July 19, 2019

Making Pizza At Home, The Tony Gemignani Way – Part 1

by Joe Bonadio

Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to make pizza. As an Italian-American who has been cooking Italian food for many years, it has always seemed almost inevitable: like something I simply should do. But as a pizza lover, I was under the impression that good pizza was something you just couldn’t accomplish without a proper pizza oven. Unless you were cooking at 900º, you were doomed to a mediocre pie at best.

But as I’ve discovered over the past year, this widespread belief is highly mistaken. Cooking pizza is all about having the right equipment, ingredients, recipe and technique—even in your humble home oven. Naturally, I learned this from our very own Tony Gemignani, who has been testifying to that fact for decades.

Five years ago, Tony published The Pizza Bible, now recognized as the definitive guide for pizza makers of all levels. In that book, he gave home chefs all that they needed to duplicate their favorite pizza at home, sparing no details.

So on a recent trip to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, I was devouring another fantastic meal when it hit me: When was I going to start making pizza? What exactly was I waiting for? I talked to Tony about it, and he loved the idea. But clearly, I was going to need a lot of stuff.

We agreed to meet the following afternoon at Giovanni Italian Specialties, Tony’s retail store, just around the corner from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. Our conversation is recounted below.


Giovanni Italian Specialties, the ultimate resource for the home pizza chef. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Joe Bonadio: I want to make pizza at home. How do I start?

Tony Gemignani: First, you’ve got to start with the ingredients. A lot of people think you can’t make pizza out of a 500º home oven. It’s totally false. Typically the home baker has the wrong dough formula.

So let’s start out with the dough. If I were to make pizza at home in a 500º oven, I would look for a high-gluten, high-protein flour. I wouldn’t grab a Caputo or a Neapolitan flour, not unless I was using the broiler method (see The Pizza Bible). Because they don’t brown well at 500º; they’re really meant for a 900º oven.

If I were looking for flour at a typical store, I would grab a King Arthur Sir Lancelot. It is a higher protein flour, bakes better in the home oven, it’s a little more user-friendly.

I’m going to give you my flour here, it’s for the home pizza maker. It’s high-protein, and it’s actually slightly pre-malted.

What does that mean, exactly?

It has a browning agent in it. Another rule of making great pizza at home is using a browning agent–not just the right flour. It can be a malt, a sugar, a honey. Malt is a derivative of flour and barley, and it’s a much more natural sugar. It browns a little differently, caramelizes differently, so it’s better to use all-around.

So first, I’ll give you my flour. Second thing, I’ll sell you some low diastatic malt, which helps break complex sugars down into simple sugars to promote browning. This is the malt that’s already in my flour, but I’d still add a little more to it. One, two, three percent malt ought to be good.

So the reason for the malt is there’s not enough heat in a 500º oven to thoroughly brown the crust?

Yes, you need something to caramelize it. You don’t need a browning agent after about 600-650 degrees.

When it comes to making pizza, the flour is the foundation. It’s really the heart and soul of pizza.

Now, when it comes to dusting your pizzas, instead of using flour, you can use Semola. It’s like semolina, but a little more refined. It’s very good for dusting: you’ll get a crispier pizza, and crunchier crust. So I would recommend getting either a semola, or a corn meal or semolina.

Okay, now let’s talk tomatoes.

We’ve got a wide variety of tomatoes here. The tomatoes you see in the larger cans here are usually used in restaurants, and not really meant for sale to the consumer. Then you’ll see the smaller cans that are for retail. Stanislaus tomatoes is a California company, and their 7/11, Tomato Magic, Super Dolce and Saporito products are all pretty awesome. I have a line of sweet-ripened ground tomatoes that Stanislaus does for me.

I also have a San Marzano, and a company named Ciao in Italy actually grows those for me. I would have you get a ground tomato, so either a 7/11 or my ground tomato.

If you’re going to grab a smaller retail line, I kind of like the Di Napoli crushed tomato, honestly. 6-in-1 is good too. And if I’m looking at the San Marzanos, I like the Bianco di Napoli a little better than those.

Really, better than the San Marzanos?

If you have them next to each other. If you’re comparing the smaller retail cans, I like them better than the San Marzanos. But if I’m looking at the larger commercial cans, I’d be looking at mine or Ciao’s.

You always find better products at the commercial level, better cheese, meats, everything. If you’re just someone going to your average supermarket, you may see D.O.P. on the can.* But the quality always varies, and you don’t always get a great batch. But I’ve done a lot of testing and trying out different tomatoes to see what works best.

Meanwhile, I sell individual size containers of my ground tomatoes here, so I’ll sell you one of those.

Giovanni's products

Just a few of the fine products on offer at Giovanni Italian Specialties in San Francisco’s North Beach. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Great. What’s next?

Finishing oil, you definitely want to get a good one. The Corto is great, it’s 100 percent Italian-grown, but they’re in California. This is one of the best olives on the market. The Soloro is actually the oil that I use on my Margherita, the pizza that I won with in Naples. I still use that—I actually blend Corto and Soloro together, so it’s a little grassy, and a little fruity. But for you, I would go with the Corto. You also might want to grab a jar of my Hot Pepper Oil.

I’ll get you some grated Romano, also. For mozzarella, when you’re cooking in your home oven you want to get 100 percent whole milk mozzarella. It’s higher in fat, it’ll brown less, and it will have a better pull. So when it comes to mozzarella, part skim versus whole milk: get a whole milk. Of course at my restaurants, Grande Mozzarella is my go-to.

A couple of other things: you’ll want to have some fresh oregano for finishing, I’ll get you some of that. Some garlic, so you can make some garlic oil if you want to finish your pizza with that.

And make sure to get fresh garlic, and chop it yourself. The stuff in the jar is garbage, and will give you terrible heartburn. Make sure it’s California garlic, the Chinese garlic can be toxic. And pick up some yeast—you can get that at the supermarket.

Now we need to talk about baking steels.

Yes. We sell the steels in a set.** Baking stones came first, and they’re about 1/4” thick. They’re meant to recreate a brick oven style pizza that you would get in a restaurant. Then someone created a steel that was similar; it gets hotter, and stays hot longer, with better recovery time if you’re making multiple pizzas.

It’s almost like putting a heavy cast iron plate in your oven. And now, by putting a second steel on a lower rack of the oven, you can start your pizza on top, then move it to the bottom, then out. That makes a crispier crust, and a better pizza.

Usually the complaint when you’re making pizza at home is the bottom: it’s never crispy enough. But with the steels, just like you do in the restaurant, you cook it, then you move it to a hotter spot in the oven. Having two pieces of real estate in your oven will give you a way better pizza.

Honestly, I really just want you to learn how to make a cheese pizza. If you can’t make a cheese pizza right, then why bother with anything else?


And with that, the adventure had begun. With Tony’s help, over the next several days, I’d begin to learn firsthand just what goes into a world-class pizza.

In Part Two, the shopping expedition continues—and I make my very first homemade pizza. There are lots of surprises ahead, so we’ll see you here next time.


*Denominazione di Origine Protetta, literally ‘protected designation of origin’; a certification in Italy ensuring products are locally grown and packaged.

**If you’ve already got a pizza stone at home, you’re in luck: pizza steels are also sold singly, so you can just buy one, and use it in tandem with your existing stone.