My Pizza Napoletana Project


I’ve finally started the work of perfecting my own, Naples-style Margherita pizza. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s getting good.

We lived around the corner from Motorino when we lived in New York–which, if you live there, I think you might agree is near perfection (okay, obviously this can lead to a heated debate among New Yorkers but I’m going to go out on a limb and call it the best pizza in the city). Suffice to say: we miss it. I’ve been talking about learning to recreate it for years, but it took the move across the country to help me get serious.

The biggest challenge to getting a homemade Neapolitan pizza to taste as good as one you’ll get in a restaurant is oven temperature: a nearly 1000-degree wood-burning oven turns out a crust that’s tender and pocketed on the inside and charred on the outside in about a minute. The home oven tops at 550-degrees. You can never get that char without drying out your pizza or overcooking the cheese. (As you can see, I’ve yet to get the perfect degree of char, but I’m getting closer!)

For help, I read through multiple posts on the Serious Eats blog, Slice. Their column, The Pizza Lab, is pretty brilliant–and the comments from the pizza-obsessed are fun to read through.

To get the dough right, they recommended a simple combination of high-protein flour, water, salt, and yeast. I went with the classic, extra-fine tipo “OO” Italian flour, but bread flour should do. Here’s the entire recipe. I followed their instructions carefully–including giving the dough a “long ferment” period in the fridge to help with stretch and flavor, but I have a suspicion you could do pretty well with day-of dough, too.

I promise you, making your own dough is simple. Stretching it out without getting any holes… transferring it from a peel to a pan without it sticking and shrinking… these are the more serious challenges. But making the dough? Easy.

In the past, I’ve had a lot of success with pre-cooking my crust on a pre-heated pizza stone, and then adding toppings. I actually still would recommend this method for the less-picky. It’s a great way to get a crispy crust with fresh-tasting ingredients. But this time I added my toppings to an uncooked crust.

I scoured the Slice site for some secret tomato sauce recipe. How do you get that slightly sweet tomato flavor like the one at Motorino? Turns out the secret is doing virtually nothing: open a can of San Marzano tomatoes. Strain and puree. Add salt. That’s it!

For the cheese, I sourced real, imported Buffala Mozzerella. But if you can’t find that, you just want to get the softest, freshest, whole-milk Mozzarella you can find. I’m still working on the right cut because nothing is worse (in my opinion) than when fresh mozzarella is overcooked to the point of becoming rubbery (and there are so many pizzas with rubbery cheese, right?!) I think I need to cut mine a bit thicker next time to guard against this if I want to leave the pizza in longer.

For all of the tricks to replicating that super-hot, wood-burning oven, I have to turn you again to Slice and The Pizza Lab. Here’s a post on their skillet-broiler method, which I think sounds the best and which I was all ready to try until I read their raving review of The Baking Steel (an alternative to a pizza stone), and convinced Aron to order me one as a present.

As a result, I went with the “Baking Steel-broiler method,” preheating the steel to 500-degrees and then switching to the broiler when it was time to put the pizza in. I ran into some challenges: First, the temperature in the oven got too high and the broiler turned off as a precaution. They suggested inserting a metal spoon to prop the door, which I’ve yet to try but will. In the meantime, I was able to get most of the cooking done with the bake setting before switching on the broiler, but I did find that the longer time this took meant that my cheese was prone to overcooking. So I’m still fine-tuning this part.

BUT perfect char or not?  It was delicious. And the inside was so tender and pillowy! Oh, and don’t forget to finish it with olive oil. That is the restaurant trick that really elevates a hot pizza.

It was, (totally going to toot my own horn here), the best Naples-style pizza we’ve had since leaving New York (not counting this). It was so good that–kid you not–Hudson took a bite of Aron’s and then leaned in to give Aron a big kiss. Mwah!

P.S. If anyone tries this at home, tell me how you do at getting the bake/broiler step just right.‘

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Let’s Discuss

  1. this is incredible! i have near-nightly yearnings for motorino’s brussels sprout pie and i admit to always being disappointed by homemade pizzas. perfect inspiration to give things another whirl.

  2. Ashley, I just read every word of this and am seriously considering doing it. There is NO good pizza really close by us and I want it like I had it in Italy–like the picture of yours! I admit though, it seems daunting. I’m seriously impressed by yours.

  3. Yum! This looks wonderful. I have an Italian friend who is such a food purist (as I’m sure most Italians are) and she makes the best pizza ever. I’ll have to make this for her one day and see if it’s authentic enough for her tastes. I’ll let you know!

  4. oh if only we had known that! i’m from suburban new jersey, and last summer my parents, sister and i traveled to lake como, italy where we had the best pizza we have ever tasted. my dad loved it so much he put a pizza oven in our back yard. no joke. it find it hysterical, but the pizza is incredible.

  5. Ashley, you happen to have hit upon one of my family’s obsessions: we take our homemade pizza very seriously. In our experience, our grill recreates the pizza oven experience better than our oven (though now that we own a home, we’re seriously considering putting a stone oven in the backyard). We preheat our pizza stone on the grill, slide the completely unbaked pizza onto it, and it’s perfectly cooked in just a few minutes. There’s a little trial and error to figuring out how to best slide your unbaked pizza off the peel, but a good dusting of cornmeal is the best starting place. The good news is that with the right ingredients, even your least successful attempts at homemade pizza are still pretty delicious.

    I hope we can catch up the next time you’re in SF!

  6. Raj

    Definitely have to try this. Sure am missing NYC pizza! Try out Hoi Italian in downtown Sac. They make a darn good margarita pizza.

  7. Yummmmm!!! I have been missing Italy the past few weeks, in part, because of the pizza and the food, as a whole! This looks fantastic! And how cute is your little one?

  8. I just moved back to Boston from the Bay Area, and my best friend here was the national editor of Slice up until last week. I read it obsessively! Some of the writers live in Boston as well, and I am fortunate enough to reap the benefits of their homemade pizzas (almost always better than the local restaurant editions). But there is still nothing like a perfect New York pizza.

    Good for you for giving it a go at home. Your pizza looks delicious, and your kiddo looks happy!

  9. Um, I am so impressed. The amount of research alone that went into this pizza is admirable…not to mention the finished product looks really spot on for your first try!

  10. Ciao Ashley!
    Your pizza looks delicious and I’m sure it was… :)
    I can give you one more tip, maybe you don’t know this: when you add olive oil on your pizza or on your pasta al pomodoro you should leave the oil the fridge for few minutes (For ex. I use to put it in there until the pasta gets ready!). This little tip makes the sauce reach a delicious level of taste.. :)
    Let me know if you try it! xo