Pizza Margherita and Big Night

I am taking a few days away, so today we are revisiting one of my favorite posts from last spring. It was my first post making pizza in our wood fired oven. It also happens to be one of my favorite pizzas and one of my favorite movies. So kick back, enjoy the wood oven and Spring vibes as we revisit Pizza Margherita and Big Night. 

Welcome to Pizza and a Movie; this week we are headed out to the wood fired oven! Today is my first post featuring pizza baked in the gorgeous Mugnaini oven in our backyard. You may remember back in December, when I shared progress photos of the oven being built; and after waiting for the concrete to cure, a little bad weather, and a bit of practice, I am so excited to share this pizza with you! To start things off, we’re doing a classic Neapolitan pizza, The Margherita. In the spirit of a classic Italian meal, we are watching Big Night; the 1996 film starring Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini and so many others! So let’s head outside for Pizza Margherita!

Mugnaini wood fired oven

The Fire

I started off by building a fire in the center of the oven. Once it’s burning quite hot for about 20-30 minutes, the center of the oven ceiling will turn white, and that’s my cue to move the fire over to where it will sit for the cooking.

fire burning in wood oven
Fire burning in the center of the oven.

I like to keep the fire on the left side of the oven. I use a large ash scraper to carefully scoot the fire over to the left. Once it’s in place, I will add more wood to get it going really well again. The main objective with the fire at the beginning stages is to get a nice hot bed of coals.

wood fired oven with fire
Fire moved to left and the right (cooking)side is brushed clean.

Once I have it going really well again and the flames are curling just under the dome, over to the right side of the oven, I will use a long-handled brush to clean the area where I will cook the pizza. Just as before in the center of the dome, I want the inside walls of the oven to turn white. That means the fire is hot enough to burn off the black from the smoke.

Outdoor Cooking Set Up

pizza making at the wood fired oven

When I have a good bed of coals, maintaining the fire is really simple. I want the floor (or deck) temperature to be between 700 and 800 degrees. This temperature will give me a crispy bottom and a nicely browned crust in only about 90 seconds. When I take the temperature of the deck and its at 700/750 degrees, I will bring out my ingredients and set them up on the counter. I have dough in one of the dough boxes, and I have my toppings in the other dough box.

Pizza Margherita ingredients

I bring out a cutting board, my pizza blade and a pan for the cut pizza. Today I am using homemade dough, but I have used Trader Joe’s dough for practice in this oven and it works out really well. These dough balls are a bit smaller though, which is preferable, they will make about a 10-inch pizza.

Pizza Assembly

pizza making station

Alright! So the oven temp is great, my fire is going nice and hot. I have all my ingredients prepped, set up and ready to go. And I have my beer standing by… Let’s make a Pizza Margherita! I like to make pizza outside because I can spin out the dough without making a floury mess in my kitchen!

dough stretched

Most of the time, my pizza recipes can be modified to be a pan pizza, rather than cooked on a stone, but this one should be a thin crust pizza. It will still be delicious as a pan pizza, but if you can, do this one on a stone or baking steel. One better, if you can do it on a stone on your grill! Stretch out the dough and be sure to re-flour your pizza peel.

The tomato sauce isn’t actually a sauce at all! It’s simply hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes with their juices. The tomatoes on this pizza should be fresh, bright and tomatoey, rather than thick and heavily seasoned. Then I have torn slices of fresh mozzarella. A healthy drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Then we’re ready for the oven.

Pizza Margherita going into wood oven
Goin’ in!

It’s important to be quick and deliberate when putting a pizza in a wood-fired oven. There’s no time for hesitation. I have re-temped the deck and we’re at 720 degrees, I know exactly where I want to lay the pizza down; so it’s in and out with a quick shimmy to get the pie off the peel.

Pizza Margherita cooking in wood oven

You can see that within about 20 seconds, the pie is set and it’s beginning to get those brown leopard spots. So, in another 20 seconds, I will go in with my long metal peel to turn the pie. A couple more turns, and a lift toward the heat near the top of the dome to melt the cheese a little more and we’re done!

Pizza Margherita coming out of the oven
She’s comin’ out!

Pizza Margherita

I transferred the Margherita to the cutting board.

Pizza Margherita waiting for basil

Fresh basil leaves complete this classic Neapolitan Pizza Margherita! This pizza is so simple and so, so good. I enjoy a variety of toppings and pizza combinations, but every time I have a classic Margherita, I remember why I fell in love with pizza.

