When I traveled through Italy working on ITALIAN FARMHOUSE, I was constantly exposed to the impossible. Or better said, the improbable. One incident I will always remember was the first time I was served pizza covered with thin slices of potato that had been tossed in cream and baked in a searing wood-fired oven. It was in Piemonte, I was staying at a small “agriturismo” or farm adapted to the tourist trade, and dinner was part of the offering. And that pizza, starch on starch, was one of the best thing I’d eaten to date.
I was enthralled. It was the beginning of my research, and I was a neophyte when it came to both the country and the food I might find there. What I did know was agriculture, how to get culinary secrets from even the most shy cook, and enough of the language to get around. I’d accepted the assignment to do the book after tremendous urging from my publisher, and everything about it was an adventure.
Starch on Starch Pizza
Including a starch on starch pizza with cream, in the country that I thought was devoted to lively tomato sauces and olive oil on pizza. There was coherence. Piemonte isn’t the region of pizza, but having been part of France it is in love with cream and cheese. And wood fired ovens. And bread dough. And appetizers. So that night was potato pizza. Subsequent dinners featured appetizer pizzas topped with fennel, or garlic, or onions, or a combination of all three. Sometimes there was cream, or cream and olive oil, or just olive oil. Rarely was there a tomato or an herb. It was all deliciously simple.
Those meals changed my mind about pizza, among other things. It was clear that the pizzas we were enjoying were, in reality, a way to use up leftovers. It made me realize that if the dough was delicious, the topping could be just about anything.
Informed By what is on Hand
Since that time my own pizzas have been informed by what I have on hand. I make sure there is coherence because I want to serve delicious pizzas. So I won’t put just anything on a pizza. But I’ve learned that delicious dough baked to a crisp is the key, the topping might be like the one here or simply sausages and fresh tomato slices, or garlic and black pepper, wild mushrooms with either cream or oil, wild greens steamed first and anointed with pepper oil. Another key to a great pizza, I learned in Piemonte, is not too much topping; it needs to be elegantly flavorful, not overladen.
You’ll Find Likely Treasures
This pizza came together from what I had after cooking all week. You’ll find likely treasures to top your pizza too, or you’ll follow my idea here. Whatever you make, remember that while pizza hot from the oven is fabulous, room-temperature pizza is a hit with everyone too, and a great addition to your July 4 picnic.
The Pizza of Your Choice
- Cornmeal semolina, or flour for dusting the baking pan
- 1 recipe Pizza Dough (see recipe)
- 2 fresh red onions, trimmed and sliced paper thin
- 1 small or half large fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced paper thin
- ¾-1 cup; 185 to 250ml crème fraiche or heavy cream
- 1 buffalo mozzarella sliced into as many slices as you can get!
- 1 cup;10g basil leaves – optional garnish
- Lightly sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal, semolina, or flour. Either roll out the pizza dough to fit the pan or pat it evenly onto the pan. If you have the time, cover lightly with a towel and let it rise at room temperature (68-70F; 15-21C) until the dough has risen by about one-third, about 1 hour. You don’t have to do this; it does make the pizza lighter.
- Preheat the oven to 450F; 230C.
- In a large bowl, mix together the onions, fennel, and the cream, folding gently until all are combined. Incorporate salt as you mix.
- Spread the mixture atop the dough, going all the way to the edges.
- Strew the mozzarella over the top, and drizzle with some olive oil if you like. Finally, grind pepper overall.
- Bake until the dough is crisp at the edges and the cheese and vegetables are golden, 15 to 25 minutes. The time will depend on your oven.
- Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack, to cool.
- Coarsely chop the basil and strew it over the pizza. Cut when cool.
- 1-1/3 cups;325ml lukewarm to hot water
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast SAF brand preferable
- ½ cup;125ml olive oil
- 4 to 4-1/2 cups; 585 to 655g all purpose flour
- 1 generous tablespoon coarse sea salt
- In a large bowl or the work bowl of an electric mixer, whik together the water and the yeast. Add the oil and mix well. Add 1 cup of the flour and mix until smooth. Stir in the salt and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Because of the oil, the dough will feel somewhat slippery, and it may not be a homogeneous lump at first. Knead, adding as little floru as necessary, until it comes together is satiny and elastic, about 5 minutes. The dough should be moist because of the oil but not wet, and it shouldn’t stick to your clean finger.
- Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise at room temperature (68-70F; 15 to 21C) until it is doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch down the dough and use in recipes as called for.