Last updated 2/12/2020 at 5:14pm

Nowadays, pizza is more than just an Italian specialty. You'll find people enjoying it wherever you travel around the world, from America to England to Japan to Qatar and beyond.

I'm happy to have played some part in spreading that popularity, since I first began giving pizzas a new contemporary California spin at the first location of Spago I opened in Hollywood back in early 1982. Before then, not many people could have imagined pizzas topped with such gourmet and internationally influenced ingredients as duck sausage, smoked salmon with caviar, chicken with Mexican jalapeno peppers, or even something as far removed from most pizza lovers' thinking as Peking duck! But we decided from the beginning to be inventive and have as much fun making pizza as people have eating it. The results definitely caught on.

To me, pizza is a food to enjoy year round, whatever the occasion. And the wide range of topping ingredients available now makes it possible to adapt pizzas to any time of year and any occasion. The following recipe is a fine example of that approach. It traces back to the early days of Spago, combining ingredients from Italy, Asia, France and Germany to make a hearty yet refined tasting dish I find perfect for wintertime.

Black Forest ham is a high-quality deli meat produced in the mountainous Black Forest region of southwestern Germany. I've always enjoyed its hearty yet refined, sweet and slightly spicy flavor, which results from curing, aging, cold-smoking and air-curing the meat over several weeks. Being prepared at cool temperatures, true Black Forest ham looks like a raw food rather than a cooked product, and it's generally eaten like the similarly appearing Italian prosciutto, cut into thin, almost translucent slices. Those are the sort of slices you should start with for the pizza, either cut for you to order at a deli counter or purchased pre-sliced in a vacuum-sealed package at most well-stocked supermarkets.

To complement this featured ingredient, my pizza also includes silky, earthy slices of pan-grilled or sauteed slender Japanese or Asian-style eggplants, which have a milder flavor and fewer seeds than the larger globe varieties. Along with the mixture of Italian fontina and mozzarella cheeses I enjoy on just about all my pizzas, I also add some fresh, creamy goat cheese like French chevre or one of the excellent varieties now produced in America.

This eclectic combination of toppings adds up to a worldly pizza that feels at once both sophisticated and down-to-earth, refined and heartily comforting - a perfect casual main dish for you to warm up with when the weather outside feels cold and blustery.


Makes 4 individual pizzas

1 batch Wolfgang's Pizza Dough (recipe follows), divided into 4 balls

All-purpose flour or semolina, for dusting

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup (250 mL) shredded fontina cheese

2 cups (500 mL) shredded mozzarella cheese, about 1/2 pound (250 g), or an equivalent weight in thinly sliced fresh mozzarella

2 small slender Japanese eggplants, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch (6-mm) slices, brushed with oil and grilled until tender, or sauteed in olive oil; or 1/2 pound large cultivated mushrooms or cremini mushrooms, cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) slices and sauteed in olive oil until golden

1 cup (250 mL) crumbled fresh goat cheese

4 ounces (125 g) thinly sliced Black Forest ham, cut into thin julienne strips

1 bunch fresh basil leaves, 4 small sprigs reserved for garnish, remaining leaves chopped

Set an oven rack at the highest level, place a pizza stone or baker's tiles on the rack, and preheat to 500 F (260 C).

Roll or stretch each piece of pizza dough into a circle 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.

One at a time, place a circle of dough on a wood peel (paddle) or rimless baking sheet lightly dusted with flour or semolina. Brush with oil and sprinkle with some pepper flakes to taste. Arrange a quarter each of the fontina and mozzarella on the dough, leaving a narrow rim. Arrange a quarter each of the eggplant, goat cheese and ham on top. Sprinkle with chopped basil.

Slide the pizza from the peel onto the baking stone. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the rim is deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Using the peel, remove the pizza from the oven. With a pizza wheel, mezzaluna, or large sharp knife, cut into slices, then transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with a basil sprig. Serve immediately, letting guests take individual slices.

Assemble, bake and serve the three remaining pizzas the same way.


Makes 4 balls, each about 6 ounces (185 g)

1 package active dry or fresh yeast

1 teaspoon honey

1 cup (250 mL) warm water, 105 F to 115 F (40 C to 46 C)

3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in 1/4 cup (60 mL) of the warm water.

In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the oil, the yeast mixture, and the remaining water, and process until the mixture forms a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand 2 or 3 minutes longer. The dough should be smooth and firm. Cover with a clean, damp towel and let rise in a cool spot for about 2 hours. (When ready, the dough will stretch as it is lightly pulled).

Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Work each by pulling down the sides and tucking under the bottom. Repeat four or five times. Then on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll each under the palm of your hand until the top is smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover with a damp towel and let rest 1 hour. At this point, the balls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to two days.


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