I’m a pizza obsessive, as is my husband. But while he’s interested only in finding good pizza, I’m also on a quest to make the best one at home – something he encourages, because he gets to consume the results.
I own two pizza machines – a G3 Ferrari Pizza Express Napoli, a countertop model I hauled back from Singapore (it’s not available in Hong Kong), and a Weber KettlePizza, which my husband shipped at great expense from the United States and which uses up so much wood and charcoal that it’s not worth firing up unless I’m baking for at least six. Otherwise it’s much more expensive than eating out. Both have their quirks but are fantastic because they reach very high temperatures – the G3 Ferrari heats to about 400 degrees Celsius, the KettlePizza even higher. If the stars, moon and sun align, I can bake pizza with excellent crusts in three minutes or less using these machines – almost as fast as a professional pizzeria.
But, of course, my machines are of no use to you. Most pizza recipes have you heat a baking stone in the oven, which is set to its maximum temperature, but that never worked for me: the pizza took too long to bake, and the crust was pale without the desireable leopard spots. After much experimentation, I’ve developed a technique that works with a home oven, but the oven must have a grill function. It’s a lot of work: you also need a blowtorch, an infrared thermometer, pizza peel and either a pizza (baking) stone or a large, flat cast-iron griddle.
Pizza with potato, ham and rosemary
Foodies with long memories will remember Yugamama, an excellent restaurant in Causeway Bay that closed in 2007. It was owned by Judy Yu Chu-dic, president of luxury-goods distributor Carsac, who created an eclectic menu of dishes she liked to eat. I went there often when I was dining solo, usually choosing between the fish head with rice vermicelli, and the fantastic pizza with ham, potatoes and rosemary. Of course, you can top this crust with more familiar ingredients, such as tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, but try this one, too – it’s simple and delicious.
For topping the pizza, use good-quality sliced deli ham. I use the Italian version called prosciutto cotta; don’t use the air-dried stuff (such as prosciutto di Parma), which is too dry and salty for this pizza. Choose potatoes that are long and narrow, and use a mandoline to slice them into discs no thicker than 2mm.
The crust is made from a no-knead dough recipe from My Pizza, by Jim Lahey. It uses a minimum amount of yeast and is best made at least one day in advance so the dough can develop more flavour with a long, slow rise in the fridge.
For the dough:
500 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for stretching the dough
16 grams fine sea salt
¼ tsp instant yeast
350ml tepid water
For the pizza:
About 160 grams Italian ham, very thinly sliced
4-8 small potatoes, about 30 grams each, or as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh rosemary leaves
Rough-flaked sea salt (such as Maldon), for sprinkling
Put the flour in a bowl and thoroughly mix in the fine sea salt. Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour it over the flour, then use your hand to mix the ingredients into a rough dough; it will be damp and sticky. Cover the bowl with cling film and let it rise at room temperature until almost doubled (about three hours). Punch the dough with your fist to deflate it, then cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for at least eight hours.
An hour before you want to cook the pizza, put the pizza stone or cast-iron griddle on the top shelf of your oven, as close as possible to the grill elements. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. After 45 minutes, switch the heat to the grill setting at maximum temperature, preferably without the convection option.
Prepare the ingredients. Slice the potatoes 2mm thick and lay them on a plate with the sliced ham. Take the dough from the fridge and divide it into four even portions. On a lightly floured work surface, shape each portion of dough into a smooth-topped ball, trying to maintain as much air as possible. Sprinkle flour over each dough ball, then leave at room temperature for about 10 minutes while continuing to heat the stone or griddle.
Place the rack with the stone or griddle on a sturdy heat-proof surface. Use a propane or butane blowtorch to heat the stone or griddle to 275 degrees: direct the flame in a rough circle where you will place the pizza, moving the flame back and forth so the stone or griddle heats evenly.
Use an infrared thermometer to periodically check the temperature of the stone or griddle in several places until it reaches 275 degrees. Put the rack with the stone or griddle back in the oven as close as possible to the grill.
Working quickly, shape and stretch a piece of dough into a circle that’s about 20cm in diameter, using flour as needed so it doesn’t stick to your hands or work surface. The dough should be thin in the middle, with a thicker edge.
Carefully lay the dough on a pizza peel that’s been sprinkled with enough flour so the dough won’t stick. Very quickly lay sliced ham evenly over the surface of the dough within the edge, then top with slightly overlapping discs of potato. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil then sprinkle lightly with rosemary leaves and rough-flaked sea salt.
Use the pizza peel to slide the pizza into the oven onto the hottest part of the stone or griddle and close the oven door. Watch the pizza carefully to make sure the surface doesn’t burn; if it’s close to burning before the bottom crust is ready, move the rack a little further away from the grill. Turn the pizza as needed so it bakes evenly. If done correctly, the pizza will take five minutes or less to bake, and will have a slightly charred bottom and blistered, puffy, leopard-spotted cornicione (the edge). Shape and bake the remaining dough and ingredients the same way, heating the stone or griddle as needed with the blowtorch.