One of the best things that I did upon graduating McGill back in 2001 was make plans to travel by myself around Europe instead of looking for a job. My travels took me to famous cities and memorable little towns. One of my favorite spots was a quaint little village in the Tuscan countryside called Certaldo. It wasn't listed in my Lonely Planet guide, but many travelers I'd met along the way insisted it was a place I should visit.
There was one meal that was so simple yet has stood out in my memory. The hostel where I was staying had a pizza night and had ordered several types of pizza. I made a concerted effort to try a rectangular slice of each flavor while also keeping in mind that there was also a dessert pizza of Nutella and powdered sugar to try. The potato and rosemary pizza was one that I'd never seen before nor have I encountered since my trip to Certaldo, and it was one of the best pizzas that I'd ever tried. It was so simple yet so flavorful and fragrant from the rosemary. It was light and perfect for a hot summer's eve.
Now let me digress for just one moment. My friend Cathy at A Blithe Palate invited me to partake in an event called "Cookbook Spotlight". She would send me a copy of Mitchell Davis' new cookbook, 'Kitchen Sense' , and I would choose a recipe and blog about it. I was delighted to be asked to participate, and you can imagine my surprise when I came to page 102 of Davis' book and found a recipe for potato and rosemary pizza, which Davis calls Potato Focaccia. I knew immediately that this was the recipe that I was going to try.
There are two dough recipes to choose from, one taking 1h 15min and the other 8h 30 min. If you don't feel like making dough, you can buy some fresh dough from your local pizza place. I wanted to make the dough because I think of yeast as being fickle and I was intimidated by it. I just followed the 1h 15min dough recipe very closely and to my surprise, there were no problems. I left the soft dough in an oiled bowl by my stove to rise and lo and behold it did just that! I was ecstatic!
A small quibble with the cookbook at this part of the pizza-making process: the section on pizza requires that you flip to a different page to learn how to roll out the dough, and determine the temperature to bake the pizza. I found that a little confusing.
Once you have the dough however, the rest is a cake-walk. Dealing with the toppings was a breeze since they require a few simple ingredients. When I took the pizza out of the oven it was golden brown around the edges and easily slid off the baking sheet onto my wooden cutting board so that I could slice it into rectangles. The pizza looked beautiful.
So did the pizza live up to the revered memory I have from my trip to Italy?
This is such a fantastic combination – the crust is light and crisp, the potatoes soft, and the rosemary fragrant. The coarse sea salt that I used added a nice surprising burst of flavor while the extra-virgin olive oil was a discrete but a noteworthy flavor on this pizza. While this pizza is a departure from the typical tomato and cheese-based variety it has strong flavors that are complimentary and it is extremely versatile. This pizza can be served as hors d'oeuvres, alongside a filet mignon, or as is with a simple salad of mixed greens.
I should also mention that this pizza recipe is consistent with my theme of simple meals – the dough is the only element that could require a little extra time to prepare (if you choose not to buy it), but it makes such a terrific crust that I highly recommend that you try it once. This is also a very inexpensive recipe that can easily be made for a large number of people.
Quick Pizza Dough from Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis
- 4 Teaspoons (1 1/2 packets) active dry yeast or 3 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 1/3 cups lukewarm water (110F) – I used very warm tap water
- 6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
- 4 Cups all-purpose flour or a combination of 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 cups bread flour
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons kosher salt – I used coarse sea salt because that's what I had on hand
To make by hand:
Place the yeast in the bottom of a large bowl and add the lukewarm water. Stir with a whisk or wooden spoon to dissolve and then add the 6 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 cup of flour – whisk until smooth. Add another cup of the flour and the salt and mix well. Add the rest of the flour and stir with the spoon to incorporate as much of the flour as you can – then transfer onto a clean surface – all of the dough, flakes of dough, and flour. Begin kneading the dough with both hands – folding the dough over and pressing it out – turn and fold again. Incorporate all of the flour into the dough. After about 10 minutes of kneading the dough should have a soft, smooth texture, and it won't be sticky. Shape the dough into a ball.
To make with an electric mixer:
Place the yeast in the bowl of the mixture fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the lukewarm water and stir with the paddle on low to dissolve the yeast. Add the 6 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 cup of flour and beat on medium-low speed for a minute or so until smooth. Switch to the dough hook. Add another cup of flour and the salt and mix well. Add the last 2 cups of flour and put the machine on low until the dough forms a mass around the hook. Let the machine knead the dough for 2 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and scrape out the bowl. Knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the bowl into a ball.
Place a teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a large, clean bowl. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and move it around to coat with the oil – this will prevent the dough from sticking and make it easy to remove from the bowl after it's risen. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm place such as near a preheating oven, or in an oven with a pilot light. Leave the dough to rise – it should double in size after about 45min to 1h. Punch down the dough and divide in half or quarters depending on how large you want your pies.
This recipe will make 2 1/4 pounds of dough, enough for making two 14 inch pizzas or 4 10 inch individual ones.
Potato Focaccia from Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis
- 1 Large Red Bliss or Yukon Gold potato (12 oz) – I was using half of the pizza dough and found that one large Yukon Gold was just barely enough to cover the pizza – just to be safe I'd suggest using 2 large potatoes
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper – I used coarse sea salt here
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Bake the potato for about 35 to 40 minutes – it should give ever slightly when pressed, but still be firm.
- Remove from the oven and allow it to cool. Then peel and slice it very thin. You can use a mandoline to get the super thin slices.
- Meanwhile adjust the oven rack to the highest setting and preheat oven to 500F. Prepare the dough on your baking sheet or pizza pan – you can either roll it out with a rolling pin or use your hands to stretch out the dough – you want a thin evenly distributed crust. I used half of the dough to make this pizza as I was only cooking for two. Davis offered information on storing ready made dough – either in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to two months.
- Arrange the potato slices in an attractive pattern on the crust – spoon or brush half of the olive oil evenly over the potato. Sprinkle with the rosemary, salt, and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes until the potatoes and crust are nicely brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and brush or drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Enjoy!
Thoughts on the cookbook:
I appreciate Davis' philosophy about cooking: all one needs is a little common sense. I find that the way Davis writes and how he explains things are very easy to follow and encouraging. There are many recipes, like the pizza recipe, that offer different versions allowing one to explore and try out different flavors. Davis also includes practical advice on how to store things and prepare them in advance. I would love to see photos of his dishes as that is often what entices me to try a particular recipe in the first place. Looking through each page though, I am intrigued by many of the dishes I came across and I've ear-marked them for future reference. Next on my list to make: peach galette (peaches are in abundance at the local market), and charmoula sauce to accompany grilled fish.