Try to contain yourselves. I realize that’s an awful lot of P’s and an awful lot of excitement squeezed into one little heading. Whenever I mention potato pizza, people look at me like I’ve said potato breakfast cereal. It puzzles me. Think about your favourite things. If two of them aren’t potatoes and pizza, it might be best to move on to another blog. But if they happen to be on your list of favourites, think about putting one on top of the other (pizza toppings on top of a baked potato, shit I think I’m on to something). See? It just makes sense.
Much like cell phone technology, Koreans are way ahead of us when it come to pizza toppings. I lived there for almost three years and potato pizza is a specialty. Right, it’s not traditional like kimchi or anything, but you know what I mean. Koreans have sort of taken pizza and made it their own…a potato pizza will come with bacon and a potato wedge on every slice. Turns out carbs plus carbs equals unbridled happiness. You’d think that North Americans would have figured that one out ages ago. No sir. So imagine my excitement a couple of years after leaving Korea when I found potato pizza in Canada. I was visiting my friend Candace in Whitehorse (one of my favourite places, I almost moved there, I just love it) and we were at a little cafe downtown. Written on a chalkboard menu on the wall: “Rosemary Potato Bacon Pizza” I think the earth moved that day. Or at least I shifted on my axis a little. It was a mini-pizza, it was smoky, herby potato-y, it was perfect. I’ve been making it ever since and still never get sick of looking at my friends earnestly and saying, “You’ve never had rosemary bacon potato pizza?” I roll my eyes skyward, I place my hand on my forehead. And then I watch while they take their first bite. It’s like watching someone taste chocolate for the first time.
And then there are my gluten-free pals. Years ago the idea of not being able to eat the stuff horrified me. I met my first gluten-intolerant person over ten years ago (I make it sound like I met a talking pelican)…a little girl who was the daughter of a friend of a friend. This kid was two years old and couldn’t eat wheat. I remember my eyes growing wide and asking her mother, “But what does she eat?” The mom wasn’t phased at all as she explained to me that her little girl loved rice and rice noodles so they cooked a lot of Asian food at home. I was in my early twenties and only just figuring out my own relationship with food. I was amazed that this kid could even exist. Especially in Newfoundland where most of us were reared up on white bread. I still balk a little at the idea of not being able to eat nan’s homemade bread fresh out of the oven, but years later I actually like the challenge of cooking gluten-free. It’s nice being able to cook good meals for good friends who can’t go near the stuff. My friend Nell is such a creative food lover that her gluten intolerance doesn’t phase her in the least. She told me a while back that she loves to use polenta for pizza crust and one rainy day off in Cow Head I decided to have a go. Sandy had the day off too so I knocked on the door to the basement apartment and told her I was going to make us a gluten-free treat. After poking around on the internet for a recipe I found exactly what I was looking for on the sweet little blog, kitchencorners.com
Polenta Pizza Crust (Adapted from Kitchen Corners)
Bring 3 cups vegetable broth to a boil. Turn off stove and quickly stir in 1 and 1/2 cups cornmeal and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add whatever seasoning you like (oregano, garlic, etc.) but I found the vegetable broth to add just enough flavour/salt. Spread polenta onto a greased pizza pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, add pizza toppings, proceed as normal.
The cornmeal cooks fast and furious so keep stirring and watch for lumps. I generally find spreading pizza crust to be a pain in the ass at the best of times and polenta is no exception. I tried spreading it in a greased pan with a spoon but that was a no-go. Wait for it to cool, put a little butter on your hands and press it into the pan with your fingers, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief. Like the recipe says, the crust needs to bake first before the toppings go on (otherwise the polenta will be too mushy) so let it crisp up nice and golden, but don’t expect it to brown up like a regular pizza crust. It’ll look strange, you’ll be worried, don’t fret. Once it’s covered in sauce and toppings, you’ll breathe easier. And before you start anything, make sure that if you’re using bouillon for your veg broth that it’s gluten-free. Or just omit it all together and use boiling water if you don’t have gluten-free stuff on hand, although these days it’s pretty easy to find.
You’ll want to make sure your bacon and potatoes are cooked a little before they go on the pizza. After a few experiments, I’ve found the best way is to toss everything together with a little salt, pepper and olive oil (not too much salt or oil, the bacon will take care of most of that) and roast it in the oven on 375 or 400 for a half hour or so. I like my bacon crispy and potatoes nice and tender, so mess around til you find what you like. Potatoes should be peeled and cut into smallish chunks so they’ll cook through. Bacon cut up however you like, really. I’m absolutely mad for rosemary, I think it’s the earthiest, sexiest herb there is, so I tend to go a little overboard. The first time I made a roast dinner for my sister Jade she asked why there were pine needles in her chicken, so depending on your guests, judge accordingly. Some people just think rosemary tastes like trees. In any case, avoid the stalks, mince it up nice and fine and toss it in with the bacon and potatoes and into the oven.
Once your toppings are pre-cooked, you’re work is done, you know the rest. Sauce, toppings, cheese. Or sauce, cheese, toppings, depending on how you roll. I like a really thick tomatoey sauce, so I make mine with tomato paste, oregano and a bit of maple syrup (just because it comes from a tree and makes me feel better about sweetening things). I only had mozza at the house that day, but I’ve found that a bit of cheddar is nice with the bacon as well. Depending on your oven, 375 for twenty minutes or so.
Lovely. I’d make this again just for me and I eat gluten like it’s 1984. Any toppings will do, but there was something about the potatoes and bacon with this crust that really worked. All smoky and hearty with the cornmeal. You could go vegetarian gluten-free with just the potatoes and rosemary, even though you’d miss the smokiness of the bacon. But not if you used applewood smoked cheddar!! I just thought of that and I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling a little smug and excellent right now. So here’s what you do. File this recipe away and haul it out like magic when you find out that a friend has a gluten intolerance. They’ll be thrilled, and you’ll feel all smug and excellent. Like a nice piece of smoked cheese.