When I was buying the groceries for my recent Irish fry-up, I bought two yellow potatoes (the ones used for the chips). Considering that we only made it through half of one potato for that breakfast, you might say I over-purchased.
But for me, it’s always good to have spare vegetables around the house. They inspire me to create new dishes, to find novel and interesting ways to use them up. Often, I’ll combine three or four recipes based around one food, and serve up something unusual and delicious that I will most likely never be able to serve again – because I can’t remember what the heck I did to make it. It’s very sad when that happens.
So there I was, with one spare potato. Not wanting to resort to the default (though delicious) “roasting with olive oil”, I searched for a more creative use. For four days, the lonely thing sat on the counter, peering up at me with its many eyes, acting wistful. I’m sure I heard it sigh. And let me tell you, a sighing potato is a particularly melancholy thing.
Mercifully, a link in a recent Saveur newsletter provided the answer I was looking for: potato pizza. Of course! That potato would be quite lovely, sliced thinly, atop a long-risen dough, paired with shavings of onion, a light sprinkling of rosemary, and a bit of bacon (also left over from the fry-up). I couldn’t imagine a better use for it. As an added bonus, I had every ingredient I needed already in the kitchen. Win!
But then, I realized that there was no cheese in the refrigerator. Not a scrap. Not even a wasted and dried rind of Parmesan. And while there are some pizzas that can manage to hold their heads high even with a lack of cheese, a potato pizza simply isn’t one of them. Refusing to make a special trip to the store for one item, I decided to make some ricotta, my unquestionably favorite cheese for pizza.
Though it might seem fussy to make your own cheese, especially an easily-purchased one like ricotta, let me assure you that it’s one of the simpler things you can do in the kitchen, and will invariably produce far better cheese than the cottony, grainy stuff found in most grocery stores. If you can make tea, you can make enviable ricotta.
The process is super-easy, and is one of those gleeful instances where a microwave will do a better job than a stove top, as there’s none of that cooked-on milk goo to scrape off a pan afterwards. Put milk, salt, and acid in a glass bowl, heat to 165º F, stir, and strain. Done.
For the acid, I used mostly white vinegar for consistency in acidity, but added a touch of lemon juice for a brighter flavor. You can use all vinegar, or all lemon juice, however you prefer. The flavor was creamy and just barely citrusy, and was simply gorgeous on the pizza. And I made darn sure to write down exactly what I did with this recipe; it was too good to forget about.
Dotted with circles of potato, mounds of ricotta, and shards of bacon, these pizzas cooked up beautifully, in an oven so hot it actually hurt a little to reach into. The crust bubbled appropriately on the edges, and remained slightly moist on the interior, the hallmark of a well-made Napoli-style pie. I was ecstatic to hear the crust singing in its crackly voice when I pulled it from the heat. But after I cut into the pizza and served it, I was just as happy to hear the silence of content diners, and the only sighings I heard were sighs of contentment from full mouths.
Homemade Ricotta and Potato Pizza
Inspired by Project Foodie
Makes 2 individual pizzas, 2 to 4 servings
You’ll have to plan one day ahead for the pizza dough, but the incredible flavor makes it well worth the wait. Start this recipe 1 hour before the pizza dough is ready, for the ideal timing. The dough will have rested for 1 hour already; that hour would be the perfect time to make the ricotta, and still have a minute to fix yourself a drink.
1/2 recipe No-Knead Pizza Dough (recipe below)
1 recipe Simple Ricotta (recipe below)
1 medium waxy potato (such as Yukon Gold), about 8 ounces
3 slices bacon
1/2 small yellow onion (halved lengthwise)
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
Olive oil for drizzling (optional)
1. One hour before baking, preheat the oven to 550º F, or as hot as the oven will allow. If using a baking stone, heat along with the oven. Otherwise, position a rack at the lowest possible setting, and heat a large, sturdy baking sheet along with the oven.
2. While the oven heats, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Slice the potato crossways into 1/4 inch thick slices. Salt the water liberally (about 1 tablespoon), and add the potato slices. Bring back to a boil, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the slices are softened, but not fully cooked. Drain and let cool.
3. While the potato cools, cook the bacon in a pan over medium heat until just browned, but not quite crisp (it will finish cooking in the oven, on the pizza). Drain on paper towels, and let cool slightly. Chop into small pieces, and set aside.
4. Cut the onion-half crossways into as thin slices as possible, and set aside. Mince the rosemary, and set aside.
5. When the dough is fully rested, shape it on a sheet of parchment paper with floured hands into the desired shape and size. Top with the ricotta, potatoes, onion, bacon, and rosemary, not necessarily in that order. Salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Quickly transfer the pizza (still on the parchment) to the hot baking stone or sheet pan.
6. Bake at 550º F for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is browned. Let cool slightly before cutting and serving. Cooked pizza may be refrigerated for up to 1 day, or frozen for up to several weeks. Re-crisp in a 350º F oven until warm.
No-Knead Pizza Dough
Adapted from Jim Lahey
Makes 4 individual pizzas
This recipe uses just enough whole wheat flour to provide a slightly rustic nature and sweet flavor, without compromising the coveted gluteny pull and tear that an all-white-flour crust brings. It requires advance planning, but there’s little effort involved, and the results are well worth the time invested.
11 1/4 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose or bread flour, plus extra for dusting
3 ounces (about 2/3 cup) whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (not active-dry)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
1. In a large bowl, whisk the flours together with the yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended (the dough will be very sticky). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 12 to 24 hours in a warm spot, about 70º F, or until very risen and bubbly.
2. Turn the dough out on a well-floured work surface. Lightly sprinkle the top with flour, and fold the dough over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and shape each piece into a rough ball. (At this point, the dough may be wrapped tightly in plastic, or in a plastic zip-top bag, and frozen. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.) Dust the dough with flour, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest for 2 hours; the dough may or may not double in size. Proceed as directed in above recipe, or following your own.
Adapted from Serious Eats
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Though this isn’t a “true” ricotta (as it’s made from milk, not whey), it’s certainly a convincing substitution. It’s still worlds better than most store-bought ricottas out there, and is ridiculously easy to make. You can use any type of milk for this, from skim all the way to cream; but be aware that skim milk will make a more rubbery end product, while cream will make an incredibly over-the-top rich cheese. I used 2%, as that’s what I keep in the house, but would probably try whole milk next time, or even 2% with a bit of cream added to it, for a more luxurious texture. The recipe may easily be scaled up or down; for me, this is the minimum amount of ricotta I want after going through the effort to make it.
6 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1. Line a mesh strainer with 2 layers of paper towels. Set over a bowl to drain the cheese later. Combine milk, salt, lemon juice, and vinegar in large microwave-safe glass bowl, or other container. Microwave on high heat until lightly bubbling around edges, 8 to 12 minutes depending on microwave (milk should register about 165° F on an instant-read thermometer).
2. Carefully remove from the microwave, and stir gently for 5 seconds. The milk should separate into solid white curds and translucent liquid whey. If not, microwave until fully separated, in 30 second increments.
3. Using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer all floating curds to the prepared strainer. Do not be tempted to pour the whole mixture into the strainer; the fine curds that have sunk to the bottom will clog the paper towels and impede draining.
4. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to drain until desired texture is reached, about 5 minutes for very moist ricotta, or about 30 minutes for a firm ricotta. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.