Potato pizza. Yes! It is a thing. And yes, it is wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! (Twirls!). I first had it on my first trip to Rome at an innocent 19. I was to discover pizza a tavola and gelato and I would speed from a tiny size 6 (US size 2) to a still small but bigger size 10 that summer. The die was cast. I wish I had such problems now!
I was living in Nice for the summer, and it was only my second time outside of Ireland. I already knew I wanted to travel a lot, and I really have no idea why I picked Nice as a place to start, but that is where I went. I think I chose France because I spoke French, and I was curious after 6 years of studying it. Nice is lovely, that long beach, the wonderful light. So hot, too hot for me. When I first arrived and didn’t put sunscreen on the side of my feet I learned the hard way with third degree burns on the second day. I could hardly walk. It was a mesmerising time. I was startled by large lizards clambering over an imposing wooden gate protecting the entrance to a house bigger than I had seen before. I loved the packed terraces full of people eating and drinking, and I was entranced by all of the new foods and the lovely little towns nearby.
It was a coming of age summer for me in many ways. It was my first proper summer away from Ireland, learning a lot about myself, good and bad. I spoke French, but was nervous to in the beginning, so lots assumed I couldn’t. It is amazing what people would say when they thought I couldn’t understand. I met lots of people, I trusted everyone, I learned that maybe I shouldn’t. But I also met some terrific people too who inspired me and made me think about how wonderful and large the world could be, and how much I wanted to explore it. I worked hard, and everytime I got to 1000 francs (about £120 at the time), I saved it as a travellers cheque.
I had a tiny studio apartment off the Promenade des Anglais with a friend, a 2 minute walk from the sea, right in the heart of it all. I was discovering food, and I popped down to a local sandwich stall often to have a toasted baguette with hot chicken curry inside. I loved it! That summer I had my first coffee when I learned that a hot chocolate at 35 deg C was a not too pleasant experience. And we all know how that went.
When the weather changed there at the end of August as I had been told it would (and it was incredibly predictable to the day then, some winds came and it got colder, and it seemed like everyone left), I packed my bags and my saved travellers cheques and I booked a one way train to Florence. I didn’t love it then. As a young solo female traveller I got a lot of grief from creepy guys, and so I took myself to Rome. Rome was bigger and easier and gorgeous. I fell in love with it. Rome became the kind of city that I started to seek out. A city that is thriving, beating and bursting, a city that knows you are there but isn’t really bothered as it is just getting on with everything that makes it so good. I stayed for almost 10 days and burned through some of my hard earned summer savings. I spent all day walking and luxuriating in how gorgeous the city was, stopping to sit for gelato and pizza every now and then, more impressed by the seemingly abandoned gorgeousness on every street and street corner than the packed tourist spots.
Rome! Photos from my last trip there.
I have such fond recollections of that time. It was my first time travelling solo, which I do all the time now. Potato pizza is the thing that I remember the most. Sometimes with potato matchsticks and other times with potato slices, sometimes with just potato, sometimes with cheese, sometimes with some herbs. Always good. Served from tavola caldas (hot tables), the pizza are served by the slice from enormous rectangular versions, cut with a scissors into the size you desired. I couldn’t believe it. A POTATO PIZZA?! I was sold. I have been making them at home since, and when I go to Rome now, it is the thing I want more than anything. Well, almost as much as Bonci’s porchetta sandwich, but that is a story for another time.
In Rome, the best of these pizzas is served on pizza bianca, a pizza that is made first with toppings added after, and then heated to order. Pizzarium and Bonci (both owned by Gabriele Bonci, mentioned already, both are a must in Rome) are the gold standard for these. I use my standard pizza base at home, and I use mozzarella as a milky buffer between the base and the potato. I have a weakness for buffalo mozzarella (the real Mozzarella di Bufala Campana which is made in Southern Italy and protected by PDO particularly), but if you can get a proper fior de latte, a good cows mozzarella made with cows milk, that is superb too. I love the romance of Italian descriptors for food, to describe a cheese as the flower of milk is just gorgeous. Taleggio works brilliantly too, so feel free to use that also.
