Roman-Style Pizza with Potatoes and Rosemary

tonyr_cook_k Tony writes: I have pizza on the brain. It’s part of my new daydream of starting up a European-ish cafe: polished hard-wood floors, espresso machine hissing in the background, bakery-style pizza (among other homey/ homemade/ hearty things) on the menu. The pizza will be Roman-style,the kind I used to order by the “etto” from the pizzerias lining the harbor in Fiumicino (just outside of Rome; I apprenticed at a fancy fish restaurant there for 6 months):  thick and crusty, baked in a sheet pan like focaccia, lightly topped. As much pizza as I ate in those days and for all of the pizza-making I’ve done since, I’ve never tried making this kind of pie until recently. But after a handful of passes, I think I’ve got it: allow the dough ample time to proof so it stretches easily in the pan, top it sparingly, and  bake with real high heat so the crust gets nice lift. This type of pizza is perfect for making ahead: bake and then set out at room temp, letting people graze at their leisure.  Here’s how:

The method: Roman-style pizza falls somewhere between pan pizza and regular free-form. Instead of rolling out the dough into a round, stretch it by hand, lightly greasing a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and then pressing the dough out to the edges. Do so gradually, in stages, letting the dough rest a minute or two before each stretch. You can adorn the pizza with anything you like, though my favorite is the authentically Italian topping of potatoes and rosemary. Sounds weird, but the thinly sliced potatoes soften and brown atop the pizza.  Bake in a hot (475F) oven so the crust gets nice lift and becomes good and crispy. After baking, transfer to a cutting board, cut into squares, and serve.

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– The dough: Sure, you can use store-bought here, but I like to make it myself and suggest you do, too. Many focaccia recipes employ a sponge method, which works great, but can be a little time-consuming. The recipe below is a wetter dough than most, replicating some elements of the sponge method.

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The Recipe: Serves 4

1. Make the dough: Measure out 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (about 100F to 110F; if the water is warm-ish, you’re good) and mix in 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast (about half a packet). Let sit for 10 min to check that the yeast is alive and well (the top of the liquid will foam and thicken). Add 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (10 oz.) and 3/4 tsp. kosher salt to a food processor (or standmixer) and pulse (or whisk gently) to mix. Still pulsing (or whisking), pour in 1 Tbs. olive oil and the yeast mixture. Pulse (or whisk) until the mixture comes together into a uniform dough. Adjust with a splash of water or flour if the mixture is wet or crumbly and dry. On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough for 2 or 3 min so it becomes uniform and elsasticky; it should spring back when pressed. Transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl, top with a dish towel or plastic wrap, and hold somewhere warm until it doubles in size, about 1 hour; or hold in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

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2. Press and top the dough: Heat the oven to 475F. Let the dough sit out at room temp for at least 30 min to make it easier to stretch by hand. Generously grease a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil (you can line the baking sheet with parchment paper first if your baking sheets are old and beat up like mine). Set the dough in the middle and gently press and stretch towards the sides; you can pick up the dough to stretch it as well. Top with anything you like, though for the potato and rosemary version, very thinly slice 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 lb) and, in a large bowl, toss with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepperLayer the potatoes atop the dough in a shingled pattern and sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano

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3. Bake the pizza: Set the baking sheet in the middle of the preheated oven and bake until the potatoes (or other toppings) brown and soften, 12 to 15 min. Let cool for 5 min, then drizzle with a little more olive oil, slice and serve.

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