Movie Night: Big Night

This movie from 1996 is a classic, just like today’s pizza. Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub star as two brothers who struggle to get their restaurant off the ground. But so much more than that, this film offers wonderful portraits of the characters; their love, their loss – their complications; and the difficult feelings between the brothers; Primo (Shaloub), the older brother; and the younger brother, Secondo (Tucci). Primo is the genius chef, unwavering in his devotion to the perfect Risotto (among other dishes), and Secondo, who is desperately trying to keep the restaurant from going under and fulfill his own ambition, while not squashing Primo’s vision.

An opportunity to prepare a feast for Louis Prima gives the brothers hope that this will be the night their restaurant makes its mark. While things don’t go exactly as hoped, Primo’s dishes go beyond merely impressing the group. It’s one of the best food movies ever made; endearing and funny. If you haven’t seen it yet, or it’s been a long time, give it a watch, it’s wonderful!

Remember you can follow me on Instagram and Pinterest! Take care and be well, xo Kelly

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

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Dinner, Main Course Italian
By Kelly Djalali Serves: 2-4
Prep Time: 10 Minutes Cooking Time: 15 minutes Total Time: 25 Minutes

The Neapolitan classic! San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil – perfectly balanced! It's why you fall in love with pizza.


  • 1 Prepared Pizza Dough
  • 1/4-1/2 cup San Marzano Tomatoes, hand-crushed with their juices
  • 1/2 16-oz. Package of Sliced Fresh Mozzarella, torn into pieces
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Fresh Basil Leaves



Preheat oven to 450 degrees.


On a floured pizza peel, dust the dough with flour and create a crust around the perimeter of the dough and flatten down the center.


Stretch it out on the backs of your hands, left hand over right hand, until the dough is roughly 12-inches around.


Add more flour evenly on the peel and lay the dough on the peel.


Spoon tomatoes evenly over dough, leaving 1/2-inch around the perimeter for the crust.


Then add the cheese and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.


Drizzle with olive oil and bake until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted.


Transfer pizza to a cutting board and top with fresh basil leaves.


Slice and serve!

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  • Sylvia Espinoza
    April 30, 2021 at 10:34 am

    Amazing. Simply amazing. Your oven is beautiful. Margherita pizza is beautiful. Everything is beautiful, most of all, you! Hugs, Kelly! ~

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 30, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Hi Sylvia! Thanks so much! It is a lot of fun to cook in the wood fired oven, we love it! Have a great weekend, Sylvia! xo Kelly

  • Terry
    April 30, 2021 at 11:00 am

    I love your pizza oven. This pizza looks great. I like this pizza ❤️ Mom

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 30, 2021 at 11:22 am

      Hey Mom, isn’t it cool? We have been firing it up so often, it’s just so much fun! xo Kelly

  • Mary
    April 30, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    I will have to try doing this on a pizza stone on my grill. Thanks for the idea! I saw Big Night back in the 90’s and loved it then – as well as Stanley Tucci!! LOL.

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 30, 2021 at 1:58 pm

      Hi Mary, Pizza on the grill is such a fun way to do pizza, so much more flavor than in the oven! I love Stanley Tucci! Thanks so much for stopping by and dropping me a line today, have a great weekend! xo Kelly

  • Est
    May 1, 2021 at 4:06 pm

    Oh man! What a fantastic oven! Love a grilled pizza,

    • Kelly Djalali
      May 2, 2021 at 9:12 am

      Hi Est, The oven is a lot of fun! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment! Have a great dat, xo Kelly

  • Dale
    March 25, 2022 at 10:27 am

    Looks amazing. We have the same oven too. What brand of mozzarella do you prefer?

    • Kelly Djalali
      March 25, 2022 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Dale, isn’t the Mugnaini oven great?! For fresh mozz, I like the BelGioioso and for low-moisture mozzarella I like Polly-O or Galbani. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a note! xo Kelly

      • Dale
        March 27, 2022 at 6:11 pm

        Hi Kelly, the oven is a luxury to have. Thanks for the cheese info and keep up the great work!

  • Sally+Burke
    March 26, 2022 at 2:20 am

    Hi Kelly, Margherita Pizza would have to be one of the simplest yet tastiest pizzas and with fresh mozzarella even better, there is also a version called Burrata which although a bit more expensive is delicious. The movie you watched we cannot get here in Australia, but it is so unusual to see Stanley Tucci with hair. By the way have you seen his new cook book “Taste”. I would love to watch his television series done in Italy, but as yet it is not available here in Australia either.
    Happy cooking ?‍?
    Sally ?

    • Kelly Djalali
      March 26, 2022 at 8:01 am

      Hi Sally, I am surprised Big Night isn’t available in Australia, since the movie is so old… I hope both it and the TV series become available to you! I have Taste on audio book, Tucci narrates the book and it’s such a wonderful listen, I really enjoyed it. We are big Burrata fans here, it’s such a special treat! Thanks for stopping by, it’s great to hear from you. xo Kelly