When we talk about “open source,” it’s generally in reference to software. But you could apply that term to Andy Brown’s philosophy when it comes to his recipes, tips, and even ingredients. “Pizza is just about sharing. We just want people to love great pizza,” says the Andy’s Pizza restaurateur whose first pizzeria was in Tysons and added an Alexandria location in 2022.
He’s not alone in his generosity. More of our favorite pizza makers in NoVA were happy to share their expertise with readers. That includes Brown’s recipe (below) for the cheese pie that won best traditional pizza in the International Pizza Challenge in 2021.
To get a diversity of advice, we also talked to two of our other favorite pizzaioli in Northern Virginia: Thomas Cardarelli of Stracci Pizza in Alexandria and Matteo Venini of Stellina Pizzeria in Arlington. The three represent New York, Roman, and neo-Neapolitan styles, but their counsel is mostly universal.
Give It Time
The first thing all three chefs agree on: Making excellent pizza takes time. “Dough is ready when it’s ready,” says Cardarelli. “There’s no saying, ‘It’s dinnertime now, let’s have pizza.’”
“You can’t substitute time with anything else,” agrees Brown. Both believe that the sweet spot is around 72 hours of cold fermenting time, which allows the dough to fill with bubbles that will make it light.
The whole process for Venini, however, is closer to 100 hours because he uses a biga, or pre-fermented dough that’s not unlike sourdough. “The final product is what we like. It’s light and digestible,” he says. Fortunately for beginner pizza makers, Stellina also sells portions of its dough, so they don’t have to wait.
Go Easy on Toppings
Once the dough is ready, the pizza experts say their best advice is not to overwhelm a perfectly good crust with toppings. In fact, Brown suggests that your first pizza into the oven should always be lightly topped with nothing but tomatoes and cheese to get a baseline.
He uses cans of Cento crushed tomatoes. Venini gets his straight from a farm in Naples and sells them at the restaurant, while Cardarelli says that he uses a high-quality blend of California and Italian tomatoes.
Consider the Cheese
Brown and Venini swear by mozzarella from Grande Cheese Company, which only sells to restaurant clients. Brown says he used Trader Joe’s low-moisture mozzarella before he went pro. Just be sure to grate it yourself, as the pre-shredded cheese is coated in starch that changes how the mozzarella melts. Cardarelli notoriously makes his own stracciatella to top his pies, but he says that it’s not necessary for making a delicious pizza.
Listen to the Dough
Cardarelli also recommends that if you don’t have a devoted at-home pizza oven, a Baking Steel pizza stone is the best way to get your dough up to a temperature that almost matches what you’ll find on a stone in a well-heated Ooni. He used one himself when he was doing research and development for Stracci.
His final piece of advice is to practice. “Do it a lot. The more you do it, the more you’re going to understand and learn about your dough. Once you do it a lot, you can listen to the dough,” he says.
Venini says that even once he had opened the first Stellina location, it took him time to figure out all of his secrets, from the type of water he used to the temperature of his hands when he worked the dough. “Pizza is not just pizza. It’s more than that. It’s something alive,” he says.
And as a living thing, a true pizza expert must respect the process of bringing their dough from flour and water to a meal shared with family and friends. “I’m still not sick of it,” says Cardarelli. “It’s kind of amazing that way.”
The Secret Ingredients
Andy’s Pizza chef Andy Brown provides his recipes for pizza dough and his World Championship Cheese Pizza. He says the dough recipe “only requires patience” and offers these words of encouragement: “Enjoy the journey. The mistakes are often still delicious pizza!”
Andy Brown’s Basic Pizza Dough
Makes two roughly 12-ounce dough balls
- 260 grams water, room temperature
- 0.5 grams instant dry yeast (0.25 teaspoon)
- Pinch of sugar or honey
- 400 grams bread flour
- 8 grams salt (0.5 tablespoon)
- Start by mixing the water, the yeast, and a pinch of sugar or honey (you won’t taste it; it’s just food for the yeast). Let it rest for 10 minutes. If it’s not bubbling after 10 minutes, that yeast you found in the back of your cabinet is dead and you need to get a fresh batch!
- Mix in the flour and salt by hand until you have a rough, shaggy dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes or mix on low for 2 minutes, then at medium speed in your mixer for 7 minutes.
- Remove the dough and split in half, making two 12-ounce dough balls.
- Place dough balls in a round (not square) storage container that has been coated with olive oil on the inside.
- Place in the fridge for 72 hours.
World Championship Cheese Pizza
- 1 dough ball (rest at room temperature for 60 minutes)
- 4.5 ounces whole-milk mozzarella (shredded from block, not pre-shredded)
- 4.5 ounces crushed tomatoes
- Crank your oven to 500+ (as hot as it will go) and let your baking stone or steel get hot for 60 minutes while your dough is resting.
- Turn over your dough container and let your dough slowly fall out of the container.
- Once the dough is on the table, remember that the bottom of the dough ball should be the bottom of the pizza. If it landed face first, delicately flip it over.
- Press it gently with the palm of your hand to make a round disk that is an even thickness all the way around.
- Dimple a rim in the crust no wider than your ring finger, all the way around until you have an even crust all around the dough.
- Carefully pick up your dough on your fists and stretch it slowly and evenly until you are left with a 12-inch pizza.
- Place the shaped dough on parchment paper, making sure the bottom of the dough ball is the bottom of the pizza.
- Top your pizza with the cheese and tomatoes.
- Using your pizza peel, slide the pizza directly onto the stone — the parchment paper should make this easy!
- Bake for 7–10 minutes until the cheese is golden brown.
- Place your pizza on a cooling rack to help the bottom crust stay crispy. After 1-2 minutes, cut and enjoy! It is never a bad idea to garnish with fresh basil and olive oil.
Feature image, stock.adobe.com