Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pizza with potatoes and olives

Potato is not something you usually see on pizza here in the U.S. - at least, I've never seen it, though I have friends who claim they have, so I suppose it does exist somewhere in the country. In any case, it's definitely not as common here as it is in Italy, where, after my initial surprise, I soon got used to the sight of pizza with cubes or, more frequently, thin strips of potatoes on top.

I never actually tried pizza with potatoes while I was living there, partly because I was still a bit suspicious of the idea, and partly because my normal lunch spot served a version of pizza with potatoes and brie, and I'm not particularly fond of brie.

However, I was back in Italy over the holidays, and I took advantage of the opportunity to eat many many pizzas, one of which (well two largish slices of one), eaten on a particularly cold day outside the train station in Bologna, was a pizza with potatoes and olives. I think it was the freezing weather that caused me to order it - something about warm potatoes on pizza just seemed incredibly appealing that day in a way it never had before! And it turned out that all my previous hesitation about eating potatoes on pizza was unwarranted - the pizza was delicious. And so of course, I had to try it on my own back at home, which brings us to the recipe for one very tasty pizza with potatoes and olives!

For the dough:
150 g bread flour (though I usually use at least some whole wheat flour, I thought that a pizza with whole wheat flour and potatoes would just be too much, so I stuck with plain white flour for this one)
A spoonful of sea salt
1/2 package active dry yeast
A spoonful of olive oil
Warmish water

For the toppings:
Half a can of tomatoes in their juice. If they're in season, of course, fresh tomatoes are fine - in either case, I strongly recommend using San Marzano tomatoes. I was able to find several cans that had been imported from Napoli, and they are wonderful, so get them if you can!
A dollop of triple-concentrated tomato paste*
A spoonful of salt
A small spoonful of sugar
About 50 g pizza mozzarella
1 potato
5 or 6 black olives
Olive oil, if desired

*An Italian friend and fellow pizza-maker gave me this tip about adding the triple-concentrated tomato paste to the sauce to make it extra flavorful. Unfortunately, I don't know if you can find the stuff here in the U.S, so if you can't get it, just use double-concentrated. In Italy, you can buy the triple-concentrated paste at the supermarkets (the brand is Mutti), so I made sure to get myself a tube on my most recent visit!

About an hour and a half before you plan to eat your pizza, make the dough. Dissolve the yeast in a small amount of tepid water and let sit until activated (a sort of film should form on top). Pour the flour into a large bowl and make it into a fountain-shape with a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt around the edges. Pour the yeast-water mixture into the middle of the flour, along with the olive oil, and start to mix the flour together with your hand, incorporating flour from the sides of the well. Add the water a bit at a time, until the dough forms a not-too-sticky mass that separates from the edges of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for about ten minutes, until the dough resists when you push down on it. When the dough is ready, spread a bit of olive oil on the inside of a clean bowl, form the dough into a ball, and place the ball in the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm non-drafty place, like a closet or under a bed, for an hour.

If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven and preheat the oven to approximately 500º F/250º C. If you don't have a baking stone, just preheat the oven.

Peel the potato and chop it into cubes or strips, whichever you desire (this pizza was also an opportunity for me to make use of my wonderful stocking present, pictured below).

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add the potato. Let the potato cook until fairly soft, though not mushy - 10-20 minutes. Test it with a fork to check - the fork should go through the potato pieces, but the pieces shouldn't break apart. When the potato is done cooking, drain the water and let the pieces cool.

If you're using fresh tomatoes, peel them and seed them, squeeze out all the watery juice parts, and then chop into smallish chunks. If you're using canned tomatoes, just chop them, and even that may not be necessary if they're pre-crushed. Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the tomatoes, the dollop of tomato paste, the salt, and the sugar. Cover and let cook about 10-15 minutes, turning the heat down to low once the sauce starts to boil.

Chop the mozzarella into small bits and rinse the olives, pit them if necessary, and chop them into halves (I learned the hard way that this is an important step - non-chopped olives have a tendency to roll off the pizza and onto the baking stone where they become little black charred pieces of gunk).

Have all your toppings ready when you make the pizza - you don't want to let the pizza sit around a lot while you're putting stuff on it because that increases the chances it will stick to the pizza peel, which tends to lead to disaster.

After the pizza dough has sat for an hour, take out the bowl, and turn the dough out onto the floured pizza peel. Lots of people use cornmeal on the peel to keep the pizza from sticking but I really don't like the way it tastes on the bottom of a pizza, so I just use flour and try to be very careful! Of course, if you're not using a baking stone, just place the pizza dough on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or some such thing and put that in the oven when ready.

Punch the ball of dough down and then flatten it out to a disc. Place the disc on top of your fists and cross them, bringing the right one in front of and across the left. As you uncross your fists by bringing the right fist back, the dough should spin a bit, stretching as it goes. Repeat this, even tossing into the air when you can, until the dough is nice and stretched out into a thin disc. You can finish it off by rotating it on the peel, pinching the edges as you go. Once the pizza dough is formed, make sure it isn't sticking to the peel by bouncing it around a bit or blowing underneath it.

Spoon the tomato sauce onto the dough, leaving plenty of space at the edges, especially if you like crust! Sprinkle on the mozzarella, then add the potatoes and olives. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil, if desired, and sprinkle the oregano over everything. Quickly transfer the pizza from the peel to the baking stone by giving the peel a sharp jerk (try to have it as horizontal as possible while you do this).

Let the pizza bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown. Remove from the oven, and eat immediately!

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