Psst—I’ve got a pizza secret you won’t believe. It defies most every pizza recipe, so listen closely!
[draws a deep breath]
Think back to the last time you saw a pizza being made. Can you picture someone tossing the dough, covering it in toppings and transferring it to a hot oven with a pizza peel? Can you picture the pizza gliding perfectly into the oven without a single topping losing its place?
Now picture this scene through the lens of an infomercial: the dough falls to the floor, the toppings fly everywhere, and the flimsy pizza folds and wobbles as it’s transferred to a hot baking stone. The sad trombone echoes our cook’s frustrations.
Until a few years ago, my pizza-making experience was a lot like this infomercial. I had a 0% success rate of transferring a raw topped pizza to a hot baking stone. My pizza would deform as my toppings would cascade and sizzle onto the 500°F stone.
I never owned a pizza peel, so I made do with rimless cookie sheets and inverted sheet pans as a substitute. After continuous messes and failures (and a reluctance to buy, store and learn to operate a pizza peel), I decided that the problem wasn’t my transferring device—it was the order of operations.
I challenged everything I’d known and read about pizza-making and changed my ways for good. My secret? Topping the dough after placing it on a heated baking stone. It’s a defiant move, mainly because working closely to a 500°F baking stone is no joke—but it allows the dough to rise, bubble and heat from the bottom before getting covered and baked with juicy toppings. Now whenever I make a pizza, it emerges from the oven golden and puffy without a trace of folded dough, cascading toppings or burnt cheese on the surface of my baking stone.
Since this chilly weather is perfect for making pizza, I thought it’d be a nice time to share my secret along with one of my favorite pizzas of all: pork belly and shredded cabbage with mushrooms and a ton of crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a white pizza with ricotta and fresh mozzarella—and if you’ve got it on hand, rendered pork lard (otherwise, extra virgin olive oil works just as well).
After ten minutes in the oven, the cabbage, mushrooms and pork belly shrink, leaving little pools of rendered fat in and around the bubbly dough. The ricotta and mozzarella spread into smooth, creamy bites to tame the heat of the hot pepper flakes. The pizza is best enjoyed hot from the oven when it’s at its messiest so the flavors can meld and run into one another. It’s a pie you won’t forget, especially if you use my pizza secret to make it.
This pizza combines rich pork belly with crispy charred vegetables, creamy ricotta and mozzarella, and a generous fiery bite from crushed red pepper flakes. By topping the pizza after placing the dough on a heated baking stone (my super-secret pizza technique), the crust becomes crisp and bubbly before the toppings have a chance to shift, slide or weigh the pizza down.
Room-temperature dough handles and rises more easily than dough that is taut and cold. If your dough is chilled, remove from the refrigerator 3-4 hours before making the pizza. If it’s a work day, remove from the refrigerator in the morning before heading out. The dough will swell (and possibly even ferment a little) while you’re at work, promising a delicious pizza for dinner.
Pork Belly and Cabbage Pizza
makes one large pizza
1 lb raw pizza dough*, at room temperature
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta
2-3 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
2-3 oz pork belly, thinly sliced
2 oz green cabbage, thinly shredded (about 2 loosely packed cups)
2 cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1 heaping tbsp rendered pork lard (OR extra virgin olive oil OR rendered bacon fat)
few pinches crushed red pepper flakes
coarse semolina flour
flaky sea salt, optional
*The pizza in these photos was made with Chad Robertson’s Basic Country Bread dough from Tartine Bread. Other favorites include Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough and Rick Bayless’s no-knead version using beer. In a pinch, you can always use dough from your grocery store or local pizza place.
rolling pin (for transferring the dough)
- Arrange oven rack in the center of the oven. Place the baking stone on the rack and preheat oven to 500°F for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop. Sprinkle the dough with a bit of flour and gently press the dough out into a round or square shape.
- To stretch out the dough, let it hang from your hands and gently rotate the dough in a motion parallel to your body.
- Remove the heated baking stone from the oven and place it on the stove top. Sprinkle the stone with the semolina flour.
- Dust the rolling pin with the all-purpose flour and loosely drape the dough around it.
- Minding your hands, gently release the dough from the rolling pin onto the hot baking stone. It will puff up and sizzle slightly.
- Drizzle the dough with the pork fat (or oil) and crushed red pepper flakes. Scatter the cabbage, ricotta, mushrooms, pork belly and mozzarella on top.
- Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake for 10 minutes, until the dough is crisp and puffy. The meat and vegetables will have shriveled and charred, while the cheeses will have spread out.
- Garnish the pizza with additional red pepper flakes and flaky sea salt, if desired.
- Carefully transfer the pizza to a large platter or cutting board. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.