When it comes to making pizza, celebrity chef and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia is second to none. Many recognize Arpaia from her role a head judge on Food Network’s
Iron Chef America and the Next Iron Chef, or from her regular contribution to NBC’s The Today Show, but her roots are as humble as one of her signature dishes: pizza.
“Pizza is a beloved and simple food, but it there is an art to it,” Arpaia said. “Pizza is in my blood.”
As the first-generation daughter of Italian immigrants, Arpaia fondly remembers spending her summers in Italy. The experience shaped her palette, and laid the foundation for her pizza making prowess.
“I have a sense memory of biting into Neapolitan pizza when I visited Italy as a child,” Arpaia recalled. “As every child does, I loved pizza in America, but that memory made an impact on me. After graduating from culinary school, I wanted to recreate it.”
Today, Arpaia is renowned for her slices inspired by Neapolitan tradition, which she serves up at her upscale quick service pizza concept, Prova Pizzabar, in Grand Central Terminal and its recently opened sister location in Moxy NYC Times Square Hotel. Fans can also be on the lookout for her next locale at a soon-to-be announced “iconic” New York site.
In honor of National Pizza Day, which falls on Sunday, Feb. 9, Arpaia is encouraging families to gather in their kitchens for homemade pizza. She shared some all-star tips for the perfect slice at home.
The dough is the canvas. Arpaia signature slices start with artisanally made dough using flour imported from Italy. For homecooks new to making pizza, she suggested heading down to your favorite local pizzeria to pick up raw dough. Premade supermarket dough won’t cut it.
“If you don’t have dough that is chewy and crisp, you don’t have anything,” she said. “When you have a beautiful dough, you have a great pizza.”
Choosing the highest quality ingredients is key to pizza perfection. Arpaia opts for fresh, homemade sauce over jarred and authentic Italian-made cheeses from Galbani, for which Arpaia is a spokesperson.
“You want to look for the best sauces and best cheeses,” she said. “Adding fresh herbs once the pizza is out of the oven is also a nice touch.”
Be judicious with your toppings. More is not necessarily better, Arpaia said.
“When I see a pizza drowning in toppings, it doesn’t make me happy,” she said. “That means the dough is not that good.”
Into The Oven
Make the oven as hot as you can. If you don’t have a pizza stone, Arpaia recommends laying the rolled out dough on a hot sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle cornmeal flour onto the parchment paper before laying down the dough.
“The cornmeal flour underneath provides a nutty, crispy flavor,” she said.
Arpaia suggests parbaking the dough to ensure an even cook. Simply pop the untopped dough into the oven for a couple of minutes. Once the dough appears slightly puffed, but still undercooked, take it out and add on the toppings. The parbaking method prevents the toppings from overcooking, she noted.
Put Arpaia’s tips into action with these tried-and-true recipes from her collection:
1 lb pizza dough or homemade pizza dough
3-4 tbsp olive oil
8 oz fresh mozzarella
2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes
5-6 basil leaves
1. Preheat oven on low for 30 minutes.
2. Divide the dough ball in half.
3. Working one ball of dough at a time, take one ball of dough and flatten it with your hands on a lightly floured work surface. Starting at the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough to 1/2-inch thick. Turn and stretch the dough until it will not stretch further. Let the dough relax 5 minutes and then continue to stretch it until it reaches the desired diameter (12 inches). Use your palm to flatten the edge of the dough where it is thicker. You can pinch the edges if you want to form a lip.
4. Spread 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the dough.
5. Slice the tomatoes and arrange over pizza dough. Then slice the mozzarella and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Tear basil leaves and place over the mozzarella.
6. Transfer pizza to a cooling rack in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, rotating once 90 degrees halfway through cooking.
16 oz. Pizza dough
1 cup Galbani Premio Mozzarella, shredded
1 cup President Feta, crumbled
4–6 Brussels sprouts, halved
¼ cup Roasted red pepper, cut into strips
½ cup Cherry tomatoes, halved
⅓ cup Tuscan kale
⅓ cup Gaeta olives, pitted and halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1. Roll out pizza dough into an oblong shape.
2. Spread layer of shredded mozzarella. Spread ½ cup of feta on top.
3. Coat a sauté pan over high heat with 1 tsp. of extra-virgin olive oil.
4. Add Brussels sprouts to pan and cook halfway through until they start to caramelize. Remove and place on pizza.
5. Spread roasted red pepper strips, cherry tomatoes, Tuscan kale and olives evenly on pizza. Add remaining Feta on top.
6. Drizzle pizza with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
7. Cook pizza until cheese is melted and vegetables are softened and slightly caramelized.
8. Garnish with red pepper flakes to taste and serve.