Time for the potato, and on top of the cheese I layer sliced potatoes. When I started out they were painstakingly sliced by hand, as thin as I could. Now I use my food processor, but a mandolin is perfect too. One large potato does two pizzas, a potato pizza is a frugal joyful thing. Occasionally I like to squeeze in a couple of layers of fine guanciale slices for an extra layer of dizzying indulgence. If guanciale is not on your radar yet, it is a bacon made from the jowl of the pig (the cheek and surrounds) and it is one of the best ones. You can get it in great Italian delis and Fortnum and Mason stock a terrific one from Peter Hannon in Northern Ireland, already sliced fine and perfect for this pizza.
I hope that you will indulge in this Roman slice of gorgeousness. It brings me much happiness. Enjoy!
Other posts on Eat Like a Girl on Italy:
Roman food blogs that are must reads:
Rachel Eats – dispatches from Rachel’s Roman kitchen. Rachel has also penned a terrific book (Five Quarters: Recipe & Notes from a Kitchen in Rome) and Rachel also has a lovely weekly Guardian column.
Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome – Elizabeth blogs about eating out in Rome, primarily, but also much of Italy. She also shares great recipes and videos. Elizabeth does food tours too, and has a terrific app for eating in Rome, and other parts of Italy. Elizabeth has a book on Eating Rome too.
Katie Parla has a terrific blog all about eating in Rome and Roman food culture, and she has an excellent app for eating out in Rome too. Her first book on Rome (Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavours and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City) has just been published. Katie runs food tours too.
Gillian McGuire blogs about Rome and all of Italy on Gillian’s Lists.
Serves: makes 2 pizzas, with 4 extra bases for another time (there is always another time!)
- 450g strong flour
- 10g dried yeast
- 300ml just warm water
- 25ml extra virgin olive oil
- a generous pinch of sea salt
- 1 large potato, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
- 250 g ball mozzarella (I prefer buffalo)
- one tbsp of rosemary needles, stems discarded
- 6 thin slices of guanciale or pancetta (or streaky bacon!)
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and black pepper
The dough will make enough for 6 pizzas. I usually make 2 and then I freeze the extra bases (which I stretch out into circles) between layers of greaseproof paper, ready to top another time.
Make your dough. Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and add the oil. Add the water a little at a time, mixing it through. When the flour has come together to a ball there is enough water. Add more a little at a time if you need it (each brand of flour is a little different). if it gets too wet just add a little more flour. Knead for 10 minutes or 5 minutes if you have a mixer with a dough hook. Cover with cling film and let it rise slowly in the fridge overnight or let it rise in the warmest part of your kitchen until it has doubled in size (about 40 minutes to an hour). Knock the dough back by literally knocking the wind out of it, and let it rise again for another 10 minutes at room temperature. It is now ready to use.
Preheat your oven to its highest heat.
Divide the dough into 6 balls and using your hands, gently shape it into a circle. I like it when it isn’t too thin, liking it to be approaching foccacia but not quite. You should have yours as thin as you like it. If you find hand shaping awkward you can use a rolling pin.
Put the dough on a floured or oiled baking tray and put half the mozzarella on top of each pizza base. It is easiest to tear it with your hands, making sure it is evenly distributed. On top of this layer the potato slices. This will depend on how big your potato slices are and how bit your pizza base is (aka how thin you like your crust) but every two lines of potato slices, I tucked in some guanciale. Scatter the rosemary and season lightly with sea salt which the potatoes will need but the guanciale won't, as it is salted already. Finish with freshly ground black pepper (it wouldn't be Roman without it) and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Roast in the oven for 5 - 8 minutes. This depends on how hot your oven goes. Keep an eye on it after five. They pizza is done when the dough is starting to brown, as are the potatoes, and when the base is crisp.
Best eaten hot! Enjoy.