anticipation tonight 🙂

    • Brooks Walker says

      You’re quite resourceful, Liz. With or without the NYC water, we’d love to see pics of what you come up with!

  8. Ok, so today I learned something new…Chocolate chip cookies on the pizza peel. I love that idea. Will try ASAP!

    • Brooks Walker says

      I know, right Sheryl? I’ve told Dana her home is on my bucket list of places to dine. I know precisely what I hope is for dessert!

  9. What a gorgeous, mouthwatering pizza. I love the wood fired oven. Brooks, what a great Guest Postcard!

  10. Brooks, I love to make pizza, but alas I must be satisfied with an ordinary gas oven with a maximum temperature of 550. I make my dough three days ahead, but Dana’s two days is probably long enough. I love that she sometimes gets water from New York! Next time my friend from NY goes back to visit her family I’ll have to have her bring me some water — how fun is that?! I love the photo of the wood stacked inside the oven; her husband clearly knows how to build a fire!

    • Brooks Walker says

      I’m with you, Jean. My kitchen oven will have to suffice at 550°F too. But I’m intrigued to test it in a standard oven, as I sense this dough recipe will up my crust game. And you’re right, Micheal knows how to prepare an oven fire. Thank you for visiting!

  11. Great news, Dana’s pizza pizza photo was published on Food Porn Daily. Congratulations Dana!

  12. Have you ever tried to freeze this dough? I would love to make it but I definitely wouldn’t need 8 dough balls at a time.

    • Brooks Walker says

      Hi Katie, I have not tried to freeze this dough, however I don’t see why you couldn’t. I suggest placing the balls in zipper freezer bags, lightly oiled inside with a spritz of non-stick spray. Know that some deflation of the air pockets may occur in handling the dough into a bag and so forth. Transfer a bag/s from freezer to fridge a day or so ahead of use. On baking day, bring the dough ball to room temp a few hours ahead of making the pie. Additionally, please know I have easily, and successfully halved this recipe. It yielded two large, or 4 dinner plate-sized pizzas. Best wishes, and let me know how it turns out if you try freezing the dough.

    • Dana Commandatore says

      I have never had any leftover dough but would love to see what happens when it is frozen. Most people I know freeze dough and it comes out fine. I’m sure this will too. Go for it!

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