As far back as he can remember, Chef Daniele Uditi has lived and breathed dough. His mother was a chef, his grandpa was a pastry chef and his aunt was a bread maker. No matter where he turned as a kid in Caserta, Italy, there were bags of flour. That was fine by him. He grew up playing in what he calls “the sticky stuff,” mixing dough by hand for his family’s creations.
All that “child’s play,” as he calls it, has amounted to a dynamic career in pizza making. His cooking caught the attention of Chris O’Donnell years ago in Brentwood, and the actor invited Uditi to his backyard for what would become a routine Sunday evening of making pizza for O’Donnell’s elite guests, such as Sophia Loren and Gwenyth Paltrow. Uditi laughs when he talks about his trajectory in L.A. When he first arrived in 2010, a consulting job gone wrong left him broke and sleeping in a van in Venice.
At O’Donnell’s house, Uditi met Sprinkles Cupcakes founders Candace and Charles Nelson, who were so impressed by his pizzas that they teamed up with him to help found his first restaurant, Pizzana. Research for the project included trips to Italy to find the best cheese, and to organize a plot of land in the San Marzano region that would raise tomatoes only for Pizzana. Uditi boasts that he scored the best location — one near Mount Vesuvius, which is known for its nutrient-rich soil. The richer soil makes produce more flavorful.
“I went right where Vesuvius is,” Uditi says with a smile. “I sat down and talked to Mount Vesuvius and said, ‘You and me, let’s do business.’”
Pizzana debuted in 2017 — and so did Uditi’s son Kuno. The chef delights in watching his child grow up around incredible food just as he did. Kuno has a creative eye, too: He once topped his homemade pizza with Cheetos.
“Kuno loves making a mess, like me when I was a kid,” Uditi says. “Anytime I make pizza, he’s in with his hands in the sticky stuff. And he’s actually very good at stretching pizza.”
The dough recipe here is the same one used at Pizzana, and it’s the same dough from Uditi’s youth, made with flour, water, salt and yeast.
While this pizza doesn’t require a sauce, Uditi recommends keeping the sauce on pizzas that do need a sauce simple. “There’s this myth about putting a bunch of ingredients in a sauce,” he says. “My sauce is only tomatoes, sometimes just crushed by hand, a pinch of salt. That’s it. We want to preserve as much of the flavor of the tomatoes as possible. We don’t cook it down. The tomatoes were already steamed, so you don’t need to recook them unless you’re doing a different style of pizza. Neapolitan pizza is just crushed tomatoes and salt.”
Lately, Uditi has been manning the oven at Pizzana’s brand-new Sherman Oaks location, but he recently found himself in an equally enjoyable place: on the set of a new food competition show, “Best in Dough,” where Uditi will reign as a judge. The show airs on Hulu Sept. 19.
“I enjoyed [making the show] so much,” Uditi says. “First, I get to eat pizza all day, and nobody tells me, ‘That’s too much pizza.’ And second, I got to meet so many people who love pizza as much as I do. It was a natural sharing of experiences. And it’s a competition, yes, but it’s loving and caring. I hope people like the show as much as I liked shooting it.”
Grilled vegetable pizza
Courtesy Daniele Uditi, Pizzana
For the dough
Yields 4-5 pizzas (250 grams, or 8.8 ounces, each)
1000 grams (35 ounces) King Arthur bread flour or Caputo
650 grams (23 ounces) water, room temperature
5 grams (about 1 teaspoon) active dry yeast
35 grams (1.2 ounces) sea salt
In a bowl, add the flour and water and combine until the mixture comes together. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water and add to flour and water mixture. Knead until all the yeast is absorbed.
Once the yeast is fully absorbed, add the salt and continue mixing. The process of kneading should last 10-15 minutes to start developing some gluten.
Let the dough rest for at least an hour before dividing and rounding.
After one hour, start dividing the dough into ball shapes of 250 grams (8.8 ounces). Place each ball of dough on a tray or in a plastic container and let proof at room temperature for 5-6 hours. The balls of dough should be double their size.
For the pizza
1 pizza dough
1 zucchini, cut in half and then in thin slices
½ eggplant, cut in coins
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 mozzarella di bufala
1 tablespoon flour
One hour before cooking, place pizza stone in oven and preheat to 500 degrees.
While the oven preheats, prepare the dough. Dust a clean countertop with a little (approximately 1 tbsp) semolina or regular flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
To stretch the dough, start by pressing down in the center of the ball, using your fingers to flatten the center. Gently push the dough out from the center to form the crust, leaving an inch and a half rim around the circumference of the pizza. The crust should be approximately 10 inches in diameter.
Once the crust is ready, transfer it from the countertop to a pizza peel. Meanwhile, grill zucchini and eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper until lightly charred. Add heavy cream to the base of the pizza dough.
Cover the cream with the grilled vegetables. Add the garlic and parsley over the vegetables. Bake the pizza for 6-7 minutes at 500 degrees.
Tear the mozzarella di bufala into smaller pieces and scatter over the top of the pizza.
Cook the pizza for 2 more minutes at 500 degrees. Enjoy!