October 02, 2013 05:39 PM

Randy Holmes/ABC

When Jimmy Kimmel served Jon Hamm a slice of homemade pizza on his talk show recently, we assumed a pizza pro had made the pie.

Surprisingly, the pro turned out to be… Kimmel!

“I have a wood-fired oven in my backyard,” the funnyman and avid cook tells PEOPLE. But Kimmel is quick to give credit where it’s due: The recipe for his pizza margherita actually came from chef Chris Bianco, who owns the acclaimed Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix and taught the Jimmy Kimmel Live! host how to prepare it.

His secret to making great pizza? Use high-quality ingredients. “The best canned tomatoes I’ve ever had are Bianco-DiNapoli,” he says. “You don’t even cook the sauce. Put the tomatoes in a bowl, mix in some olive oil and a few basil leaves and you’re ready to go.” 

There’s no frozen dough stuffed in this pizza purist’s freezer. Kimmel uses high-protein organic flour, which gives the dough a good elasticity and, when cooked, creates a crust that is chewy but not rubbery. “Knead by hand,” he recommends. “Never roll the dough out with a pin. Stretch it out evenly with your fists.”

While a pizza with the works may sound good when ordering delivery, Kimmel cautions that less is more when topping a homemade pie: “Don’t go crazy with the cheese or tomatoes,” he says. “Too much of either and your pizza won’t cook properly.”

The man clearly has skills when comes to pizza prep—and cooking in general. “I love cookbooks. I have hundreds of them,” he says. “I gravitate toward Italian food, seafood and BBQ—sometimes all three at once.” So, is pizza his favorite food? “Given the choice of anything, I would [choose] linguini with clams al dente with plenty of roughly-ground pepper on top. And a banana cream pie for dessert.”

Want to try Kimmel’s pizza margherita? Here’s how:

Jimmy Kimmel’s Pizza Margherita

Makes 1 12-inch pizza

(Adapted from chef Chris Bianco’s recipe)

For the dough:

1 (¼-oz.) package active dry yeast (2¼ tsp.)

2 cups warm water, divided

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting

2 tsp. salt

½ tbsp. olive oil

For the toppings:

1 (14-to 15-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 basil leaves, plus more for sprinkling

Salt, to taste

6 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into small chunks

1. To make the dough: In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and let stand for 5-7 minutes. Stir in 3 cups flour and salt until smooth. Stir in an additional 2 cups flour; if needed, continue adding flour (up to ½ cup), 1 spoonful at a time until dough pulls away from bowl but is still sticky.

2. Knead the dough on a floured surface, lightly reflouring when dough becomes too sticky, until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Form into a large ball, put in a lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat and dust with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 3 hours.

3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and cut into 4 pieces. Shape into balls. Dust with flour, cover with plastic, and let rest for another 30 minutes, until almost doubled in volume. (Once risen, freeze the other 3 dough balls in lightly-oiled plastic freezer bags for another time.)

4. While the dough is rising, combine the tomatoes, olive oil and basil leaves in a bowl. While stirring, crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to make a chunky sauce. Season with salt and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

5. About an hour before baking the pizza, put a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 500°F.

6. Dust the dough ball with flour. Stretch the dough evenly with your fingers and tops of your fists to form a 12-inch round base.

7. Place the dough on a baking sheet and spread the sauce on top, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange the cheese chunks on top, leaving a 3-inch border.

8. Slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone. Bake until the dough is browned and cheese is bubbling, about 10-15 minutes. Drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle with a few torn basil leaves before slicing and serving.

—Nancy Mattia

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