This is a recipe that combines three favourite things. Pizza. Speck (or prosciutto if you can’t find it). And mascarpone. But not just any mascarpone — homemade mascarpone. Because homemade is so incredibly easy, you’ll wonder why you never tried it before, and because it’s so fresh, you’ll find it hard to go back to store-bought.
Although often thought of as a sort of soft cream cheese, mascarpone is technically not a cheese at all but a dairy product made from cream coagulated with acetic or citric acid (or, for the home cook, lemon juice). At home it’s so easy to make – simply heat cream to 90ºC or just before it reaches boiling point. Add some lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon per 500 ml of cream). Then pour into a sieve lined with layers of damp cheesecloth or muslin over a bowl and leave, covered, overnight in the fridge. It’s ready after about 8 hours – firm, creamy and fresh.
A centuries old tradition from Lombardy in Italy’s north, mascarpone was once just a seasonal product, appearing only during the natural refrigeration provided by winter. Today, it’s available year round and is still most commonly used as the main ingredient in that favourite Italian dessert, tiramisu. But mascarpone has plenty of other wonderful uses, including savoury dishes, adding richness and creaminess. Stir it into a risotto right at the end of cooking for a creamy finish. It makes a great sauce for pasta, perhaps tossed through freshly boiled pasta with some Parmesan and crushed walnuts, alla Elizabeth David in Italian Food.
Here, use it in place of cheese on a pizza, together with it’s perfect partner in crime, speck. Speck, also a tradition of northern Italy, is quite like prosciutto, but its smokier cousin. It’s a simple combination but that’s partly what makes a good pizza. The mascarpone in this is wonderful, it melts and sets into a firm yet creamy puddle, melding into one with the tomato and the dough. Just as a good pizza topping should, as Elizabeth David said, “This is really the whole point of the pizza at it’s best: dough and filling should become one and indivisible.”
Pizza Mascarpone e Speck
For the pizza dough:
- 500 gr “00” flour (or baker’s flour)
- 250 ml lukewarm water
- 7 gr of active dry yeast or 23 gr of fresh yeast
- 15 gr of salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- semolina flour for dusting
For the pizza sauce:
- 1 jar of tomato passata (tomato puree)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- a few basil leaves, chopped finely
To assemble the pizza:
- About a ladel-sized dollop of pizza sauce
- 200 gr homemade mascarpone (described above)
- 8 slices of speck (or prosciutto)
For the pizza dough, place the flour in a wide bowl or on a clean surface. Make a well in the centre and place the fresh yeast, crumbled, in the centre. If using dry yeast, dissolve it in a bit of lukewarm water with a teaspoon of the flour. When little bubbles form, add it to the well of flour and then begin to mix in the water, bit by bit, incorporating the flour (Note: if the yeast doesn’t form little bubbles, it’s dead, you’ll need to start again). Just before the dough comes together, add the olive oil and salt and combine.
Let the dough rise in a warm place, covered, until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
In the meantime, make the tomato sauce for the topping. Heat the olive oil gently in a skillet and cook the garlic slowly. When soft, add the passata and basil leaves and bring to a simmer. Cook 15-20 minutes and return to the bottle or place in jars (to save for other pizzas).
On a clean, floured surface, roll and shape the dough roughly into a circle. Transfer it to a tray lined with baking paper or dusted liberally with semolina. Smear some of the tomato sauce over the surface of the dough – enough to stain the surface. Layer the speck over the pizza, then add the mascarpone, in fat blobs, here and there.
Bake in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or until the crust is puffy and golden and the mascarpone has melted into gloriously creamy puddles.